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When words fail, pictures say it all

Cape Town has a substantial street dog problem. It is estimated that there are around 130,000 to 300,000 pets in Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town’s largest townships. Working to fight this issue and to provide support to pet owners in the area is the Mdzananda Animal Clinic. In collaboration with the Penda Trust, award-winning Australian pet photographer Deb Sulzberger recently volunteered a day of her time to document the work done by the Mdzananda team. We’re excited to show a selection of her images. At Mdzananda we often get phone calls from people who want to help or who want to visit but who are too scared to come to Khayelitsha. This is understandable as there are some dangerous areas and, given our history, it is an unknown factor for many but we always encourage them to come. Most don't. The experience of the township, its creativity and its friendly people is something you will never forget. Deb’s photos are just beautiful and it really captures what we do. We wanted to share these with anyone who has not been lucky enough to visit Mdzananda.

Mdzananda’s mission is to provide companionship and community care for every animal. We work to enhance wellbeing for animals and their community through veterinary health care, education and partnerships. Our aim is to see a community that cares for every animal be it a pet, a neighbour’s pet or a stray pet. We work on enhancing the wellbeing of animals and their human companions through providing low cost veterinary health care services (below our cost-recovery price) and education and by forming partnerships inside and outside of the community.

To really understand the Mdzananda Animal Clinic’s work it is essential to understand the community that it serves. Close to one million people are living in Khayelitsha today.

The township is impoverished, has high levels of crime and violence and there is a lack of education and lack of income. With the low level of jobs and income, community members have their own struggles – feeding and caring for themselves. Animal issues are not always at the top of their list, however, this does not mean that animals are not loved. Daily we see numerous community members who really love their pets. Lack of finances and understanding of pets' needs are what can result in neglect.

There are a number of problems we face in our community including health problems that could have been prevented with early vaccination and overpopulation that could have been prevented with sterilisation. Not understanding pets' needs sometimes means that pets are not admitted for help on time - a dog with a broken leg could be left lying in the yard for a week before being brought to us for assistance as people don’t always realise that pets need urgent medical care just as humans do. Even though we do a lot of educational outreach, our team is not currently as large as we would like it to be. We aim to grow our educational outreach further. This, of course, depends on funding, something we are struggling with at present. We are in the process of applying for funding with the aim of putting together a full time education team.

Another problem we face is that, in a community like ours, people come with very deeply ingrained cultural beliefs. Unfortunately most of these beliefs are not based on science. Sometimes harm is done to pets due to the beliefs of the culture or “home remedies” that have been spread across the community e.g. a cat was set alight as it was believed to be cursed and that people were using the cat for witchcraft.

At Mdzananda we treat up to 700 pets per month through our consultation rooms, hospital, surgery, mobile clinics and animal ambulance. Our hospital can cater for up to 40 pets at a time with the average stay being 5 days. We have had instances were pets have stayed up to three months with us to recover. Our surgery room is equipped to perform nearly any surgery. We sterilize 5 - 10 pets per day, mend many broken bones, remove cancerous lumps, stitch up wounds and much much more.

Though our main focus is a clinic we cannot avoid pets being handed over to us, being abandoned or roaming the streets without homes. On average we have 20 stray dogs and 20 stray cats at our facility. As we are not set up as a shelter, these pets stay in our hospital runs which are actually meant to be used for our clinic pets to get exercise. We also have around 20 dogs and 30 cats in foster homes. Finding homes for pets can take anything up to a year. We have had wonderful success stories of pets travelling across the country to their perfect homes. The number of stray pets keeps increasing and puts a large strain on our facility but, with hard work and committed supporters, we keep finding them homes.

Every year the number of patients admitted to our clinic for assistance and the number of people visiting our organisation grows. The need for our services is enormous but the funding does not always match this need. Funding to keep our organisation going is always a challenging issue. We have many ideas of how to improve and do more for the community but funding is what limits us. This year alone we lost 64% of the funding that was being given to us from our largest donor. Our largest funder gave us notice of funding withdrawal due to international budget cuts. They will be withdrawing over the period 2017 – 2019. Their funding covered around 65% of our expenses.

Thanks so much Deb for participating in the Penda Trust's nonprofit photography programme and for documenting our important work in such a stunning way!

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