‘Furry Godmother’ cares for neglected animals

Van Heerden determined to make huge difference in Nompumelelo

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After finding an emaciated female dog entangled in barbed wire near the entrance to Nompumelelo almost 11 years ago, East Londoner Tessa van Heerden has since directed all her time and energy into treating and caring for animals in townships.
The 64-year-old, now a retired home carer, has returned to the same township almost every day for the last decade, where she spends her time treating and feeding injured, neglected or stray dogs and cats.
“That first encounter with that female dog is what started it all. I had never seen so much suffering in an animal before and for her to have gotten to that point and still be alive was unbelievable,” said Van Heerden, who has also been involved in an urban feral cat sterilisation programme for over 20 years.
“I found her on a mound of rubble and for the next five years I kept going back to feed her and make sure she was alright, but she was eventually hit by a car and sadly died,” said Van Heerden.
She said she was a cat person.
“But dogs have it so much worse in the townships. There are just too many of them living in a small space so there is a lot of suffering and neglect.”Trudging through dirt roads and dodging potholes in her little Polo, Van Heerden visits Nompumeleo six days a week. Systematically visiting every area within the township, Van Heerden spends up to five hours each day tending to the animals she comes across.From nursing injured or sick dogs back to health, providing food, administering pain medication and vaccinations to bandaging wounds and treating mange and parasites, Van Heerden has become the community’s go to animal care person.“Many of these animals belong to people who either don’t know how to or don’t have the means to care for them properly. I try to create awareness and demonstrate proper care and a lot of the community members, especially the youth, do love their animals and help me.“They all have my number so when there are emergencies such as a dog being hit by a car, they call me to come and help,” said Van Heerden.Also running a feeding and sterilisation programme for dogs and cats in the township, Van Heerden relies on the donations and the generosity of the public to keep her outreach programme alive.“It’s all purely run on donations and there are a few veterinary practices that allow me to purchase simple medication like petcam and food at cost price, which really helps me a lot,” said Van Heerden.Known as the Furry Godmother on Facebook, Van Heerden recently expanded her programme and now also visits Mzamomhle in Gonubie once a week, offering the same services. And while she has met and worked with wonderful people, Van Heerden, said she has also seen an immense amount of animal cruelty.“I’ve had to treat stab and burn wounds on dogs and seen puppies in big thick chains for days on end. I’ve seen some horrible things so I try to re-home as many stray, abused and unwanted animals to alleviate their suffering.“For the most part the community see me as a service to them, but I have been threatened once or twice and the most challenging thing has been getting through to people and trying to make them understand that keeping your dog on a chain his whole life isn’t okay,” said Van Heerden.-- Local Heroes is a proud Daily Dispatch and Johnson & Johnson initiative...

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