His back legs are shaking with fear, this gentle-faced dog with the long nose. Who knows what sort of abuse he’s been subjected to in the last month? We guess he is about two years old, he’s desperately thin, every vertebra in his spine visible and palpable; he’s been starving, that’s plain to see.
His name is Blackie. A couple of months ago, his owner, who was a pastor, died, and his wife became so ill that she couldn’t manage on her own. Her stepdaughters decided to take her away, and they rented the house out to a young couple.
“What about these dogs?” the husband of the couple asked (Blackie had an identical sibling).
“If you don’t want them, you can throw them away,” the husband claims he was told.
So he did.
He bundled the two young dogs into his vehicle, took them to an open field (his wife says “far away”, the husband says “five minutes away”) and, even though Blackie’s brother was ill, he threw them out and left them there.
This, of course, is an illegal act – you may not abandon an animal.
Fast forward a month later, and a neighbour phones Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), the IFAW supported project which works in the area.
“This dog that belonged to my neighbour has come back,” she said. “He is howling outside the house but they chase him away.”
CLAW director Cora Bailey goes to investigate. A black dog with caramel eyebrows is lying outside the house in Ennerdale, a suburb out 40 kilometres south-west of Johannesburg, but when we approach he moves away. We talk to the wife.
“I can’t have these dogs here, they have ticks. I have a small baby, you know?” she tells us defensively.
Every night for three nights, the husband has “chased him away,” but the dog won’t go, she says.
Blackie has made his way back to the only home he knows from who knows where, probably braving abuse, shouting, stone-throwing along the way, scavenging for what food and water he can find. Who knows what has happened to his ill sibling.
His epic journey has ended here, at what used to be his safe place… only he’s found that it’s the opposite of safe.
We try to capture him, using food as bait. Some concerned neighbours arrive and tell us his name is Blackie. They try to help. Blackie is desperate for the food, but terrified of us. We leave food with an elderly gentleman named Aalie who is confident he can trap Blackie.
At nine that night, Cora gets the message: Blackie is inside Aalie’s property, safe.
Next morning, we pick him up and take him to a vet. Despite the dozens of ticks on his thin frame, he does not have biliary. He needs feeding, but he will be fine, the vet tells us.
Cora is worried about his mental health: “He looks like a dog who has given up, don’t you think?”
‘Hangdog’ is the perfect description; there’s not a spark of life to him. Not until we take him from the vet’s surgery back to the CLAW twin-cab, that is. He walks to the vehicle and gets in without having to be lifted; he sits and looks around. Blackie has had a small epiphany: he’s not going to be abandoned elsewhere.
Later that day, when Cora drops me at my home, Blackie sits up, plainly curious, and responds when I stroke his head and say goodbye. That night, when Cora calls to tell me he has offered her a playful bow, tears come to my eyes.
And the next day, when a woman called Lindi Engelbrecht offers to foster him, I know Blackie will be alright. He will get not only the food and shelter he needs, but also the love and kindness that has been missing from his life for all this dreadful time.
Just one thing nags at me: Somewhere – and we are struggling to find contact details – there’s a sick old lady who cared for Blackie and his brother. Thanks to the callous, heartless and illegal behaviour of her stepdaughters and their tenants, one dog is lost forever and the other has been unbearably abused.
The old lady has lost her husband and her dogs, and my heart aches for her.
Learn about other work the CLAW program is doing in Africa.
Article source: IFAW