Home LIFESTYLE & TRAVEL Lifestyle Ballito’s besties

Ballito’s besties

For many of us, our four-legged friends are a source of comfort, humour and friendship. We chatted to three North Coast locals about their dogs and the role they play in their lives…

Loca is definitely one of our community’s most well-travelled hounds. Although she now lives her best life chasing crabs on Ballito’s beaches, she had a sad start nine years ago in the island nation of Taiwan. A six-week-old Loca was found alone near an ancient temple at Fulong Beach, whimpering and cuddling her lifeless brother who had been struck by a vehicle. Peter Kowalski, a Canadian studying sea turtles in Taiwan at the time, took her in.
But how did she end up on KZN’s north coast? Well, it turns out Peter was lucky enough to meet both Loca and his South African wife, May, at the very same beach! Unfortunately, getting Loca into SA was a major challenge due to strict animal importation regulations. A great deal of time, money, stress, and logistics were involved, including couriering a sample of Loca’s blood on ice from Taiwan to Johannesburg overnight. “Worth every minute and cent”, says Peter.

Loca is a “Taiwan earth dog”, a mix between Taiwan’s indigenous hunting breed and whatever happened to be wandering the street when she was conceived. So… a Taiwanese street dog. Despite Loca looking like your typical African street dog (or “Africanis”) at first glance, Peter and May often get stopped on the promenade by locals asking what breed Loca is. True to her Taiwanese hunting dog heritage, Loca’s favourite treat is braised pork rice, with her cunning nemesis being the vervet monkey.

Jenna Eaton, a Ballito-based teenager with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has a special bond with her dog Tiggy. Early last year, Jenna’s mom Paula found out about the benefits that an autism support dog could provide and submitted an application through the South African Guide Dogs Association. “The organisation has a very thorough process of matching dogs that are in training, and once a match has been identified, the family goes through extremely thorough training to take on the support dog,” Paula explains.
A few months later, the family received Tiggy. “The trainer felt Tiggy was a great match for Jenna, especially in the role of autism support as opposed to her fulfilling a traditional service dog role,” says Paula. “There are also age limits to receiving support dogs, so getting her this soon has been a blessing!”
Since receiving Tiggy, the family has learnt a lot as she goes everywhere with them. “We have to think through all our movements and holiday plans to ensure she is included,” says Paula. “She comes with lots of responsibility to maintain her training and ensure she fulfils her role. Of course, she also needs her free time and exercise too. She has become intertwined in our lives and has been a beautiful addition to our family.”
Jenna and Tiggy’s relationship has grown immensely over the past year. “We are extremely happy with the companionship that Tiggy provides our daughter,” says Paula. “Being an autistic teenager poses challenges with social abilities, friendship circles and the lack of diverse opportunities and experiences that her peers experience. Tiggy brings her much comfort, love and companionship. We believe this is a fundamental human need and are eternally grateful for this opportunity.”

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Photo credit: Blonde Zulu Media

If you’ve been to Jimbo’s Burger Bar in Ballito, you would have met Vato, the friendly four-legged restaurant manager. Sadly, Vato recently passed away, but he still holds a special place in his owner James Harvey’s heart. A rescue AmStaf, Vato was five months old when James adopted him. James was going through a break-up and staying at a friend’s house when he saw Vato up for adoption. “I thought, what are the chances they’ll choose me? The blue-eyed boy had hundreds of applications. They came for a home check and chose me to be his dad.” Originally called Rocky Blue, James changed his name to Vato, which means dude in Spanish slang, as soon as he picked him up. “I very rarely went anywhere without him,” says James. “I always referred to him as my soul dog.”

James’ bestie spent most of his time at the restaurant. “He mostly headed up guest relations,” jokes James. “His important role was to check the customers were happy with their burgers, but he did tend to hang around certain tables a bit too long!”
The AmStaf breed is often misunderstood as a fighting dog. Vato, however, was anything but aggressive. “He was very social,” says James. “He would sit next to me all day and paw me until I tickled his chest and tummy.”

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