On the 22nd of February the Mdzananda Animal Clinic in Khayelitsha witnessed one of the most severe cases of animal cruelty ever experienced at our organization – a cat had been set on fire while alive - in the street, a hundred meters from the clinic.
A staff member was driving to attend our mobile clinic outreach when he passed what appeared to be a burning animal on the road. He turned back to see what it was and a woman from the community was pushing at the animal with a stick. He immediately climbed out to try save the animal, but the animal , then identified as a cat, had already died. After confronting the culprit he called our team up the road to assist as the culprit and supporting community members were verbally aggressive and did not listen to him.
“As soon as our staff member called us I ran down the street to where the incident occurred. Three management team members and two other staff members joined me. A group of five ladies were gathered around the body. The youngest woman, whose name is unknown to me but who I can identify and of whom I took a photograph, advised me in the presence of my colleagues and several neighbours that she had burnt the cat,” says Marcelle du Plessis, Fundraising and Communications Manager.
“When asking her why she burnt the cat she first said that it had been sitting on her roof for two days making a noise and that she could not sleep. When we asked why she hadn’t called on us to help with the problem, she then said that it was looking at her with “snake eyes” and that it was evil. She said that people in the communality are using cats to do witchcraft to destroy people’s lives,” says du Plessis.
Township environments come with a large history of cultural beliefs. “I understand that the community that we work in have very deeply ingrained cultural beliefs, many of these not based on scientific fact. I by no means want to insult people’s beliefs as I have my own cultural beliefs too, but when your belief clashes with the law, you cannot act on your belief. Our law is written to protect the people of this country as well as our animals and we need to respect the law.”
Du Plessis told the culprit that legal action would be taken against her for severe animal cruelty. She showed no remorse and said that she was happy for the police to prosecute her, she would do it again.
As the Mdzananda Animal Clinic works closely with the SPCA Cape of Good Hope, the chief inspector was called immediately as SPCA inspectors have the legal capacity to prosecute animal cruelty cases. “We have a very good relationship with the SPCA and the inspectors are always ready to help when we need their assistance,” says du Plessis.
The body of the cat was removed and kept in the care of the Mdzananda Animal Clinic until an SPCA staff member arrived. A laboratory report indicates that the cat was burnt alive. A case of animal cruelty has been opened and the SPCA will be taking this case to prosecution.
“This case is heartbreaking, but what is the most discouraging is that no amount of education will change such deeply ingrained beliefs that run for generations. We will continue to educate, but what will really make the difference is if people from the community, who know the truth and do not agree with such beliefs and treatment of animals, start standing up and telling their fellow community members to stop the cruelty,” says du Plessis.
Through educational interventions the Mdzananda Animal Clinic will continue their outreach to the community. Such education will also include discerning between normal animal behaviour (for example a cat on heat) versus a cat showing witchcraft behavior). “Even if the latter is believed, the law is against animal behavior and we cannot break the law,” says du Plessis.
The Mdzananda Animal Clinic appeals to community members to stand up against animal cruelty and to report any signs of animal abuse or neglect. They also appeal to the community to rather call Mdzananda or the SPCA to assist with any animal cases instead of taking matters into their own hands.
Mdzananda can be reached on 021 367 6001 or 082 251 0554 and the SPCA on 021 700 4159/8 or 083 326 1604 for after hour emergencies.
A community dog sniffs at the ashes left behind at the scene