By Hillel Aron and Vuyo Mabandla

Staff Reporters

On Thursday residents of Rietvlei Bos, a makeshift community just outside Melkbosstrand, are to get new homes for free. There's just one catch: they won't be allowed to keep their pets.

Rietvlei Bos is small, consisting of only about 35 shacks.

Most are family households, and many have dogs or cats.

"This is our protection while we're in the bush," said Marlene Gillings, 54.

Four years ago Gillings adopted her dog, the Duke of Dogmoore, or just Duke for short. Duke was just over three weeks old, the runt of the litter. Gillings says she used to carry him around in her baseball cap.

Although her home is falling apart, thanks to strong winds, she won't be moving into the house offered to her in Melkbosch Village because she's been told that Duke won't be allowed to move in with her.

Melkbosch Village is an 18-hectare, R400-million housing development by Asrin Property Developers.

Under an agreement with the City of Cape Town, 100 of the 450 units are to be subsidised homes, to be provided free to disadvantaged people.

The plan is the first of its kind in the Western Cape, and calls for Asrin to pay two thirds of the cost of building the subsidised homes.

Project attorney Christo Marais said the homeowners association and the developers had decided early on that the 50 duplexes that were to make up the 100 subsidised units, as well as the 222 flats, would be pet-free.

The duplexes are in a self-contained section, divided from the rest of the development. Each of the one- and two-bedroomed units, available for families only, comes with a small backyard.

"There's just enough space back here. One could even build a kennel for their pet," said Hendricks Sackson, a subcontractor for the project.

Many residents of Rietvlei see Melkbosch Village as a godsend.

Some are to give their pets away, to a relative or to a kennel.

But resident Chris Lielde said he was determined to keep at least one of his four cats - by going to court, if necessary.

"There are a lot of dogs and cats here and they are family to us," said Emily Smit, a community leader who runs a primary school.

"They are our children."

And Gillings has a petition going, with more than 50 signatures, attesting that Duke is "a good dog".

Duke, like all the dogs and cats in Rietvlei, have been sterilised, according to Patty Diedrichs, a Melkbosstrand woman who helps make sure the pets stay healthy.

Marais, however, said the health of the animals wasn't the issue.

"The rule are the rules," he said. "If they want to keep four or five pets and stay in the bush, they're welcome to."

Hans Smit, executive director of housing for the city, said: "I don't see a problem with people wanting to take their pets in.

"I will personally make sure that those people experience no problems."