Vanessa Cunningham, who lives in Asanda Village, and has been rescuing township dogs for the past 15 years, was attacked after she tried to stop a neighbour beating one of her dogs with a plank. Photo: Tracey Adams

Cape Town - A woman is recovering after being attacked with a hammer while trying to protect a rescued dog that her neighbour was beating with a plank on Saturday night.

Vanessa Cunningham has been rescuing township dogs for the past 15 years. Her instinct to protect one of her rescued pups earned her a concussion and staples in the head after her neighbour and a group of friends launched a vicious attack on her and the dogs. They also hurled racial slurs at her.

Cunningham lives with her 7-year-old daughter on the premises of the Helderberg Township Animal Rescue (TAR) in Asanda Village next to Nomzamo.

“All the odds are against her but she continues to do this work for the community,” said rescue volunteer Xavier Capes. “In the township everyone knows her. They call her Mama Inja. Even the not-so-legal guys have dogs and they respect her.”

On Saturday, Cunningham returned home from a charity auction at around 9pm, with Capes who lives nearby. Her neighbour was holding a party.

A few of the rescue dogs slipped out of her front gate to play outside, and Cunningham didn’t think twice about it until she heard shouting from the revellers next door.

When she went outside, they called her a “monkey” and a “white bitch”.

She laughed it off, but when she turned to get the dogs in, a rock hit her back, then hit her daughter on the foot.

“That made me really angry,” she said. “I went outside with a mop in my hand, and it all went pear-shaped.”

Three men and three women jumped on top of her and there was a fight on the ground.

Neighbours arrived to break up the fight and protect her.


When she ran inside to call the police she heard one of the dogs yelping. “They were beating one of the little Malteses with a plank,” Cunningham said.

Rushing outside to save the dog, Cunningham was attacked with a wooden plank with nails sticking out of it. As soon as she had dodged that weapon, a woman attacked her from behind, delivering four blows to her head with a hammer.

“I realised I was quite badly injured. I locked up the house, got my daughter, and I was walking to the car when I collapsed.”

That was where volunteer Capes found her. He loaded her into his car and took her to hospital.


Capes became involved in the rescue group three years ago when he was living on the street and cared for a stray dog.

“Just like I rescued that dog, Vanessa rescued me from the streets of Somerset West,” he said. “She basically saved my life. Now it’s time to return the favour.”


The community is outraged about the attack, says Capes.

Some men keep asking him what he is going to do to punish the violent neighbour, who has stayed away from his home since Saturday night.


“Asanda Village is one of the best examples of cosmopolitan society in South Africa,” Capes said. “We all live in harmony except this one dude.”

Cunningham has sent her daughter to stay with a friend, while Capes has moved on to the TAR premises to protect her in case the neighbour returns.

“I cannot let her be alone if no arrests have been made,” he said.

The small dog escaped with no serious injuries, but all the dogs involved in the attack are apparently traumatised and extremely protective over Cunningham.

TAR is trying to find foster homes for as many of the dogs as possible while they search for new premises to which to move the organisation.

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Cape Argus