Most of us are aware that poverty affects many people across the globe. However, what is focused on less is the impact such deprivation can have on pets. For instance, the staff behind one project that helps poor communities in South Africa were left heartbroken when they came across a disadvantaged dog covered in strange lumps.
Yes, Johannesburg’s Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW) project aims to provide veterinary care for poverty stricken communities that can’t otherwise afford it. In fact, CLAW provides a number of services for animals, including emergency care, vaccinations and pet owner education.
After all, approximately 20 percent of Johannesburg’s population is living in poverty. In addition, 40 percent of the city’s residents live in inadequate housing. Therefore, there is no shortage of people and their pets needing CLAW’s help.
So in September 2016 CLAW staff were working in one neighborhood in the capital when they came across a dog in need. And this poor pooch had strange, cyst-like bumps all over her ears and face.
The nasty looking lumps almost resembled mange or another skin condition stray dogs often get. However, the reality of the canine’s condition was much worse. “We are all in tears, but Dr. Marike has treated her and put her on a drip,” wrote a spokesperson for CLAW on its Facebook page in September 2016.
The post went on to reveal that the bumps on the dog, who staff later named Belle, were in fact ticks. It seemed that the ticks had burrowed into her skin for so long that they were engorged to the size of small boils. Furthermore, the parasites had drained so much blood that the pooch had become anemic.
Unfortunately, ticks can multiply easily, with one tick capable of laying thousands of eggs. Therefore, it only takes one tick, left to it’s own devices, to cause a severe infestation such as the one Belle faced. It’s also possible for the parasites to live for years.
And ticks don’t just feast on an animal’s blood. They can also cause a number of diseases including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Certain tick bites can further severely impair a dog’s nervous system and lead to paralysis.
Fortunately, Belle’s tick problem was still treatable. But there was no quick way to remove the hundreds of parasites that were literally draining the life out of her. After all, the vets didn’t want to remove each one by hand because, with as many as Belle had, the procedure may have caused her to lose too much blood. So the vets simply applied an anti-tick spray and waited for the beasts to fall off in their own time.
Belle had also been given a rehydrating drip and took a course of antibiotics to aid her recovery. Of course, it was a slow process, but eventually Belle began to get better. And by that time, Belle’s story had gained traction on social media; a post documenting her plight has since been shared more than 6,000 times.
In fact, that’s how Hannah van Coller came to learn about Belle’s story. “Whether it was the sad and hopeless eyes, or the thought of how long she had to suffer with all those ticks – literally thousands of them – sucking the life out of her, something made me decide: I had to go and see this dog,” van Coller wrote in a post on the website Happy Tails.
So van Coller made plans to visit little Belle as soon as possible. And as soon as she laid eyes on the desperate dog, her heart broke. After all, Belle was lying still as death in her kennel, bearing the scars of her tick infestation. Seeing the pooch’s broken spirit, van Coller reached out to comfort her.
After learning that she was the first and only person to visit Belle, van Coller knew she had to do something to help. “I asked for the adoption papers,” she wrote in the post for Happy Tails. And so, without even consulting her family, the kind-hearted stranger applied to take her new four-legged friend home.
“It was a spontaneous (and slightly risky) decision,” van Coller went on to admit. “But this dog had stolen my heart and there was no going back.” Fortunately, her application was accepted. So when Belle was fully recovered, van Coller would be the proud owner of little dog.
Before long, then, Belle was able to go home. However, the pup still needed to overcome some obstacles. For instance, having lost all her confidence, the pooch was too scared to go outside, was wary of stairs and had to have her food and water placed right in front of her before she’d eat or drink.
As the weeks passed, though, Belle found her feet. “Belle is practically a new dog,” van Coller wrote on the Happy Tails website. “She is no longer anemic, her kennel cough has gone, all the dead ticks and scabs have fallen off, and healthy jet-black hair is growing over the scars.”
Belle has also been able to discover her naughty side. Yes, van Coller wrote that Belle loved running around in the garden, hiding her human’s sock and playing with her new doggie friends. Most importantly, though, Belle was experiencing love and happiness for the very first time.
Although she’s now busy enjoying all the things canines love to do, Belle still finds time to visit her rescuers at CLAW. And those at the animal protection organization couldn’t be happier for the once down-and-out dog. “Belle quite literally stole Hannah’s heart within seconds of them meeting and it has been a match made in heaven,” the staff wrote on Facebook in October 2016.
However, van Coller credited Belle with changing her life, rather than the other way round. “With a little bit of love, Belle’s happy, bouncy, and incredibly clumsy nature is now prominent,” the owner gushed in her Happy Tails post. “Belle has found her forever home… and what a blessing that is for us.”
One of the most incredible aspects of Belle’s story was that, despite the thousands of shares on social media, van Coller was the only person who enquired about adopting the sweet pup. But seeing Belle’s new lease of life, clearly van Coller was the right one.