She came slowly plodding to the field, a makeshift lead around her throat, both eyes so badly encrusted with scabs, she was almost blind.
She was also heavily pregnant, belly bulging with unborn pups.
The boy who led her is one we know; a young gap-toothed child wearing an anxious frown. “Her name”, he said, “is Brownie”. No surprises there, most dogs in Sea Vista are Brownies, Blackies – Whitey, sometimes.
“Why are her eyes like this?” He shrugged, looking down.
“Why didn’t you call for help?”
Another shrug. A weary sigh. A sad breath of air. “Dunno,” he said, looking away.
We washed her eyes with warm water and gently removed the scabs. Brownie was quiet, not a murmur escaped as we scratched away the crustiness. Her eyes, revealed, were painfully inflamed and light- sensitive. The skin around both eyes bloomed bright pink. Willingly, she lifted her head to allow us to apply antibiotic eye ointment. A great dollop in each eye and slug trails of ointment smoothed into the skin. She blinked. “Better?”
The boy nodded. A tug on the lead as he turned to walk away.
“Wait! Tell your mother, if she wants, we can put Browne in a safe place while her eyes get better and she has her puppies.”
“Okay.” No expression. Another tug on the lead.
“Listen, this is important. Tell your Mom, okay? We can keep her safe until the pups are born.”
“She’s my brother’s dog.”
“Ask your brother then. Can you do that?”
“He’s gonna say no.”
“Have you got your Ma’s number?”
But the call goes to voicemail.
The sight of Browning, staggering, ponderously across the grassy field, screwing her eyes against the glare of afternoon sunlight, is troublesome.
That evening, calls are made to the boy’s mother. At last she answers.
“I can’t get involved,” she says. “She’s my husband’s dog. He shares her with my son. I wish I could help, but…”
She gives the son’s number.
We argue. “Neglect,” I hear myself saying, sharply. “Those eyes. You can’t just leave a dog with a serious condition like that. Is she sleeping outside? Yes? In this wind? Does she have somewhere safe to give birth to her puppies?”
At last he concedes. “You can take her,” he says, eventually. “But I want her back with her pups.”
“All in good time. I’ll collect her tomorrow. Will you be there? You’ll need to sign a release?”
But he’s not at the house. Brownie is at the back. Hidden behind a pile of builder’s rubble, an upturned donated rubber kennel, choked with rubbish, piles of splintered wood, sheets of rusting corrugated iron. She’s in a broken wooden structure, open to the elements, a wire fence peeling away from the front.
“Come Brownie, come here!”
A young girl carrying a baby walks towards us. “We glad you taking her,” she says.”
Brownie is emerging from behind the fence. Gingerly, she picks her way over lumber, bricks, broken tiles, cracked glass.
We slip a lead over Brownie’s neck and lead her to the car.
From nowhere, another brown dog, her twin, suddenly joins us. The twin is also pregnant. Her ballooned belly is as distended as Brownie’s.
“I don’t believe it! You have two pregnant dogs on this property.”
The girl with the baby smiles. “Yes,” she nods.
She turns to a dog emerging from the house, barking furiously, baring yellow teeth. He is followed by another male, limping on three legs.
“These are yours as well?”
“Yes,” another smile. “And another, in the back.”
A vigorous nod.
We heave Brownie into the back seat of the car. She slumps gratefully onto the clean duvet. The ‘twin’ is nudging our legs.
“Can we take this girl too? Put her in a safe place until she has her pups.”
The young girl shrugs. “Not my dog.”
A decision is made quickly. “Tell your brother we have both dogs.”
She waves as we drive away. Jiggling the baby. Grinning and nodding tacit approval.
The two dogs sit up in the back seat. Watching through the windows. Brownie squints through sore, reddened, swollen eyes. It’s unlikely they’ve travelled in a car before and yet both girls are calm and relaxed.
We draw up at private kennels in Humansdorp. Both sisters are placed together in one fenced run, away from other boarding dogs.
They share a roomy weatherproof plastic igloo.
Clean beds with soft pillows and blankets – real comfort and safety for their first time in their lives. They seem exhausted. They lie close together. Sleep comes quickly.
At two o’clock the next morning, Brownie delivers 7 puppies.
Two days later, after a difficult labour, her sister gives birth to 9 puppies.
We congratulate ourselves. “Imagine, another 16 dogs in the township!”
A plan is hatched. Two pups from each litter will be kept, the rest put quietly to sleep. Both Moms will be spayed once their puppies are 8 weeks old, ready for adoption into loving homes.
Brownie and her sister will be returned home after their owner’s yard has been cleaned and cleared of rubbish. We will provide kennels, blankets, bowls for food and water, leads and food for both dogs.
But the owner has called and is demanding both females and their puppies. He has not given permission for these dogs to be removed.
He is angry, shouting, unreasonable, unwilling to listen to reason.
A Law Enforcement Officer is called to explain the situation to the owner who is a respected member of the community. His wife is someone with authority in the Municipality. The family must accept they have too many dogs on their property and living conditions for these animals are completely unacceptable.
The SPCA Inspector visits the house. There is a powerful dog on a chain on the property; hidden, unseen, invisible. A verbal warning is given.
But the owner keeps calling. Sending messages demanding dogs and pups be returned immediately.
The two girls, in the kennels are luxuriating in comfort, quiet and peace. Three nutritious meals are provided daily. Brownie’s medicated eyes are slowly improving.
Each has two puppies. We have put the others to sleep. There is no place in an overcrowded community for more vulnerable pups exposed to neglect, hunger, disease, potential cruelty.
The conflict with the owner continues. What to do? We find ourselves in that place we know so well. Between stone and a cactus plant.
This is where we stand at the time of writing