A neglected dog convulsing by the side of a dusty road, people walking by as if he wasn’t even there. This is the sight that galvanised Durbanville resident, Rosa Pheiffer, into helping the animals of Fisantekraal in 2005.
Rosa was taking her housekeeper home to Fisantekraal, a semi-rural township some 10km away from Durbanville, Western Cape. Like many Durbanville residents, she’d never been inside the township and what she saw when she drove through appalled her.
Many animals wandered the streets in an awful state – neglect, starvation, and illness were rife. Sickened and not knowing where to turn for help as there was no animal welfare nearby, she contacted the Animal Welfare Society in Philippi. The dog had end-stage canine distemper and, although sadly he had to be put to sleep, he was the catalyst for major change for the animals of Fisantekraal.
The following week, unable to shake the horrific memory, Rosa returned to Fisantekraal, where she saw a badly mange-infested dog; again, AWS was called out.
The start of something great
With the closest animal welfare over 20km away, and most residents in this impoverished area having no transport, there was simply no help for them. People started approaching Rosa for help for their animals. While working full time, she took to spending every weekend in the township, helping the thousands of suffering animals and their people.
Realising that the biggest problem was uncontrolled breeding, Rosa arranged for the Animal Anti-Cruelty League (AACL) Epping to collect ten animals a week for sterilisations. Next, Durbanville’s private vets were roped in, followed by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).
More volunteers joined (some of whom are still with the organisation), funds were raised, and a glimmer of hope appeared for the animals of Fisantekraal.
On 12 September 2006, just under a year after Rosa discovered what was going on and decided to take action, Fisantekraal Animal Welfare became an official Non-Profit Organisation (NPO 051-348).
A place to call our own
Initially, there were no real premises until a shipping container was donated in May 2006. This made it possible for the volunteers to store necessities and somewhere for the residents to bring their pets. Dogs were bathed and dipped under a beach umbrella in a plastic tub, and a mobile clinic from AACL or PDSA helped with vaccinations and sterilisations. Later, two more shipping containers arrived, as well as two vans. FAW finally had its own premises at 1 Lord’s Walk Street, directly opposite the police station.
One of the containers was turned into a primary healthcare clinic for vaccinations, deworming, and minor veterinary issues. More severe injuries and illnesses, as well as animals needing sterilisation, were taken to vets in Durbanville – a time-consuming and costly endeavour. Another container became the bathing room where dogs could be treated for fleas, ticks, and mange. It was also an excellent time to chat with dog owners and check on the wellbeing on the animals being treated to a grooming session. The original container had become the storage zone for crates, kennels, and more but it was slowly disintegrating.
A food container was also opened providing subsidised food and various other animal accessories (collars, bowls, etc.). Volunteers spend hours driving around in the distinctive FAW vans (branded by Vega Graphics), looking for problem areas, placing kennels and runners (for tethered dogs) and providing first aid where needed.
By now, FAW was also helping animals from Morning Star Durbanville, Klipheuwel (a small, impoverished rural community near Fisantekraal), and farms in the area. Things were improving but, with the rapidly growing area, more was needed.
The first FAW Community Veterinary Clinic
In February 2017, FAW began the process of turning the shipping containers into a more formal clinic which would be equipped for sterilisations and other surgeries. This would make an enormous difference, both to the way in which funds were used and the time expended. Animals could be treated at cost price and the reduction in time and fuel costs would be tremendous.
This was partly made possible because of the arrival of Community Service Vets (aka ‘Zuma Year vets’) which meant that we would have a qualified veterinarian on the premises on a regular basis. The project was spearheaded by Tygerberg Animal Hospital and DA Ward 105 Councillor Ruan Beneke. Donovan Tarr of ‘Nfinite‘ donated a much-needed shipping container for the purpose and CCS vet, Dr Alex Strydom spent many hours readying the clinic. The FAW80 was launched – a cycle challenge in which riders would cycle 480km non-stop, from Oudtshoorn to Durbanville, to raise funds for this important project.
When the clinic was completed, it was run with a generator as FAW didn’t have electricity yet. Nonetheless, FAW was resolute in its aim to keep helping the people and their animals that have come to rely on us. But the need grew and grew…
A clinic in Greenville
In 2016, the first 200 houses of a planned 17 000-building housing project called Greenville by Cape Garden Cities were completed alongside Fisantekraal. From the outset, FAW had been greatly concerned at how we could possibly assist all the animals that would undoubtedly be coming with all the new homes. As people began to move in, we could already see numbers of animals in need rising, both those abandoned by people moving to Greenville from Fisantekraal, and belonging to new residents from other areas.
Then, to our delight, Cape Garden Cities themselves stepped forward and offered a house to FAW as a purpose-built clinic. Dr John Adam and Sr Karen Forsdick of TAH worked alongside FAW and CGC to ensure that SAVC (South African Veterinary Council) standards would be met. FAW volunteers toiled for months to get everything ready, and supporters donated towards clinic equipment.
In October 2018, the brick-and-mortar clinic was officially opened. Today, it is open Saturdays, Thursdays, and Tuesdays from 09h00 – 12h00 (with Thursdays being primarily for sterilisations), and is staffed with volunteers, animal welfare assistants from Fisantekraal, and CCS vets. It has made an enormous difference.
Onwards and upwards
FAW’s original containers at the entrance to Fisantekraal are still operational and serve as the food and second-hand clothing stores. The bathing container was regrettably closed during the severe 2017 – 2019 drought experienced in the Western Cape and, due to lack of volunteers, has not yet reopened. There is a dipping station at the clinic to assist in keeping ticks and fleas under control. The clinic is always busy and plans are in place to get another vehicle and possibly open another day of the week.
FAW believes that a healthy companion animal population is important, not just for the animals themselves, but for overall community betterment. FAW also does not believe in just giving handouts as this doesn’t foster a sense of pride or responsibility, nor do we believe that animals should summarily be removed from the area. The aim is to empower owners to care for their own animals and improve their overall standard of wellbeing and life so that they can remain where they are, providing comfort, security, and companionship to their owners. In short, we aim to help people to help animals.