Keeping Our Dogs Out of Trouble

A few days ago I reposted an article published in by Mariette Steynberg titled “No Pets Allowed” onto the Cluny Animal Trust Facebook page.  This article deals with the increase in pet-unfriendly residential properties for sale and rent in South Africa and the corresponding impact that this has on the abandoning of pets and the filling up of animal rescue centres.  Clearly there is a perception, especially in more affluent urban settings, that pets potentially pose problems for neighbours and landlords, leading to the escalating trend of the outright banning of pets.

So what is it that we are doing, or not doing, that is giving pets a bad name and causing pet-owning families to struggle so much in the rental and property markets in certain areas of South Africa?

Shared from Rainbow Warriors South Africa on 27 October on Cluny’s facebook page.
During my time abroad, where I spent over nine years in London, I was struck by the pet-friendliness of the United Kingdom – especially where dogs are concerned, who are my main focus in this article.  Even in the most built up areas, and indeed, in blocks of flats, dogs are often welcome.  But the British, living a more regulated lifestyle than ours in South Africa, tend more readily to abide by the laws, regulations and guidelines that prescribe how dogs should be controlled, resulting in dog behaviour being less likely to qualify as ‘nuisance’ or ‘dangerous’.

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On returning to South Africa four years ago I was struck by the increase in animal welfare charities, over a mere decade, especially in the areas of rescue and rehoming.  What had changed so much that had brought this about?  Were South Africans merely becoming more aware of the dire need for intervention or was it that the declining economic and political climate had resulted in accelerated migrations to smaller, safer and more affordable dwellings? – dwellings where the keeping of pets is often prohibited!

Are we as South Africans becoming more particular about regulations and standards and thus penalizing those who are perceived to be less compliant – could this include irresponsible pet-owners?  If this is indeed the case, or even just a contributing factor, then pet owners have a role to play in reversing this perception.

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Most people will agree that out of control dogs can be a problem, especially in urban areas and in the vicinity of busy roads.  Quite apart from incessant barking, mostly as a result of being left alone for long periods, dogs that are able to wander away from their properties unattended because of inadequate fencing or unlatched gates can be a danger to both people and other animals.  Dogs untrained in obedience that are taken for walks in built up areas without a leash, or allowed to run behind their owner’s car in lieu of a walk, can present similar dangers.

It doesn’t end there.  An uncontrolled dog is itself at risk!  There are dangers beyond the garden gate that the owner is not necessarily going to be aware of and being in direct control of the dog while out significantly reduces the risks to the dog.  We all know what some of those risks are – being hit by a car, being attacked by another dog, or being stolen are common examples. There are other risks, and one in particular is uppermost in my mind this week.

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Snares!  Vanessa Papas, in an article she wrote titled “Setting The Trap Against Snares”, says, “Like landmines, snares are indiscriminate.”  Anyone who has seen the result of a snared animal will want to prevent such an incident with their own dog at all costs.  The cruel mechanism that makes a snare so effective is that it not only prevents the animal from escaping the snare but also causes vicious injury to the animal.  The loop of the snare, secured across a place where animals are most likely to walk, draws tightly around the animal as it passes through, causing it to attempt to pull away from the danger.  The harder it pulls the tighter the snare becomes, resulting in the panicking animal fighting against it all the more.

Mostly snares are made from wire, copper wire, bicycle brake wire or a thin strong nylon cord and these materials cut into the animal causing extensive damage and eventual death.  Often poachers who have set these snares don’t return to check the snare for days or even weeks, and animals are left to endure a long and painful death.

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On Monday our vet Katherine received a call about a dog trapped in a snare.  The owner, having taken the dog for a walk to an area just beyond the perimeter of the town of Fouriesburg, had let the dog off his leash to run free.  After a while the dog disappeared from sight and did not return to the owner, who then went home, believing that the dog would follow or return later, having done so on previous occasions.

By the following morning the dog had not returned.  The owner set out to look for him and finally discovered that the dog was trapped in a snare in the area where he had last seen him.

Photo by Katherine Barker
Bicycle break wire was being used in this snare and the dog’s front leg had been caught.  Unable to release the dog himself, he had called for assistance.


Jan Sander, after some effort to reach the dog by vehicle, used a bolt cutter to cut through the barbed wire fence that the snare was secured to.

Photo by Katherine Barker
With the trap still attached to the dog’s leg, he rushed back to the surgery, where Katherine removed the snare and treated the wound under general anaesthetic.



Photo by Katherine Barker
While snares are set to trap small animals like duikers, hares and other species for the pot or illegal bushmeat trade, numerous other species, including dogs and cats, often end up as the victims, resulting in needless suffering, permanent disfigurement, amputations or death.  Snaring is an ancient and ruthlessly efficient system of trapping and is used extensively across Africa, resulting in an increasing decline in certain of Africa’s wildlife species.  Another dog that is an unintended victim of snares is the African Wild Dog, the most endangered carnivore in Africa.  It is worth clicking on the link below to read the article by Robert J Serata (2012) on the struggle to save these dogs from the devastating impact of snares.

Controlling our dogs, keeping them out of trouble, is both about controlling the risks our dogs pose to others (people, animals and property), and about controlling the risks to the dogs themselves.  In doing so we not only keep our vet bills down and ensure our dogs stay happy, but we contribute to a more favourable attitude generally about pets and pet ownership.  Keeping pets, especially dogs, is an ancient practice in many cultures the world over and, despite the resistance to this from some quarters in society, it is a practice that is not about to go away.  Contributing towards more responsible ways of caring for and taking charge of our dogs must surely be a step in the direction of securing a more welcoming future for them in our society.

Photo by Mary Walker
If you have any concerns about snares, or come across a snare or snared animal in the Fouriesburg or Clarens area, please contact Jan Sander on 0782462553.  He will either assist you, advise you, or put you in touch with the right person.  Please remember, snaring is not a legal form of hunting or trapping – it is poaching, it is cruel, it is decimating our wildlife, it’s a fearful danger to our pets – therefore, you are encouraged to remove or disable any snare you might come across.

Text by Mary Walker – 30 October 2016

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