A boy holds his puppy while he waits for it to get treatment at one of CLAW’s mobile clinics in Soul City, an impoverished shantytown on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa.
I spent the past week documenting a nonprofit organization called CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare) that provides free veterinary services for the most impoverished shantytowns in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was so moved by the work they do and had many lump-in-throat moments.
While I was there, this dog was brought in with an embedded chain which had to be cut out of its neck (see photo below). Sadly, this is not an uncommon case and is a product of ignorance and a lack of access to proper collars and leashes…At the same time, despite the poverty, I saw people going to great lengths to get care for their dogs.
CLAW sets up mobile clinics in the shantytowns on specific days. Often people have to walk quite far to reach them and frequently, because they don’t have collars or leashes, they end up carrying their dogs. I saw this over and over–small boys or older women carrying dogs, struggling with the weight. Some children brought a series of dogs and when they were asked whose dogs they were, they answered their neighbor’s or friend’s or uncle’s.
Two boys wait in the rain for their dogs to receive treatment at a mobile clinic in Snake Park.
One case that sticks out in my mind was when a woman called CLAW to get her puppy which apparently wasn’t eating. She lives in the squatter area of Kliptown, one of the roughest townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg (ironically, a historic town where South Africa’s original “Freedom Charter” was first officially adopted). This part of Kliptown is made up of a bunch of small shanties pieced together from whatever people could find and built on top of each other. The roads are almost unnavigable because they are so potholed. A few horrendous-looking porta-potties are the only form of plumbing and the smell of sewage and burning rubber permeates the air (people burn tires to extract what little metal they can to sell). The place looks surreal–like a theatrical dramatization of humans living in hell.
When we found the woman, she took us to her small shanty. Her face was quite strikingly but she was so thin and worn-looking, it projected only pain. When Cora (CLAW’s intrepid founder and one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met) examined the woman’s puppy, it was clear to her the animal had an advanced case of billary (tick bite fever). She told the woman we’d have to take the dog to the clinic for treatment and the woman carried her puppy to the CLAW vehicle. As she placed the puppy inside, I noticed that she had tears streaming down her face. I was so struck by this show of emotion–this woman who appeared so hardened clearly really loved her animal. She quietly asked when she could get her puppy back. Sadly, the puppy died overnight and it still pains me to think of her being told the news.
A woman carries her dog, which has an advanced case of billary, to the CLAW vehicle in Kliptown, South Africa.
Some of my lump-in-throat moments arose out of positive stories too. One morning Cora took me to a beautiful garden right next to a shantytown. She told me that, with some support from CLAW, the shantytown residents worked together to clear a rubbish dump and with a little training, created an exquisitely cared-for garden. Because they can’t afford pesticides, the gardeners make use of a worm farm to fertilize their soil. Cora told me that that interested community members were offered training in organic gardening and at the end of their training, they received a certificate. “Many of these people have never received a certificate in their lives,” Cora said. “So this was a big deal for them. They brought their whole families to the certificate ceremony.” I was so moved by this and struck by the beauty of the garden, the carefully created rows of carrots, lettuces, the lovely patch of herbs and the smell of lavender filling the air. “When I’m discouraged by everything I see, I come here and just walk in this garden,” Cora finished. Definitely a lump in throat moment.
Below are a few more images from my time with CLAW. Just the tip of the iceberg really but hopefully they will give you a small glimpse into CLAW’s world.
Some puppies in a wheelbarrow and their ill mother are brought to a mobile clinic in Snake Park for CLAW to treat.