NGO Photography: African Tails

Cape Town, South Africa, deals with a large number of animal welfare issues. Most dogs and cats in the city’s underprivileged areas of, whether owned or stray, are in desperate need of access to veterinary services, and over-population of animals in these areas is an overwhelming issue. African Tails, a nonprofit animal welfare organization, works to reduce these issues through feeding programs, education, and mass sterilisation projects. To document some of work done by the African Tails team, award-winning photographer David Preutz volunteered his time for day. Together with our intern Chiara, he joined the crew around the streets of Mamre, a town on the outskirts of Cape Town.

– Images by David Preutz, Text by Chiara Bonvento

On a cloudy Thursday morning, I made my way to the African Tails office in Brooklyn, Cape Town. I was there to meet the organisation’s team and to join them around the streets of Mamre, as David Preutz photographed their field work. During our drive to Mamre, I had the chance to talk with one of the guys in charge of the project, so I could have an idea of what to expect once there. And though Mamre is an rural township as opposed to a more impoverished urban one, the first impression I got of Mamre was that of desolation.

As soon as we arrived we met with David and Fredna, one of the volunteers that lives in Mamre, and we planned our route. We had a list of names and addresses where to stop. It included people who sterilised their dogs and were now waiting for new kennels, dogs in need of food or treatments, and dogs in need of a longer runner. 

While driving around that area, talking to the community and looking at the living conditions of their animals, you can perceive a different reality. The people I met and exchanged words with were very kind. They were smiling at me, available to answer any question I had or to listen to the team’s suggestions. However, people’s attitude towards dogs shocked me.

Our second stop was a family that needed a longer runner for their pet. At a certain point, a nice lady from the house next-door called us for information on how to sterilise her dog. She invited us in to see the animal; a puppy about eight weeks old. It was sleeping outside, under the rain and dirt, attached to an iron chain, in a sort of kennel made out of old shoes. As I was talking to the lady I noticed that her intentions weren’t bad – she simply didn’t realise how bad the living conditions of her dog were. This was disheartening to see.

Sterilisation as prevention

The ever-increasing number of stray dogs adds fuel to the cycle of abuse, suffering and neglect. With this in mind, African Tails has a strong focus on sterilisation; and since 2008, the team has sterilised more than 14,000 animals – including almost 2000 in Mamre. In the words of the organisation’s website, “we believe that ongoing sterilisation programmes will, over the longer term, be the solution to the problem. They will benefit and offer some relief to other welfare organisations as well. At African Tails we believe that pet overpopulation, the resultant neglect, abuse and their relinquishment to animal shelters, and the subsequent euthanasia of the majority of these animals, are problems that we can avoid. We have implemented a rational solution in several informal settlements and impoverished areas of the Western Cape.”

As the field team explained to us, “other than saving lives, spay/neuter programs can substantially decrease the number of disease ridden, neglected, starving and abused animals. These will also reduce the phenomenal costs animal shelters, municipalities, and the public at large carry due to addressing these animal welfare problems”. Through a well-funded, well-designed program that also includes comprehensive education, the positive changes are going to be significant.

Based on the success of these sterilisation projects, African Tails is keen to continue making the same impact on animal welfare in various other areas within the Western Cape by continuing to perform similar population control initiatives and drives.

Treatment and feeding

However, a recurring issue lies in the attitude of most animal owners towards their pets. More than often, they promise to feed their animals without doing so. One of African Tails’s task is to make sure dogs receive the nutrition they need. Each dog’s name is written down, together with its address, so to keep control of the animals’ improvements. The organisation is currently feeding over 150 starving township dogs every day, and to date, they have fed over 10,000.

African Tails receives calls for help on a daily basis from pet owners in townships. Most of them are for assistance when animals have been injured or are sick. These animals are collected by them, treated by a vet, and returned to the owner once the animal has recovered. Each animal sterilized, saves the lives of countless animals being born into a lifetime of suffering and neglect.

Educating the community

On top of their sterilisation and feeding programs, African Tails is focusing on educating communities about responsible animal care through weekly sessions, particularly with children. “Teaching children to have empathy for living creatures,” explains a team member, “not only betters the lives of the animals they encounter, but it also builds and strengthens a community”.

Walking through Mamre made me understand the need for this; I witnessed people treating animals as inanimate objects. At one point, we stopped at a house in which two dogs were living. One of them had a wounded paw. We asked the owners when that did happen, but they didn’t know. We all told them to take it to the nearest vet as soon as possible, but I could perceive from their disinterested answer that it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I felt powerless.

Rescue and Rehoming 

The African Tails organisation, a small dedicated and passionate team, unconditionally commits to make a difference. So far, they have rescued, rehabilitated and re-homed over 2100 dogs, puppies, cats and kittens; giving them the second chance they need and deserve. The adoption process includes a site visit, official documentation; plus ensuring that the dog is healthy, sterilized, micro chipped and up-to-date with all vaccinations and deworming.

“These are the stories that motivate and empower all of us to help relieve, care and educate,” a team member told me. “It is for the wellbeing of the many animals that are almost totally dependent on African Tails. It is thanks to donations to our cause that we are able to achieve these accomplishments!”

Witnessing the impressive hard work of African Tails made us realize how truly challenging the situation is. When I was walking the streets of Mamre, looking at the malnutrition of the majority of the animals, at their living conditions, and sometimes at the way their owners would consider them, paralyzed me. I had goosebumps for the entire time. Then I realised that assuming people know how to take care of an animal isn’t something to take for granted. Educating on animal care is the basic pillar for significant improvements. However, it’s thanks to committed and passionate organisations such as African Tails that this issue improves.

For more information on African Tails – to adopt or to donate to their cause – have a look at their website.