The Philippi-based organisation opened its doors in 1929 and has not turned away a single animal since. It provides a haven and medical treatment for sick and suffering strays, as well as quality veterinary services for animal lovers who can’t afford a private vet for their fur children.
Pinelands vet Dr John McMullen has been involved with the society for 44 years and is its chief executive.
When he first joined AWS, it had just moved to the 2ha tract of land in Philippi where it still stands today – purchased for R10 000 in 1973. The small but dedicated staff would work 14 hour days trying to care for all the animals in need.
“It was very difficult and very primitive, with very little equipment” he said. “We’ve had hardship but we’ve gradually moved up the scale.”
McMullen said the staff would scavenge medical equipment like gloves and sutures from excess stock that hospitals were throwing out.
Now, the AWS veterinary hospital has 24 permanent staff and offers free top quality comprehensive care equal to a private vet.
“We’ve relied completely on donations from the public,” McMullen said. “It’s all due to people who’ve helped us keep going.”
Patrons have included royalty and many senior commissioned and decorated Defence Force officers and government officials. The current patron is international philanthropist Pamela Isdell, who took over from former mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille.
“I’m proud of what it has become,” McMullen said. “It’s evolved into a first class treatment facility. It’s as good as any private practice. I’m in private practice as well, and what I do in my own practice must be done at the welfare. Animals get the very best treatment.”
Over the past five years alone, the society has vaccinated 63 700 animals, sterilised 16 905 pets, conducted over 100 000 consultations,and performed nearly 33 500 medical procedures.
They have also championed the cause of abused and neglected animals, being one of the first ports of call for any concerned animal lover who witnesses maltreatment. Part of this job has involved lobbying government for improvements to provincial and national animal welfare legislation, and part of it is investigating abuse.The AWS has resolved 15 750 cases of animal cruelty over the past five years.
“It’s been a tough ride, but we’ve done amazing work,” McMullen said.Former staff member Eileen Laurenson recalled going out with a trap to save stray cats in the Company’s Garden in Cape Town.
“In the first year I caught approximately 60 cats,” she said. “The cost of all this was borne by the AWS and I thank Dr McMullen for putting up with the sick cats who were dumped in Gardens. This went on for 20 years until all the cats died out.”
McMullen said a trend that has not changed over the years is that every Christmas and New Year period, people surrender their pets to AWS because they’re going away on holiday and don’t want to pay for kennels or a pet sitter while they’re gone. In January, they come home and simply buy another pet.
It’s behaviours like these that prompted the AWS to dedicate time to educating people about how to treat animals well and making sure children start out with a compassionate attitude.
“We’ve decided trying to teach the adults is a waste of time so we go to creches and Sunday schools and we give talks to the children on how to look after the animals,” McMullen said.