When retired schoolteacher Richard Norton first moved to the rural village of Port St Johns eight years ago, the first thing he realised was the lack of basic animal health knowledge in the area.
It only took him a couple of months before Norton introduced affordable animal healthcare in a move to ease the burden of disease.
“Many of these animals carry diseases, particularly parasites which, untreated, can affect young children and sick adults in the home.
“So what better way to give back than to find a way to lessen some of the suffering as well as improve the health of both people and animals in the rural homesteads,” he said.
“Dogs are the most numerous animals in and around the homestead, prolifically breeding with a 90% death rate from disease.”
Armed with this knowledge, he sought for ways to initiate ways which would improve the health of people and animals in rural areas.
And in 2009, together with a friend, Norton began a mobile health drive along villages.
At the time he was using an old motorbike, he and an assistant relied on to visit the different villages.
During his visits he introduced affordable medicine to animal lovers and taught them how to better care for their pets.
Norton soon realised that there was more demand for his animal healthcare services, thus establishing the Transkei Animal Welfare Initiative (Tawi) in 2009.
“I knew if I was going to stay here, I could not bear witness to this unnecessary suffering without at least trying to do something to alleviate a small portion of this suffering,” he said.
Since 2009, Tawi has been providing basic veterinary service, sterilisations and vaccinations and educating pet owners.
He said they have treated over 14000 animals from 12 townships and villages to date.
Although they primarily work with dogs, Tawi also treats other pets that suffer from malnutrition, parasites, infections and general diseases.
Norton has since been joined by two locals who have been trained and are experienced community coordinators who treat animals and assist veterinarians.
Tawi also has two volunteers, who Norton described as “the engine of the organisation”.
Because of financial constraints, Norton and his team only cover just over a 100km radius, he said.
“We rely on philanthropists who give us regular donations, as well as hold fundraising events and fundraise through social media,” he said.
“The health of both people and animals has improved and we will continue to research and find the most important animal health needs in rural communities and the most efficient and effective ways to provide these.”