On Thursday evening 16 March 2017, April was delighted to present at the 7th PechaKucha Harare Chapter Night. For those of you not familiar with the PechaKucha concept – people from various backgrounds are invited to present a slide show of only 20 slides, which are shown for only 20 seconds each, thus making the speech for the same time frame – 6 minutes 40 seconds – MAX! This international presentation format, originated in Japan (PechaKucha means Chit-chat in Japanese) and allows a myriad of subjects to be shown in a concise and fast paced way. There were 9 other speakers on Thursday evening, April being the 9th to present… What a wonderful opportunity to spread the word about the work we do amongst the rural community around us. Have a read…

Gone to the Dogs!!

Good evening everyone. I’m April Thompson and I’m here to tell you why my family and I are, quite literally, going to the dogs. There are millions of dogs in Zimbabwe and, in an economy where many live from hand to mouth, they’re in trouble. The animal organizations are doing an amazing job, but they too need help.
Difficult as it may be in town, things are much worse in the rural areas where dogs are traditionally seen as working animals rather than pets. Used for hunting or security, they’re a far cry from our ‘pampered pooches’ and, unable to ignore the emaciated dogs on the road, Rural Animal Care came into being 3 years ago.

Living 25 kms from Harare on the Arcturus Road, we’re trying to provide veterinary care to animals in the rural community around us and, without assistance, most of the dogs we see would die – many enduring a painfully protracted end – only to be replaced by another in a vicious circle of suffering.

Responding to calls for help, we provide a free ambulance service and, collecting sick and injured animals from homes and roadsides, take them into Harare, where their treatment – or euthanasia, when necessary- is done by Kamfinsa Vet. Fortunately, VAWZ (Vets for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe) allow us to operate under their umbrella, making our cases eligible for the reduced rates available to them, because we regularly see dogs debilitated by malnutrition and disease, along with those that have been run over, ripped open in fights or gored by wild pigs – many with broken bones.

Taking our furry patients home after treatment, we monitor their progress and aftercare and these ‘house calls’ are crucial, because checking on their health and living conditions is the single most important thing we can do to bring about a lasting change in their wellbeing, along with that of many animals around them.

Many homesteads are only accessible in a 4 wheel-drive and, luckily, we have the use of the Red Racing Snail, a sturdy old Toyota pick-up. Visits may involve cleaning wounds or changing bandages but they also allow us to offer support to owners and tactfully suggest where improvements can be made.

Some dogs come back to us for confinement or rehab after treatment, with surgical, weak and traumatized cases benefitting hugely from the extra food, love and attention this gives them. We accommodate our convalescents in converted stables and, furnished with wooden kennels, straw and bedding, these are adequate for the time being.

Operating a mobile dip from 2 local centres, there are now up to 350 dogs coming in for dipping every fortnight. This has greatly reduced the incidence of biliary (the tick-borne disease that kills so many dogs out here) and given that very few owners had ever known its cause before, it’s making a huge difference.

Many rural dogs live hard, short lives in an endless cycle of permanently pregnant bitches producing endless supplies of puppies. However, after taking hundreds into the vet for sterilizing, the benefits of ‘Animal Family Planning’ are starting to impact and there’s now a steady stream of people asking for help.

VAWZ sometimes bring their mobile clinic to Caledonia on dip day, where
we organize 20 dogs for sterilization and collaborate with them. Rabies vaccinations and consultations are available and the clinic is much appreciated by all, including the dogs, because we sweeten their experience with 40kg of food!

We occasionally come across rabies cases and regularly organize rabies campaigns, with VAWZ coming out to vaccinate thousands of dogs in the last few years. Distemper outbreaks can also be devastating but sadly we can only provide these vaccines when there’s a crisis, because their routine use is cost prohibitive.

Regularly confronted by severely malnourished animals with patchy fur and swollen stomachs, batches of desperate pups come in all the time – some of them orphans in need of fostering – and supplementary feeding is a huge challenge.
Of course, simply providing food isn’t the answer – education and sterilization are equally important- but worm treatment and good nutrition are the first line of defence and we do what we can.
We also supply an affordable dog food through two local tuckshops, subsidizing it slightly to bring its price in line with mealie-meal and, although we don’t sell a lot of it, it’s the beginning of a change in mind set.

Lined with straw and blankets, old tyres make comfy beds and we distribute as many as we can, along with collars and leads that often replace heavy chain, electrical cable and bits of wire. These are much appreciated and it’s very special to see dogs that have never known a bed snuggling happily into them.

We also make wooden kennels, asking owners to put $5 towards them – if they can – and this is a project we want to expand because they make such a difference to the dogs, providing them with much-needed shelter from the elements and a safe retreat of their very own.

We’ve written our own animal care leaflets in English and Shona specifically for people from a rural background and, giving these to owners when we return their dogs, we explain things that need clarification and physically demonstrate the magical effect of affection on their animals.

This can be very rewarding – especially when you realize that the suffering endured by most animals is the result of ignorance and poverty rather than cruelty. What’s more, every person who learns to care for their animal becomes a teacher in turn – generating ripples that spread through the community like rings in a pool…

Setting out to ease the suffering of individual animals, it soon became apparent that this is not an individual, but a societal problem we’re facing, where education, sterilization and support at grassroot level are equally important if
we’re to make a lasting difference to the wellbeing of the animals.

The work we’re doing – good, necessary work – is increasing daily and we often feel overwhelmed because funding it on our own isn’t easy. Having said that, once you’ve gone to the dogs and looked into their eyes, there’s no going back and we’re determined to continue improving their lot – one dog and one day at a time…

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