By the time the Saturday Dispatch met Don Leibach at the SPCA in Amalinda at 9.30am one day this week, the inspector had already rescued 11 dogs.
Eight underfed puppies were removed from Rosedale Park following a neighbour’s complaint and two dachshunds and a staffie were donated by their owners because they had new dogs and no longer wanted the old ones.
While SPCA staff unpacked the bewildered creatures into their pens, Leibach filled in the admissions book, which ensures a careful track is kept of each animal.
Eleven rescues before teatime is a big deal, but not when you compare it to his personal best of 75 animals in one day.
“They were mostly cats and dogs, but also snakes,” says Leibach, 52, who was once a fireman.
His past career with East London Fire and Rescue comes in handy sometimes. “If I need a very high ladder to rescue a cat I call them because I still have contacts there. I once needed to break down a wall because four kittens were trapped in kitchen drains, so I got them to help me.”
Leibach, who lives on site in a house adjoining the
SPCA offices, has many stories to tell from his five years on the job, like the one about getting stuck in a freshly dug grave just before nightfall.
“I was responding to a call about a boerbull running around the Cambridge Cemetery but when I got there I found him in a grave unable to get out. I was very reluctant to get into the grave because if he attacked me he could have torn me to pieces, but I jumped in and he climbed onto my back and got out. But then I found myself alone in the grave, so I started shouting and a vagrant went to get help from staff who were just leaving the crematorium. They threw a towel into the hole and pulled me out.”
The rescuer may have become the rescued in this instance, but Leibach is usually the one performing the rescues and recounts an instance when he responded to a call to a West Bank home where he was met with 56 cats. Their owners had become overwhelmed and wanted them gone.
“The floors were thick with cat poo. I had no idea there would be so many cats and it was quite an ordeal to catch them. There was a lot of swearing from all of us and the owners ended up being scratched.”
Leibach has inadvertently been scratched and bitten many times in the district he covers, which stretches from Butterworth in the east to Hamburg in the west, but blames himself for the time when a dog tore his hand open.
“We collected a dog stuck in a drain, but when we got back to the SPCA, the dog got away and I caught it and it bit me right through my hand and I had to have it stitched up. We tend to be more careful with big dogs, so it’s the smaller dogs that end up biting us.”
Dogs and cats make up the bulk of his mercy trips, but reptiles and livestock have also required his help.
A massive leguaan once jumped into a police van before he could trap it.
“It was about two metres long and was rocking the van back and forth. The policemen were too afraid to drive the van and had to call another policeman who drove to the [East London] Abbotsford causeway where we released it into the wild. I have released snakes into the wild too.”
Leibach is one of four inspectors at the SPCA and, while he usually works alone, sometimes call-outs require teamwork.
He and his colleagues recently removed 26 neglected pigs and piglets from a farm near Cove Rock. They were so thin – only a few centimetres wide – and two were already dead.
“The owner said he had been sick in hospital and had been dying himself.”
The pigs are now plump and healthy and housed in the deeper reaches of the shelter while the law takes its course.
It is the legal side of the job that the public are frequently unaware of, explains Leibach.
“I can’t just go onto a property or I will be charged with trespassing and I can’t just remove an animal or I will be charged with stealing. And I’m not allowed to have a criminal record in this job.”
Depending on the severity of the complaint, Leibach must leave three written instructions for compliance at potential offenders’ addresses before he can apply for a warrant from the magistrate.
“If the case is very severe I can do it after one warning, but I have to write an affidavit and go to the magistrate and show photos and convince them that I have been reasonable with the owner before they will issue me with a warrant to remove the animal.
“Some people give you flak, especially on Facebook. Everyone demands that the animal be taken away, but often what they think is bad is not actually that bad in the eyes of the magistrate. For instance he will say that a dog is thin because it has puppies. But people don’t see that.
“People also badmouth you because they think a case has been swept under the carpet when it is still under investigation.”
Another unpleasant, but necessary, part of his job is having to put suffering livestock down. His van is stocked with a captive bolt which stuns an injured cow before he slaughters it with a large butcher’s knife.
“It is not nice, but I know I am doing the right thing to end its suffering.
“When you go off-duty, some of the things you’ve seen play on your mind,” says Leibach, who has a miniature pinscher called Dinky and a cat called Cat, to comfort him.
“I picked Dinky up at a security company and he was so small he was kept in the cattery here and I could see him from my window at home so I decided to take him. Cat was a feral that ended up in our hospital and now he sleeps on my head.”
While the hours can be long and the work heartbreaking at times, Leibach is devoted to his work.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I feel like I am a voice for the voiceless.” — firstname.lastname@example.org