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Saving Snoopy the hypothermic pup that nearly died

Read further on Pictures by Claudia Ruth Pearce

The soaking-wet black puppy named Snoopy was ice-cold and barely breathing when he arrived with his very concerned owners at our clinic early in the morning in June 2019. The pup was in a dangerous state of hypothermia. It seemed that he’d been left outside overnight in the cold and rain. Hypothermia is generally fatal in puppies. He was rushed to the clinic’s theatre where veterinarian, Dr Joy, switched on the Bair Hugger, a special warming blanket used for both humans and animals to manage temperature in hospitals and during surgery. She began rubbing his icy body to get his circulation going. Snoopy was wrapped in a clean, dry blanket and placed into the Bair Hugger, along with a warm bottle. It was “make or break” time for this puppy. It was a few tense hours before Snoopy showed signs that he’d make it. As soon as he lifted his head, he was given puppy recovery soft food which had been warmed up. He ate and drank, both excellent signs. Against all odds, just two days later, sparkling-eyed Snoopy was bounding around the clinic, full of life and energy – as all pups should be. Snoopy's is an all-too-common tale – a combination of indiscriminate breeding and lack of knowledge are to blame. “There are many backyard breeders. Puppies are ripped away from their mothers at a premature age so that they can be sold for cash. These breeders often do not know the needs of a puppy and sell them when they’re too young. Many of them die. Puppies have different needs to older dogs, but, due to a lack of understanding, they’re often treated like older dogs, such as the case with Snoopy. The fact is that puppies need to stay with their mothers for at least six weeks, preferably longer. This is important for both health and social development. A mother’s milk is nutritional and crucial for pups to grow properly. They also receive much-needed immune protection from the milk. Moreover, young pups cannot generate enough heat – they need their mother to snuggle up to so as to stay warm. With individuals selling underage puppies to people who may not have all the necessary information, there’s much potential for suffering.

Snoopy wasn’t out of the woods yet and needed monitoring around the clock. Because our clinic isn’t staffed overnight, our finance assistance, Tashmin May, took him home with her until he was strong enough to go back to his own home. And go home he did – amidst a storm of controversy from the public. During the entire time that Snoopy had been in our care, his owners had shown deep concern and checked up on him regularly. We undertook an education intervention with Snoopy’s owners to help them understand the needs of dogs and, particularly, puppies. They were very eager to learn. There’d never been any intention to mistreat him – they’d simply lacked the knowledge of what a puppy needs, having assumed that, if adult dogs could sleep outside (as most township animals do), so could puppies. They were excited to have Snoopy return home and were eager to apply their newfound animal knowledge. We shared Snoopy’s story on Facebook when he arrived at our doors with the intention to educate. We expected a backlash, as this is what usually happens when an animal returns to their original home, and, as expected, our page exploded with comments. People were horrified that we’d considered returning him; they accused his owners of being cruel humans and questioned why we didn’t confiscate him outright. But, having spent 23 years in Khayelitsha and immersing ourselves in the community, we know that removing an animal is not always the best choice, especially when neglect was due to ignorance. There are not enough homes to rehome all animals and by removing a pet we create space for a new pet to enter that gap. The new pet will also be neglected as their owners had not received education. This, of course, does not count for cases where clear abuse or known neglect has occurred. Having spoken at length with Snoopy’s owners, we knew that confiscation was not an option in this case and that education and empowerment would change this family. Snoopy's family is now empowered to care for dogs and will become educators and role models in their community. Snoopy is happy and well; we do regular checkups on him to make sure his owners are implementing the educational information and to check that he stays healthy and strong. Unathi Ntsondwa, Snoopy’s owner, shares… I remember when I brought Snoopy to the clinic. Sadly, he was in a very bad condition and I thought he was dying! I’d like to thank the Mdzananda Animal Clinic staff for saving Snoopy and I’m very grateful for the education they gave me on how to take care of small puppies. Lastly, I’d like to thank Tashmin May, the lady who took care for my Snoopy for the whole two weeks to help him recover and gain his strength, and for the blankets she gave him to keep him warm. Thank you to all for everything you did for Snoopy!

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