Cape Town - Just over a week ago, a tiny black puppy was admitted to the Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha early in the morning. His very concerned owners had rushed him to the clinic as he was in a state of hypothermia.
As he was wet, it seemed that the puppy had been left outside overnight in the cold and rain.
“Hypothermic puppies generally do not survive, but we gave Snoopy our best care,” said Marcelle du Plessis, Fundraising and Communications Manager of Mdzananda Animal Clinic.
Mdzananda’s veterinarian, Dr Joy rushed, the tiny, furry ice block to the clinic’s theatre. While rubbing his body to activate blood movement, she turned on a bair hugger [sic] - a warming device and temperature management system used during surgery to maintain a patient's body temperature.
She wrapped the barely breathing puppy in a blanket and placed him in the bair hugger along with a warm water bottle.
“After a couple of hours and a lot of TLC, Snoopy lifted his head. He was given soft, warm food, specifically formulated for recovering puppies and he drank some water. This was a good sign,” said du Plessis.
Two days later Snoopy was running around the theatre ward, his tail wagging and eyes sparkling. He had survived.
Sadly, this story is common in Khayelitsha and other communities and usually doesn’t have a happy ending.
“There are many backyard breeders. Puppies are ripped away from their mothers at a premature age so that they can be sold for cash. These breeders often do not know the needs of a puppy and sell them when they are too young. Many of them die,” said Susan Wishart, the clinic’s director.
A puppy needs to be with its mom for a minimum of 6 weeks. They need to drink the mother’s nutritional milk to grow. Since they cannot generate enough heat, they also need their mother to keep them warm.
“Puppies have different needs to older dogs but, due to a lack of understanding, they are often treated like older dogs, such as the case with Snoopy,” said Wishart.
Snoopy’s journey isn’t over yet. As the clinic isn’t staffed overnight, evenings are high-risk for him. Instead of staying at the clinic, Mdzananda’s bookkeeper, Tashmin May, has taken him home where she will be caring for him for the next two weeks until he picks up his strength.
Once Snoopy is ready he will return to his owners.
“His owners have shown immense concern for Snoopy being ill. They have checked up on him regularly. This incident was definitely not due to cruelty but due to a lack of understanding of a puppy’s needs,” said Du Plessis.
Snoopy’s owners are currently undergoing an education intervention to help them understand the needs of a dog, especially a small puppy. They are showing great willingness and are eager to learn. They are excited to have Snoopy back home and to care for him with their new animal knowledge.
“When we released Snoopy’s story on Facebook we received a terrible backlash from the public,” said Du Plessis.
“People were telling us that we should not return the puppy to his owners. People also accused the owners of being cruel humans. We were expecting such a backlash as this is the normal reaction from the public when an animal who has suffered returns back home. However, we strongly believe that education is the only solution.”
Du Plessis says that the clinic aims to see a community that not only loves but fully understands the needs of animals. To transform a community that has a lack of understanding about animals, education is crucial. She continues to say that, removing an animal is not the solution. There are not enough homes to re-home all animals meaning most will be euthanased.
Removing an animal also creates a gap for a new animal to go in its place, receiving the same treatment.
“It is like putting a plaster on a wound that will never heal. Education and working with people who are willing to learn is the long term solution. Of course not everyone is willing to learn and we treat those cases differently, but generally we have found that most cases of neglect are due to misunderstanding and owners are willing to learn and become better pet carers.”
Du Plessis says that in the township 99% of the dogs live outside. Snoopy’s owners did not know that, leaving a dog outside was doing wrong. They did not realise that a puppy had different needs to an adult dog.
“Once Snoopy returns home we will do regular checkups on him to make sure that his owners are implementing the educational information and to check that he stays healthy and strong,” said Du Plessis.
This winter the Mdzananda Animal Clinic would like to appeal to the public to donate to a puppy like Snoopy. Donations will allow the veterinary team to nurse hypothermic puppies back to health, treat and operate on sick and injured animals, distribute blankets and kennels to pets without shelter and educate community pet owners.
The clinic relies mostly on donations and, without such donations, would not have been able to help Snoopy recover or educate his owners.