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Animal welfare in limbo

HELDERBERG – While its effects are devastating on various fronts, the global pandemic lockdown may be crippling animal welfare organisations and causing an ever-increasing number of animals in need of its services immense suffering.

Greatly contributing to the dire situation are adoptions, which have been difficult due to non-essential travel being prohibited and access to welfare organisations restricted in trying times.

Julia Evans, manager of the Animal Welfare Society (AWS) Helderberg, said the impact of lockdown on the organisation, which is hugely dependent on donations of goodwill and funds raised for operations, has been a nightmare.

Although it has managed to attend to sick animals and emergencies during lockdown, the mobile clinics have been shut down for seven weeks, leaving many animals, especially in disadvantaged communities, in distress or worse, left for dead, due to inaccessible medical assistance.

Evans described the effect on adoptions as detrimental. Many animals have lost out on finding forever loving homes due to lockdown restrictions, which prohibited non-essential travel and meet-and-greets between potential adopter and preferred animal. “We had many people looking to adopt animals, as we continued to advertise those in search of a home via Facebook, but failed to do so due to the restrictions.”

Evans added that they continued with pre-adoptions before lockdown was implemented and could release the animals only after the levelled easing of restrictions. “It has really hurt the animals truly, truly badly,” she said.

Regarding the National Council of SPCAs’ request for authorities to allow adoptions under Level 4 restrictions, Evans said the AWS is open for adoptions, but by appointment only.

“We only allow one client through the building granted that they are wearing a mask at all times and safety protocols are adhered to. No touching of animals is allowed, which makes the meet-and-greet difficult, but this is how it has to be.”

AWS reopened its adoptions as per guidelines set out by the South African Veterinary Association.

However, the AWS has also taken a financial blow which, according to Evans, “will break us, and soon” if nothing gives.

The society has remained operational during lockdown, offering emergency veterinary services and continuing to take in strays and surrendered animals. It also made the call to keep the animals on site where they are happy and settled, instead of uprooting them and placing them in foster care.

“We do not have a no-care policy and therefore we will not turn any animal away,” Evans explained.

The AWS noted an increase in the number of animals surrendered to the kennels with the move to Level 4 with more owners suffering the loss of income and not being able to afford care for their pets. Initially animals were surrendered due to the fear of owners concerned over contracting the virus from their pets (“‘Your pets need you’”, DistrictMail, 26 March).

A total of 110 dogs were taken in during lockdown, with 11 four-legged friends the past Tuesday alone. “We will continue to operate, but on rotational staff to limit the numbers for safety reasons. It is important for the public to know that every single staff member on site has been absolutely valuable.

“People are losing incomes, they are struggling. The public has assisted to help feed the staff, which has by no means been enough, but we understand that there are others out there who have no income and to this extent we say thank you, blessing to all and stay safe.”

On the other hand, Louise Spagnuolo of Helderberg Animal Rescue Team (Hart) said the volunteer-run foster organisation was able to continue with adoptions during lockdown, and recorded finding homes for 76 pups and 71 cats since 25 March. “All adoptions were done as normal with an application form received, but because we could not do physical home checks we relied on videos, photos, many questions and more videos,” she said. “Once all was approved, we arranged a meeting between myself and the foster parent and the adoptee at a safe location, which is usually at one of the vets we work with for collection of the animal,” she explained.

According to Spagnuolo, AWS’s biggest challenges have been time and administration as well as financial resources to ensure all its animals are fed good quality food and receive the necessary veterinary care. “We do not get a lot of donations and run on empty most of the time. We also held a spay day on Friday, as this is considered an essential service by the South African Veterinary Council, and we have been sterilising as usual and ensuring all our animals vaccinations are up to date.”

DistrictMail was unable to get comment from the Township Animal Rescue (Tar) at the time of going to print.

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