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Four fearless females move away from the front lines of animal welfare

For years, those who’ve worked at Ark Animal Centre have been referred to as ‘Ark Angels’, but if you’ve spent any time with the mum and three daughters behind this puppy shelter, you’ll surely know they are the real angels at Ark.

Over the past nine years, Tracy Otto and her three daughters – Candice Eilertsen, Kristy von Klitzing and Cara McKinley – built the centre to really live up to its name… It’s been an ark that’s rescued, nurtured and re-homed thousands of puppies and dogs. It also became a serious hotspot – everyone in Joburg’s northern suburbs and beyond wanted to adopt from Ark. Schoolchildren spent hours taking care of the puppies for their community service initiatives. And on Nelson Mandela International Day, the centre was always buzzing.

A lot of this can be attributed to Ark’s phenomenal social media presence – everyone wanted to tag and be tagged by Ark on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Tracy and her three daughters became well-known throughout the northern suburbs’ community – becoming local celebs in their own right for their fearless acts of kindness… They rescued dogs and puppies from harsh situations – but never let on how harsh, as they injected positivity into everything they did – and found caring, ‘forever’ homes for these animals. Tracy, Candice, Kristy and Cara lent their time to everyone who asked for it and acted with integrity and compassion that won the community’s hearts.

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So in May this year, when Tracy announced the centre would be closing its doors, sadness swept across social media… Much has been lost during the Covid-19 pandemic, and for animal welfare in Joburg’s northern suburbs, this is certainly one of the biggest losses.

Tracy explains, ‘As you can imagine, this was not an easy decision to make. For nine years, I lived and breathed Ark. It felt like I was giving up a part of my soul.’

Tracy and her daughters certainly poured their hearts into the centre. From starting out in Tracy’s garage, the centre moved to a property on Summit Road in Midrand before Tracy and her husband made the major decision to sell their Dainfern home, buy a property in Chartwell and build an even bigger centre. From there, it blossomed.

Animal welfare isn’t for the faint-hearted. Long hours. Heartbreak. And many tough decisions. Yet this team of mum-and-daughters made it look effortless and, at times, downright glamorous… Not many in Fourways could forget the Ark Bikini Car Washes – think, a crowd of gorgeous twenty-somethings in bikinis, armed with soapy sponges, washing cars to raise funds for the puppies. It was a drawcard.

‘We slowly built Ark into a wonderful centre where we helped rehabilitate and rehome thousands of dogs and puppies; built up a sterilisation clinic, charity shop, tuck shop; facilitated too-many-to-count community students doing their service; worked with the most amazing volunteers and fosterers; and met fantastic families who adopted our pups and gave them such amazing lives.’

During this time, it wasn’t only the centre that was growing… Within three years, Tracy had gained three  sons-in-law and six grandchildren. ‘Ark was expanding at a rapid rate and our family team was rapidly reducing. I tried to run everything on my own – it has been a rollercoaster ride of extremes.’

Tracy described her time with welfare as both the hardest and most rewarding.

‘I will forever be grateful for the accelerated personal growth I have encountered through these years, lessons I have learnt, people I have met from all walks of life, life and death, ups and downs, successes and failures, euphoria and exhaustion.

‘My favourite personal saying is

“This too shall pass” and Ark Animal Centre’s time has passed.’

Onto the next chapter, and Tracy and her daughters plan to put family first. Tracy is excited to spend precious time with her six gorgeous grandchildren and she’s also expanded her fur-family, taking in 12 adult dogs which have been at Ark for extended periods. ‘Through them, I will still have a little bit of Ark with me.’

Tracy and her daughters have passed the torch of Ark’s ethos onto Woodrock Animal Rescue, along with the last remaining adult dog and her pups.

‘Welfare is like the mafia, once you are in it, you are in it
for life! My heart will always be with welfare and I will support homeless animals forever, but not on the front lines anymore.’

True to her word, Tracy is already lending a helping hand to Woodrock by continuing to run the charity shop – now in a different home by the walk park on their Chartwell property – and she’s made a drop-off point for any donations for Woodrock. The community’s probably not seen the last of the walk park just yet as Tracy toys with some ideas for it in the post-lockdown future.

For now, Tracy and her daughters’ new chapter begins with family time and a search for balance.

Details: Tracy Otto, 082-334-7596.

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