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My experience visiting the Mdzananda Animal Clinic

Watch Zoe's video of Mdzananda Animal Clinic:

It’s been fifteen minutes since I took the Spine Road exit off the N2 looking out for a sign to ‘Graceland’. I am miles from Memphis, on my way to the Mdzananda animal clinic in Khayelitsha, struck by the vastness of the township. Ros, a graceful woman with soft eyes and silver hair, meets me immediately on arrival and introduces herself as the hospital manager. While we discuss my visit I am given a thorough security sniff by two furry residents.

The clinic is a cluster of small buildings and shipping containers surrounded by a garden. “We attempt to prove to the community that you don’t have to live in Bishopscourt to have a garden” smiles Ros.

As soon as you enter the relatively small space it seems to expand brimming with activity. After a few moments you become accustomed to the scent of medical sanitizers mingled with the musty smells that hang in the air but the animal sounds draw your attention in all directions. The staff takes little notice of us going about their work.

Ros gives me a tour of the clinic starting with the operating room where I meet Marc, the clinic’s resident doctor, who is stitching up a sedated pet with injuries to his jaw. I am then shown the main kennel where dogs awaiting adoption or surgery are kept. The place erupts in barks of anticipation at the sound of our footsteps and the smaller puppies leap up against the mesh vying for attention. After showing me where the cats are kept Ros leads me back to her office to conduct the interview. “We provide a very necessary service in a place as poor as Khayelitsha where there are about 150 000 domestic animals. We treat an average of 1000 animals, whose owners do not have the finances to consult private vets, per month”. Fortunately, thanks to a few loyal funders, the clinic is able to treat animals free of charge. The biggest sponsors are IFAW (International Fund of Animal Welfare), Investec and Dogs Trust. Mdzananda also receives donations from Paw Members who are individuals giving monthly donations and people who give anything from R100 to a R1000 after reading about them.

Prior to Mdzananda there was no animal welfare in the area and, like so many of the NGO’s I have reviewed, it owes its inception to the initiative of one person who saw a need and took personal action. Twenty years ago a man called Joe, who still lives in the area, noticed that a great number of dogs in Khayelitsha were getting sick from tic-borne diseases. He decided to do rounds on a Saturday morning with a shopping trolley filled with a bucket of dip. In no time he acquired a small team of assistants of local children which, as Ros said, “changed the way the youngsters in neighborhood started seeing animals”. Ros adds that one of these youngsters, Lazola, is now a leading member of the team and has been with the clinic since its establishment twenty years ago.

“Have we made a huge difference? We are still focusing on putting out the fires”, says Ros. "The treatments include a lot of vaccinations, sterilizations, operations as well as outreach programs to educate children on how to care for their pets". Although the work is extremely rewarding Ros cautions my idealistic notion that this must be the most wonderful job. “It comes with huge responsibility.”

As we head back towards the entrance I pause in front of a few cages to look at wide-eyed cats, adorable puppies and recovering dogs with woeful looks but wagging tails before emerging from the building. As I leave I’m again struck by the sense that Mdzananda is in many ways an oasis in this particular desert.

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