Barking up the Right Tree

By Gabi Falanga & Sarah Kobal

Pic: Simone Armer

Emotions shift into overdrive and blood begins to boil as you watch that straggly puppy with the big brown eyes running aimlessly around town. As you watch him, you think angrily to yourself, “Shouldn’t the SPCA be here to rescue this pup?”

After numerous complaints from concerned Grahamstown residents regarding the apparent incompetency of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Activate wondered if there was valid reason for this or whether they were barking up the wrong tree?


We find SPCA manager, Nicolette Armansin, sitting in the shade feeding a dog, surrounded by the rest of the doggy troop. Covered in fur, she gets up to greet us. As she shows us around the immaculately clean kennels, Armansin explains how they are busy everyday, one hundred percent of the time. “The SPCA does a lot of behind the scenes things; we just get on with the job. If we haven’t responded to a call it means that we are probably busy with another call,” she said.

Every morning, the SPCA staff check on all the animals. After that they feed the animals and clean the kennels. Maloli Dingana runs the SPCA’s mobile clinic every day of the week. Dingana says, “It is a tough job.” This is not only because he is constantly busy with calls, some as late as 22h00, but many of the things he has to deal with are emotionally challenging.

Apart from caring for sick animals and creating awareness, Dingana has to face the more gory and heart rending aspects of the job, such as catching dogs that have their heads trapped in snares, donkeys that have been hit by cars and numerous horrific animal neglect and abuse cases. These include poisoned animals, boiling water poured over pets and overloaded donkey carts. A vet gets called out for animals that are in a critical condition.

The pound section of the SPCA also looks after stray cows brought in by the municipality. On the rare occasion when birds are turned into the SPCA, they contact Basil Mills, who looks after injured and abandoned birds.

The Grahamstown SPCA not only responds to and seeks out cruelty cases, they also run the municipal pound for stray animals, have boarding facilities, deworm and dip animals for a R5 fee and have a pet cemetery. The Grahamstown SPCA services the whole Makana area which includes Greater Grahamstown and Alicedale.

In an effort to minimize the strays and unwanted litters that are often found in underprivileged areas, the SPCA held a sterilisation week in February. They had information booths outside Pick ‘n Pay and Checkers. They then went into the various areas and let people sign their pets up to be sterilised. “Sterilisation week went very well. We got 100 sterilisations done and our information booths must have reached thousands of people!” said Armansin.

The kennels at the SPCA are cleaned throughout the day and the animals seem content and in good condition. An energetic black dog with long ears runs around and plays with us when we go into his run. The kittens clamber over our legs and make us laugh at their funny antics and small meows. The donkeys nudge us gently as we scratch their soft, fluffy foreheads.

The animals are not only given attention by the SPCA workers, but also by volunteers and members of the Rhodes Organisation for Animal Rights (ROAR), who visit every second weekend and Wednesday afternoons. ROAR member, Jade Bierman, said, “When we visit the SPCA, most people play with and walk the dogs. They also dip and bath them. I go and play with the cats because they don’t get as much attention.” Bierman was surprised at how friendly the animals are and says it is a fulfilling experience to spend time there. She also commented on how students often get pets when moving into digs, but then take them to the SPCA when they become an inconvenience.

Luckily, the Grahamstown SPCA has a high adoption rate, because when domestic animals, especially dogs are kept in kennels for a long time, they start to lose some of their social skills which can result in behavioural problems. These animals are less likely to find a good home.Many people do not realise that the SPCA is not a government funded organisation. This means that they rely on donations to survive. They also receive little or no funding from the municipality for running the pound. Without the support of the public, this organisation would not be running anymore and it would not be able to achieve what it has been achieving.

An area of concern for many students has been that there seems to be an increasing amount of street children who are selling puppies on the streets of Grahamstown. “Do not buy the puppies. Rather phone us when you see this happening,” said Armansin. Even though you think you might be helping by buying and rescuing one puppy from a bad situation, you are in fact perpetuating and encouraging the situation. The puppy that you have bought is merely one out of many. By phoning the SPCA when you see children selling puppies, especially ones that look neglected and don’t have access to water, they can investigate and take the appropriate action. It is difficult to understand exactly what happens behind the scenes at the SPCA unless you have been there yourself and seen the conditions that the volunteers work under and what conditions the animals are in.

ROAR chairperson, Kathryn Mcconnachie, commends the SPCA for their efforts. “The SPCA is doing the best they can with what they have. They are constantly fighting an uphill battle and without the full support of the Grahamstown community I think it is unreasonable to expect them to do more than they already are,” she said.

One thing is for sure, the SPCA is definitely barking up the right tree!

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