Oscar, a mixed terrier, was once left for dead at an animal shelter and was just a day away from being euthanised.
The brown and black hound with piercing, beady eyes had an alluring presence, but without a loving home, he was about to be put down.
That’s until he met Joanne Lefson, who had just moved back to South Africa from the US and was looking for a furry companion.
She visited the SPCA in the Western Cape in 2004 and immediately fell in love with Oscar.
She spent her life adopting pets instead of buying them, but could immediately feel this dog was going to change her life.
Oscar at the Pyramids in Egypt.
“As soon as I took him home, people would stop me and ask me where I got Oscar from.
“They were shocked to find out that I adopted him from a shelter.”
Lefson felt so complete by Oscar’s companionship that she decided to travel around the world with him to promote animal adoption.
“I realised that the perception of shelter dogs was so negative so I wanted to use Oscar to inspire people to change their way of thinking.
“It’s estimated that 2000 dogs are euthanised in South Africa every single day, not because they are not healthy but because they can’t find a home.”
To spread her message, the pair travelled to 43 countries including the US, South America, Kenya and the Caribbean in 2009.
They even got “married” during a ceremony in Las Vegas where all sorts of nuptials are legal.
Joanne Lefson and her dog Oscar had fun and travelled all around the world, here they are at their Las Vegas wedding where all sorts of nuptials are legal. She started an organisation called Oscars Arc in honour of her pup who died in 2013.
“We got married in Las Vegas, we went up the Great Wall of China, visited Machu Picchu in Peru, kissed the pyramids in Egypt and even hang glided over Rio de Janeiro in Brazil,” said Lefson.
“It was an adventure of a lifetime. He was so special because he was adopted, but he was also my best friend, he was my soulmate and he inspired my life in so many different ways.”
Oscar died in 2013 and Lefson decided to continue her animal adoption awareness campaign in South Africa. She founded Oscars Arc, a non-profit organisation in 2016 as a tribute to her beloved pet.
“This project is a sense of gratitude for the experience he gave me,” said Lefson.
“I want Oscar’s legacy to inspire dog adoption in South Africa and even globally, eventually,” she said.
As the founder and director of Oscars Arc, she takes dogs from existing shelters and presents them to the public through a pop-up adoption unit, “Woof”, in the Western Cape.
In 111 weekends, there have been 18056 adoptions in the Western Cape with an average of about 17 dog adoptions per weekend.
This is in contrast to a typical animal shelter that completes one to one and a half adoptions a weekend.
“The concept of taking dogs out of hidden, depressing shelters and placing them in public, convenient spaces is really what drives the adoption rate.”
This weekend, the pop-up adoption unit will visit Melrose Arch in Joburg where Lefson and her team plan to break the world record for the most number of adoptions in a day.
“There will be a representative from the mayor’s office who will come to the pop-up unit to count the official signed contracts and that will be the official number that will constitute towards the world record.”
Joanne Lefson and her team plan to break the world record for the most dog adoptions in one day. | NHLANHLA PHILLIPS African News Agency (ANA)
Lefson explained that while there are a few unofficial records for dog adoptions, there isn’t an official record. She hopes that 50 to 70 dogs will be adopted from 8am to 6.30pm today.
The dogs at the pop-up unit have already been sterilised and vaccinated and those who wish to adopt the
animals can choose the fee they would like to donate to the organisation.
Once a dog is chosen, a home visit is completed by Woof officials within 48 hours before an official handover is completed.
Lefson said the minimum requirement to be met is “a loving home”.
“We look at every single adopter differently and we know that a dog in a home is always better than a dog two feet under in a dumpsite.
“We, of course, care about where the dog is going but we also don’t expect every dog to eat free-range chicken for dinner.
I think intrinsically, everyone loves animals and I think sometimes there is just awareness and education that is needed to inspire people to look after their animals in a better sense and to obviously choose adoption.
“There’s no reason to be buying a dog and supporting a business aspect when amazing dogs in shelters are dying for a second chance,” she added.