The tiny Karoo town of Nieu Bethesda, 50km from Graaff Reinet, is a sought-after tourist destination for its iconic Owl House. Tourism is the town’s lifeblood but there is not enough of it, especially post-Covid, to sustain the more than 1600 residents and unemployment rates are projected at more than 75%, with the majority of residents of Nieu Bethesda’s Pienaarsig township relying on government grants to get by.
Poverty is strikingly evident in the tumbledown houses and skinny arms and legs of the elderly and the children, yet it is a township that has more dogs than any other she has visited in her more than 22 years in animal welfare, says veterinary nurse Sr Hilda Mills.
The dogs are emaciated; dusty skin stretched tightly over prominent hip bones and ribs. “We need the dogs for hunting,” says 20-something Wanie Scholtz. “There are no jobs here, we can’t buy meat so we use the dogs to find meat or there will be no food.” Everywhere the story is the same. Charlton Mirtner has three dogs; they’re the skinniest Sr Mills has seen in a long time. “I’m unemployed. I need the dogs to hunt,” he says, but admits that he cannot afford dog pellets and feeds his hounds table scraps and mieliepap.
The town’s only animal welfare volunteer is supported by Graaff Reinet’s Camdeboo Sterilisation Initiative (CSI) but with no resident veterinarians in Nieu Bethesda, Victoria Nance relies on people like Sr Mills and the Somerset West-based EberVet Petcare Group to try to get the dog numbers under control.
EberVet recently took a team of 10, including Sr Mills, to Pienaarsig to sterilise pets, to educate pet owners and to train 7 local residents in basic health care. The idea is that these new trainees provide much needed support for animal welfare, identifying animals that need veterinary assistance, signing animals up for sterilisation, applying parasite control, offering nutrition advice and teaching pet owners basic wound care. Victoria chose trainees with a deep compassion for animals and a willingness to help the pet owners in their neighbourhood 24/7.
A morning’s theoretical training at the local community hall was followed by a three-hour walk through Pienaarsig where Sr Mills and veterinarian Dr Hilldidge Beer engaged with pet owners, identified diseases like mange and biliary and taught the trainees how to recognise medical conditions and injuries. The team used the opportunity to discuss and encourage pet sterilisation and although there was some resistance initially, once the advantages had been explained pet owners queued to sign up for the two-day spay clinic at the community hall the next day.
With the trainees’ assistance at the post-op table, Dr Beer and her team of nursing assistants sterilised 84 dogs and cats in two days. Wounded paws were seen to, biliary and mange treated, rabies vaccinations given and important nutritional information shared with owners.
“With what I have learned I can help people to keep their dogs healthy. I can recognise mange and biliary, I can clean wounds and I can teach owners about ticks and fleas. To be a vet has been my dream, now I am one step closer,” said trainee and star pupil Michaela Jacobs.
*The EberVet Petcare Group will return to Nieu Bethesda in Spring for a second spayathon.