Journo responds to a distress call from a dog stuck in a forest for days
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For two days in a row (Monday and Tuesday) I've heard a dog barking and howling in the forest below my cottage in Westville.
The forest is huge, undulating and tangled with undergrowth, making it impossible to work out where exactly the dog was.
I have been told by my landlord and neighbour David Boardman that there are also sheer cliff-faces and kopjies that need to be considered before venturing beyond the garden gate, something I had never attempted before.
But clearly this dog is in distress and unable to move. Its cries on Tuesday night haunted me, and all I could do was breathe, and tell the dog 'everything will be okay' until I eventually fell asleep.
The Kloof and Highway SPCA wanted me to get a location on the dog before they could assist, since they were already inundated with rescuing dogs that had bolted from fireworks over New Year.
And this was no easy suburban call-out. So I was very surprised when I got a call from field officer Eric Simamane on Wednesday morning to say he was on his way.
The dog had been quiet all morning, but as Simamane drove into the yard, the barking started up again so he was able to get a rough idea where it was coming from. How far, was anyone's guess.
Before I knew it, he and his colleague Sipho Mkhize and myself were bundu-bashing and panga-slashing our way down into the forest below, listening for the dog's howls and barks, and watching our every step, weaving through the vines and undergrowth, and dodging vast spider webs and rocks.
We crossed a stream and entered into a beautiful and dark forest, with very little light penetrating the canopy, all the while listening out for the dog's barking, and heading in its direction as best we could.
About 45 minutes later the barking stopped. Just like that. What now?
Simamane said this often happened when searching for lost dogs.
"Sometimes we've had to go back three days in a row because the dog stops barking when we get closer, and then we don't know which direction to go," he said.
"Maybe they can hear us, or even see us, and then they think they're about to be rescued, so they stop calling for help," I quipped back.
There we stood sweating in the forest, not knowing whether to stick to the water course, or head up the steep hillside. Simamane decided to head up the kopje, and in minutes exclaimed quietly: "There he is!".
In a clearing stood this beautiful golden labrador-cross dog. Simamane cautiously approached and collared the dog, who seemed most relieved we'd come to rescue him, his tail wagging muchly, and all three of us talking to him, reassuring him.
A crude wire snare had caught him around his front left paw, which was slightly swollen. Simamane managed to remove the snare, but not before binding the dog's muzzle with the lead, just in case the dog bit him out of fear or from pain.
Weak, but so willing to get away from where he'd been kept captive for days, the dog got into its stride as we worked our way back home. Now and then he would just slump down, exhausted, and we'd give him a chance to rest.
As soon as we reached the stream, the dog ran into the water and drank and drank and drank. I have never seen a thirst being slaked with such enthusiasm.
With the sun directly above, it was not easy getting our bearings back home, but my neighbour and landlord David hollered from above, and I hollered back and shook saplings so he could see where we were below, and he could direct us back to the gate into our property.
Hot, sweaty and covered in cuts, we emerged from the forest, with one helluva happy pup.
Simamane said the dog would get a medical check up and they'd check if he was reported missing, and if not, he would be up for adoption within seven days.
The world is crazy right now. It is full of uncertainty, fear and bleakitude, and sometimes it all seems to be a bit too much.
But then along comes an extraordinary challenge and opportunity to do what you can to make a difference in the life of another living creature.
Thanks to my neighbours who came to help, offer advice and support, but biggest thanks go to the SPCA guys for going out of their way to bring this boy back to safety.
I am filled with gratitude right now.
And just to top it all, remember the Lesser Striped Swallows that visited me a few months back? Well, both of them flew inside my cottage, chirping all the while, and flew out again while I wrote this post.
I am in awe.
Terry van der Walt is a writer for Simply Green digital magazine, and his post was first published on Facebook. [email protected]