Doggy Tuesday - Notes from a Twala Trust Volunteer
On August 1, Twala Trust-Zimbabwe became a 2023 AKI Africa-Based Animal Welfare Organization Grant Program recipient for the 2nd time. These are 2-days of notes from a Twala Trust volunteer, Amanda, about her experience at Twala Trust's Doggy Tuesday (our grant supports dog food for almost 5 months of Doggy Tuesdays). Amanda spent one month as a volunteer at Twala Trust during April and May 2023.
Monday 29th April 2023
I’m back at the Twala Trust Animal Sanctuary in Zimbabwe! This time, I’m staying for a full month, carefully orchestrated so I can be involved in four Doggy Tuesdays. It might be Monday, but Doggy Tuesday has already started in earnest. As I work with my fellow volunteers preparing breakfast for all the animals (a mammoth task - there’s 400 animals on the sanctuary), I see a group of Twala staff building an enormous fire, and organising huge drums of chicken, rice and dog meal that will slow cook throughout the day. This food will feed more than 600 rural dogs from the community tomorrow at Doggy
Tuesday– all free of charge.
After our own breakfast, and a long walk with the Waggley Tail Club to the dam, it’s my job to fill what seems like hundreds of bottles with dog meal. The humans from Doggy Tuesday mix this meal with water to give their dogs an extra meal during the week. I love that the bottles are cleaned out soft drink bottles, and the funnel is a cut-off bottle that fits perfectly into each lid. Nothing is wasted in Zimbabwe. They can’t afford to be a ‘throw away’ society here.
One of my fellow volunteers has brought several huge rolls of rope in her suitcase (thanks Sheila); and we set about making slip leashes for the Doggy Tuesday dogs. Doggy Tuesday is one of the things about Twala that keeps me coming back. It’s a program that makes such a difference to the local people around the sanctuary.
Every dog who comes to Doggy Tuesday is registered – so Twala knows the dogs, their health and their humans. Once they have been sterilised and vaccinated they get a new collar and lead – mostly items brought by volunteers. In some cases, we need to change horrible collars and leads made from wire, tree bark, shredded tyres and other unbelievable things, and there never seem to be enough supplies. I guess when there are 600 odd dogs arriving each Tuesday, even though many are regulars, it’s hard to keep up with demand. The rope slip leashes will be a hundred times better than what many of the dogs are using. So this feels like an important job.
My next task is to sort the crates of colouring books, coloured pencils and story books for the children at Doggy Tuesday. I’d say over 80% of the people who come to Doggy Tuesday are children, so Twala has a pop-up library, where they can sit and chat and colour in while their dogs snooze with full bellies under the trees. I love library with the children, and laugh with Sheila that we have both brought stencils and stickers for the kids. We also have bubbles, paints and a batch of lollipops. It’s going to be epic tomorrow, and I’m excited to see the surprise on the children’s faces.
Tuesday 30th April (Doggy Tuesday!)
After the usual breakfast prep routine, and a long walk with the Waggley Tail Club, I head to the eastern gates of Twala to help with Doggy Tuesday. The staff have already loaded the truck with water containers, tables, chairs, the vet stand, dog bowls and mountains of food so when I get to the gates the big job of setting up is almost done. I spy many youngsters at the gate, holding tightly onto their dogs who are excited at what comes next. The expectation is palpable. It feels like the start of a carnival and I find myself working fast so we can open the gates quickly.
And. We’re on. The gates are opened and the first dogs race in, followed by laughing children. This is the third time I’ve visited Twala and I’m still surprised at the number of youngsters who walk great distances (up to 15km return for some) to bring their dogs to Doggy Tuesday. You can feel the love they have for their furry friends and it's heartwarming that there is somewhere like Twala making sure these precious companions are fed, vaccinated and vet checked, without owners needing to pay a thing.
The dogs know that first step is the big bath set up with special flea/tick treatment. I love helping here. There’s a great amount of laughter, some shrieking as we get sprayed by shaking dogs, and some heavy lifting for those dogs who aren’t so sure about getting wet before they eat. The children are so capable, and those that are new are shown by regulars how to lift their dogs carefully and not to choke them on their leads. I’m impressed that Twala’s lessons in dog care have instilled kindness in these young owners and that they know how to look after their dogs with respect.
After a refreshing dip, dogs report to the vet tent where the resident vet nurses from Twala check them over and apply fly repellent to their ears. The nurses know all the regular young owners and their dogs, and make sure vaccinations are up to date. I watch as they explain the Doggy Tuesday commitments to newcomers – first dogs must be vet checked, sterilised and vaccinated, then they are given a registration number and a new collar and lead. Twala promises free life-long care, but for this, owners must make a commitment to bring their dog every Tuesday for a meal, extra biscuits and dog meal and a vet check.
I am in awe of this program. Without it, most of these rural dogs would not survive – Doggy Tuesday is often the only formal meal the dogs get each week. Mostly they scavenge for scraps – the area of Goromonzi is one of the poorest I’ve ever visited. And there certainly isn’t any money for vet care and preventative measures like vaccinations and sterilisations. So Twala provides a lifeline; a lifeline to the dogs, and a lifeline to the people (mostly children) who are so attached to their canine companions.
I’ve been visiting Zimbabwe since 2018, and every year things seem to get harder and harder in this country. But somehow Twala never breaks its promise. This is evident in the dogs I first saw 5 years ago, who are still coming to Doggy Tuesday; all with glossy coats, shiny eyes and not a visible rib in sight.
Food! Glorious food! This moment always makes me laugh out loud. The Doggy Tuesday dogs know the food bowls have been laid out, and they know they can eat until they are full – it’s an ‘all-you-can-eat’ style buffet. Newcomers can’t believe their eyes and I watch a new beautiful, but thin, rural dog face-plant into a bowl laden with chicken, meal and biscuits. She can’t believe what’s laid out in front of her. It’s my job now to make sure all empty bowls are quickly replenished, and while I do this I check all dogs have a humane collar and lead, making a note of any that need changing.
This is busy work, and while I wait for bowls to empty, I help the other volunteers hand out extra biscuits and the bottles of dog meal we made up earlier to regular Doggy Tuesday attendees. This provides the dogs with a supplementary meal during the week – and the good condition of the dogs shows what a difference this makes. Today we also have bananas and fresh bread, so every young dog owner can have a snack too.
My heart is overflowing. You’d have to be made of stone not to get emotional at the gratitude expressed by the owners and the obvious enjoyment from the dogs. In all the times I’ve helped at Doggy Tuesday, I’ve never seen a dog skirmish. The dogs move from bowl to bowl, often eating from the same plate without incident. It’s a constant marvel to me. I’ve had to separate my own spoilt dogs at home when feeding, but here, there is never any trouble.
While I’m working with the other volunteers, keeping bowls full, I notice several dogs being taken by the Doggy Tuesday dog handlers to the on-site clinic near the heart of the sanctuary. A beautiful black and white dog called Fox must be carried – it seems his back legs are paralysed. Dr Vin (Trustee and Twala vet) thinks this is probably a result of being hit across the back, and I feel angry and heartbroken all at once. It seems with all the good that Twala spreads, there is still cruelty and evil out there, and animals are often the recipients. Fox will be taken to the 24 Hour Vet Surgery tomorrow for x-rays/scans to see the extent of the damage so that a treatment plan can be made.
Cheetah, one of the older Doggy Tuesday attendees, has been relinquished by his young owner for a ‘Twala holiday’. Cheetah is a tripod, having previously had his back leg amputated by Dr Vin after a horrible accident. He’s old and arthritic now and his young owner wants Cheetah to spend winter at Twala – he thinks winter on a rural homestead will be too harsh for his dog. There are tears. And I marvel at the maturity and kindness of this young man who will clearly miss his furry companion but wants the best for him. When Twala promises life-long care, they mean it. Cheetah will join Foxy, girl-Cheetah, Buster, Gerry Ginger and many other older Doggy Tuesday dogs, becoming part of the residential Waggley Tail Club.
Other dogs needing more vet treatment have a range of conditions – one with distemper, one with suspected spirocircosis (a disease from eating chicken poo in desperation for food) and several new sterilisations. Later in the day a dog arrives after having an altercation with a spitting cobra. His eyes are swollen and red, and the vet team spring into action with their formula for treatment. Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence.
It’s getting late, and most of the 600 hundred Doggy Tuesday dogs have already eaten their fill. They lie in the shade; snoozing, digesting and slowly thumping their tails. I go over to the pop-up library with Sheila and we surprise the children with bubbles, stickers, stencils and lollipops. We all draw pictures and we give out gold star stickers for excellent colouring in.
I love these kids; their smiles, their humour and the way they share the crayons and colouring books. I grab a Dr Seuss book (one of my favourites) and a bunch of us sit under a tree, while I read it to them. I try and do a ‘cat-in-the-hat’ funny voice, which they think is hysterical – I’m pretty sure they think I’m slightly mad, which just spurs me on further. All the while, I can see the vet team out of the corner of my eye, still checking dogs and side-lining anyone who needs extra treatment.
There’s some giggling and the children point out a man who has arrived with a young goat on a lead. He’s heard about Doggy Tuesday and has walked many kilometres with his goat to see a vet. It seems the goat has stopped eating and the owner is worried. I think of how word of Twala’s work with animals has stretched far into the community and that people automatically think to bring injured or sick animals here, rather than let them suffer. Dr Vin checks the goat, diagnoses worms, provides treatment, and I watch goat and man leave after they’ve both had some water to drink. Their silhouettes as they walk into the dipping sun speak volumes to me, and once again I feel emotional.
We start packing up. There’s lots to do as we wave the last of the owners good-bye. Bowls to wash, bath to empty, water troughs to empty and clean, chairs and tables to pack up and a general sweep and tidy of the area. The Twala staff are quick and proficient, and somehow they’re not tired at all. My feet are actually ringing, and I realise I’m really hungry – while feeding the canine masses, I have forgotten to stop for lunch and breakfast was a long time ago.
When the area is clean, and we’ve checked there is no one else who needs feeding we head back to the sanctuary. I make a stop at the in-house clinic to check on Fox and the other dogs who will need extra vet care. I am pleased to see Fox looking brighter after he’s had pain relief and anti-inflammatories. I’m hoping for a good prognosis after tomorrow’s scan.
Sarah tells me that tomorrow we will go with her and Twala’s vet nurse on outreach into the outlying Goromonzi community. This is an extension of Doggy Tuesday where Twala helps those dogs who cannot make the trip to the sanctuary for whatever reason. They do a vet check, provide vaccinations and flea/tick treatment and give the dogs a meal and biscuits for the week. Apparently there are some heavily pregnant feral dogs at the edges of a community that need checking and feeding. Twala will try and catch them so they can help with birthing the puppies and provide sterilisations so this cycle of breeding can stop (at least for these two dogs and their puppies).
I’m happy to report that this mission was accomplished successfully!
Doggy Tuesday might be done and dusted for another week, but the 80-odd Waggley Tail Club members need feeding, so we all work quickly to provide their much anticipated dinner. Then it’s time for a cup of tea and a dissection of the day. What a day. I’m exhausted. How Twala’s staff manage this week in week out (for more than 10 years) is beyond me. I’m so grateful they do this. And I’m thankful to be here to experience it.
The consensus amongst my new volunteer friends is that it should be mandatory for every dog lover in the world to come to Twala and do a Doggy Tuesday. And with that revelation, we head for the showers and look forward to our own meal, lovingly prepared by Claris and Erica in the volunteer house.
Thank you Twala. You mean the world to me. So many people and animals depend on you, and in the most difficult of circumstances you still you deliver kindness (and food!) with relentless consistency. I salute you. Amanda x