Growing up, the Lowveld’s Karin Erasmus wanted a farm more than anything else. She told her parents it would have to have lots and lots of dogs, plenty of space, and be in the Cape.
As she grew older, she realised that farms were not exclusive to the Cape, and also that having lots of dogs cost money. “My dad put his foot down and said I would have to start working to pay for the dogs if I wanted them at home,” she laughs. “He told me that our household wasn’t the Alberton SPCA, and he wasn’t going to pay for all the animals I took in anymore! Looking back, it was probably a good thing. I went and got a part-time job working at Edgars on Saturdays, and starting caring for them myself. It’s not cheap, let me tell you!” she says. This was the beginning of a lifelong path, one that has culminated in
Pro-Life Pet Rescue, Rehabilitation and Adoption Agency a well-loved local haven for abused, abandoned and ill-treated animals.
Over the years Karin continued to bring in animals, always saying they would stay “just for a short while”. Of course, it was hardly ever just for a short while! She volunteered at a rescue organisation for a spell, but felt that she wanted to do more than was possible there; her hands were tied.
When her children had grown up and flown the coop, she decided the time had come to finally start her animal sanctuary, and started looking for just the right premises. “It was quite difficult,” she smiles. “You can’t be too close to the road, because of the animals, but then you can’t be too far from it, because then people won’t bother to come. Also, it can’t be in a built-up area, because the neighbours will complain about the noise. Obviously, we also needed a lot of space, which was important because I wanted to grow the sanctuary over time.”
The perfect offer came along when someone suggested the land near Chimp Eden. It had a borehole, although not a pump, but the space was what was required to fulfil Karin’s dream; it was close enough to the road and not too far out of Mbombela, but also not in town. “I had a look at it, and jumped at the chance. It was a lot of work though. There was nothing here, and everything you see today we built from the ground up.
“The public have been amazing; most of the camps are sponsored by people or corporations. For example, the ‘fat camp’ is where the dogs go who need to lose weight. It was sponsored by Nirvana Country House, and they have modelled it to resemble their lodge. There is a hanging chair and dog houses, with aloes strategically planted to make the camp look just like the stoep area of a game lodge.” As she explains this, Karin also tut-tuts at the dogs which come running to greet her. “Nee, jy’s nie te vet nie, nè? Kom hierso, Tjoppies,” she laughs, as he comes running over, fat bum and tail wagging furiously.
Here these animals have a second chance at life. Some of them have come from the most appalling circumstances, but resilience, hope and a little help from decent human beings have given them the opportunity to fight another day. “I laugh sometimes when people see a dog with three legs, or a cat with one eye. It’s immediately, ‘ag shame!’ and I always say, why shame? Look at him, he’s perfectly happy.
“Animals don’t have that self-pity we have. They adapt and get on with it. I have 31 dogs at home, and the one with three legs is the one that runs the fastest! And none of the others look down on him or see him as any different, because he’s not. I don’t believe in killing an animal just because they are unwanted. Each soul deserves another chance and if we can give it to them, we will. Unfortunately, the truth is that they need to be marketed; they need to be in the public eye. If people don’t see them, they are forgotten.”
The cat camp is a haven of swing beds, hammocks and cool, shady spots under the trees. These beautiful beasties twirl and swirl around you, and it’s rather tempting to sit down and spend the afternoon cutting the chaff with them. “People often tell me they want a fluffy white cat when they get here, and leave with a tabby shorthair. And when I ask, and now, what happened to the fluffy white cat, they say, well, this one kind of chose me. And that’s the way it should be; all of these animals desperately need a good home. Mostly it’s the kittens and puppies that go first. And for every animal we rehome, there is a chance for another one.” Sadly, there are so many, and Pro-Life can only take in a certain amount. It is irresponsible and cruel not to sterilise your pets.
There are millions of homeless, abandoned and abused animals out there. Why add to it? Shelters such as Pro-Life and the SPCA desperately need all the support they can get, because there are so many unwanted animals. This situation would be dramatically reduced if everyone sterilised theirs. “Also, adopt, don’t shop. We do strict home tests, and all our animals that are adopted are sterilised and vaccinated, which is, overall, a considerable saving.”
Karin bends to scoop up a dog who has been trying to attract her attention for a while. He wags his tail so hard, he almost wags himself out of her arms. She laughs and he whips round to give her cheek a few quick licks. “Look at the affection, the sheer joy of being alive. Animals are uncomplicated and giving. The only rule we have here is no swearing at each other. You can hear when they start to get cross about something. The tone of their bark changes, and that means they are swearing. That’s not allowed. We need to keep order!” She laughs, and all the dogs bark their agreement.
This year, Karin plans on renovating some of the camps, and perhaps expanding at a later date. The upkeep is important, obviously, and the dogs are rotated so they have a change of scenery and meet new friends, so space really is of the essence. “We’d like to expand, but at the moment the main thing is making sure everything is still as it should be, fixing up here and there. General wear and tear means that things deteriorate and need replacing, or a new paint job is in order, which all costs money, not to mention our food and vet bills. We now have our clinic, but this is strictly for our animals. We don’t do sterilisations for the public.”
These animals give of themselves over and over, and are so often discarded, as if they were worn out toys or old furniture. Yet they are often the most loyal member of a household. They certainly deserve every chance they can get at a good, loving home. Maybe it’s true that saving one animal won’t change the world, but it will certainly change the world for that animal, and at the end of the day, that’s a good start.
To donate, contact 079-498-7971
Pro-Life has a number of fundraisers throughout the year, and is always happy to take in any unwanted bits or bobs. You are welcome to come and walk the dogs or sit with the cats at any time. They love the company and the outing. You can also now take a dog along with you to parkrun, an initiative that has proven to be a great success with dogs and people alike.