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Guest Post: Domestic Animal Shelter

This lovely piece was written by Sonia Peck. If you would like to share her experience, have a look at our Domestic Animal Shelter project. 

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Sonia’s story: 

This is a remarkable story about how one rescue dog rescued me.

Towards the end of 2017 I was going through an incredibly challenging time, where it seemed like every door I tried to open not only closed, but closed with a collection of yet more and more difficulties. I was left feeling lost, anxious and very unsettled with no direction or purpose; eventually coming to the disconcerting conclusion that it would be best if I started afresh, anew, a new focus. 

After a long tearful conversation with my mother, I decided under her nurturing direction (which is still very much needed at the ripe age of 37!), to pop into the Domestic Animal Shelter in Hout Bay that I had been curious about for many years. So, acting on this decision whilst it was still fresh and clear, I used the emotional momentum take the 30 minute drive from Muizenberg to the Domestic Animal Shelter the very next morning. 

To be honest, I have never really been a dog person, but more of a cat lover. This is purely down to the fact that dogs have more needs, than me as rather a free spirit, find somewhat overwhelming. Cats tend to flow in and out of your time independently, allowing you more freedom, with just the odd 'check in' to make sure all is well. But I had worked with all-sorts of animals in my life from sheep to pigs, rabbits to parrots, penguins to lions (country dependent!) but had never worked at an establishment that was dog focused. 

The driveway to the Domestic Animal Shelter is marked with a blue and white panelled fence that lures you in off the main road of Hout Bay, opposite Imizamo Yethu. I entered and parked. It took me a few moments to compose myself, as the sight and sound of almost 200 rescued dogs all reacting with excitement really took my breath away. This was bound to be a bitter-sweet experience; bitter with contemplation over the sad reality of the fate of many township dogs; sweet with the knowledge that I can hopefully make a difference.

Up I plodded to the front office, mind a-full of all of the clutter and chaos of personal issues. I nervously introduced myself and asked 'what can I do to help?' .... a loaded question. I was kindly told to take Snoopy out for a walk on premises - she's an old dog of around 9-10 years old with a beautiful temperament - a displaced Africanis from the devastating fires of May 2017. I obediently entered Snoopys enclosure and petted her whilst putting the lead around her neck. There was something profoundly luring in her beautiful gaze; her pupils standing apart from her chestnut iris'. With that connection came a wave of presence - where all of my minds clutter fell away for just one moment. In the next breath, she jumped to her feet and pranced around like a puppy, excited by the realisation of the imminent walk!

The Domestic Animal Shelter is blessed to be set in grounds large enough to offer diverse exercise and enrichment. I decided to walk her around the field on her lead first, which I discovered much to my horror, was also the playground for 3 cows, a species that I am terrified of thanks to some over curious young bulls during a hike in the UK when I was at school. I decided to pull myself together as Snoopy didn't seem to mind them, nor did any of the other volunteers! After a quick 10 minute walk around the field, overcoming my fears whilst  being distracted by the enjoyment and elation of a dog sniffing everything sniff-able, I took her to the 'donkey pen' (historically a donkey pen, but no longer). This is a large fenced space where the Domestic Animal Shelter dogs can run, socialise and feel free. I walked to the far left of the field as I had spotted a stone bench and table that was placed under a tree that cast the only shadows in the field on this hot summers day. Being from the UK, these hot temperatures where somewhat of a challange, so shadow spoke to me like my cat does at feeding time.

I took Snoopy off her lead and gave her the universal signal to 'run free' which entailed my right arm being temptingly thrust forward whilst loudly whispering 'go girl! Run!'...

But instead, she sat down right next to me, wriggled herself tightly into the side of my thigh, looked up at me and rested her head on my leg. Even writing that sentence brings tears to me eyes as I remember the powerful wave of emotion that came over me. It was as if she knew my woes and could feel my pain. She had, without even knowing, comforted me - understood me - heard me - unspoken. She didn't run, she sat by my side and stayed with me. I wished to sit closer to her so I slipped off the bench onto the grass, at which point she lay next to me, alongside me, and placed her leg over mine. She often places her leg over mine when I am sat in her pen, just sitting, just being.

In that moment, I was drawn out of my darkness and lifted by the hypnotic simplicity of animal therapy. We were strangers, yet connected with such true sincerity that I could feel gratitude replacing fear. From that day on, I found myself driving almost 60km a day to come and see Snoopy and take her for walks. I now come here 3 days a week and help in all areas I am needed from office work to dog walking, and have dedicated much of my time to this wonderful establishment. 

When Snoopy hears my voice she is filled with such excitement and glee that my pores ooze with love and acceptance. The healing power of rescue dogs. Symbiotic. Magic.

Sonia Peck
The Domestic Animal Shelter volunteer