Words and photos by Andrea Abbott
Veterinary hospital manager, Eric Zungu of Hillcrest, KZN, is a man of dogged determination. A key member, along with veterinarian Dr Mike Lowry of the remarkable Mike Hardwich Foundation (MHF) – an NGO that sterilises underprivileged dogs and cats from poor communities in the wider Hillcrest region – Eric is also in many ways the face of that organisation.
Since the inception of the MHF three years ago, Eric has been going into those communities to fetch dogs and cats and take them back to Dr Lowry’s veterinary hospital where they’re sterilised and treated for conditions like mange and parasite infestation. Furthermore, Eric regularly visits schools in those disadvantaged areas to educate children on pet care.
“The first thing I tell them is that when they eat at night, they must also remember that their dogs need to eat too. I also show them how to hold their animals – people tend to hold them by legs or tails because they say they bite. But I explain that the reason the dogs bite is because they’re being hurt and that they won’t bite if they’re properly held.” Eric also stresses to the children that if dogs are scratching and the fur is falling out, they must not put engine oil on them. “That’s the common belief in those communities. I tell them that oil makes things much worse. They must phone me instead.”
Eric himself owns 11 dogs – 4 of them rescued from abusive homes – all cherished and even allowed to sleep inside. He openly admits though that he too has changed his mind-set. “When I started working for Dr Mike, I was amazed to see people spending so much money on food for their dogs. Where I came from, we just gave dogs any leftovers there might be.” One day he bought a bag of dog food and took it home. “Seeing how much the dogs appreciated that food, and how after that first time they came running to meet me when I came home from work, I realised how much love and trust a dog will give its owner. Working with Mike has changed me completely.”
See how dogs are part of the human herd.
Eric’s stories of his weekly trips into places like Shongweni and KwaNgcolosi are heart-warming. “At first, when I told people that I was collecting dogs to be sterilised, the first thing they’d ask is how much it would cost. I’d tell them it was free – that others were paying – and even then, some didn’t believe they’d get their dogs back.”
But once the doubters saw the dogs being returned the same day, things started snowballing and Eric would spend precious hours driving around collecting dogs. Eventually he hit on the idea of paying Gogos to collect dogs and cats and to explain to the owners the process and also how important sterilisation was. “The system saves me a lot of time and reduces fuel costs while also giving Gogos an income.”
“The communities are now behind the programme,” Eric says, “and people are so grateful. Often they give us what they can, like avocados and cabbages from their gardens, as a way of thanking us.” A particularly rewarding incident for Eric was the time a little boy aged around 6 years waved him down. “He said he wanted to show me his grandfather’s dogs immediately. He jumped into the bakkie and took me to some very skinny, mange-ridden dogs.” The dogs were subsequently treated and sterilised but what touched Eric deeply was that a young child knew to approach him. “Before, people didn’t know that dogs needed any care.”
Mike Hardwich Foundation 031 7652123
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