THE BLOG
11/08/2012 11:27 am ET Updated Jan 08, 2013

South African Community Led Animal Welfare Program: An Example for the World

"Ubuntu" is an African word meaning "humanity to others". Directly translated, it says: "I am what I am because of who we all are".

The International Fund for Animal Welfare's (IFAW) Community Led Animal Welfare program -- or CLAW for short -- represents this ancient African philosophy perfectly. Providing veterinary services to dogs and cats owned by some of the poorest communities in South Africa's richest province, CLAW's work can be life changing for many of its clients.

Although there are no official statistics on how many dogs or cats there are where CLAW's mobile clinics provide help, like anywhere else in the world (no matter how poor you are) there is always room for a pet -- cats to keep down the rats, dogs for companionship or security.

Historically, there were no vet clinics in townships founded by the apartheid system. Today, government support for companion animals in this area pretty much starts -- and stops -- with the occasional rabies vaccination campaign.

Primary vet care services simply aren't available.

This is where IFAW's CLAW program makes the difference.

It goes where others won't and provides regular, dependable animal welfare support to over one million people in dozens of communities. CLAW takes primary vet care to the pets of the poor where they live and provides a 24/7 emergency service to collect desperately ill animals -- mostly the victims of poisoning or being struck by cars. At CLAW's permanent clinic, they are cared for by full-time vets and professional staff.

In poor locales -- where choices can sometimes mean life or death -- unemployment, hunger, disease and minimal access to services like running water, electricity and sanitation play havoc with community life. Philosophies of Ubuntu are sometimes overlooked; as in the case where children -- who are usually the ones asked to dispose of animals that families cannot afford, or sick animals that cannot be treated -- often resort to inhumane methods to carry out the task.

Spaying and neutering -- a cornerstone of CLAW's work -- provides a means for healthier pets that are less of a burden on their cash-strapped owners. In turn, owners are less likely to inhumanely dispose of their puppies and kittens.

Animal suffering and violence against animals deeply affect children and adults. The emotional trauma and the violation of the human-animal bond tend to remain with children throughout their lives. Alternatively, observations of compassion for animals help children grow into kinder, more confident adults.

In the communities CLAW serves, violence towards animals has virtually stopped.

CLAW has developed unique relationships within the communities where it works. The view of founder Cora Bailey is that "at the end of every leash is a human being" and so ignoring the needs of the human owner while caring for their pets is simply not an option.

It is frequently CLAW that people call first when disaster strikes, as the project distributes food parcels to destitute families, and helps many to access social services. In addition, CLAW's humane education program is active in schools in all of the communities it serves.

In 2007, CLAW was roped in to start a diversion program for youngsters affected by gang violence and anti-social behaviors. The project grew into CLAW's Saturday Kid's Club which focuses on care and compassion for animals as a way of changing attitudes in children from difficult backgrounds.

Several months after its inception, CLAW intervened when a group of children were caught attempting to kick a dog to death, after being instructed by an elder to "get rid of it." The dog was saved and the youngsters obliged to join the children's program. During their first session, they sat in a circle while Cora stroked and cuddled the dog they had so badly hurt. The children discussed what had happened and why it is that humans and animals feel similar emotions of pain, fright and hunger. At the end of the session, each child apologized to the dog, making a promise to never again behave that way towards a living being.

Last year, a little dog named Sparky was brought to CLAW by a group of 12-year-olds who walked kilometers to bring the dog to safety. The owner was out of work, the family was going to bed hungry every night; and Sparky, also with no food, was at death's door.

The boys who saved Sparky were from the same group that, in 2007, had come close to kicking an unwanted fluffball to death.

Before CLAW, there was no place to take a sick or injured animal; and access to CLAW has been a huge factor in creating more caring societies in South Africa. It has become known as a project that offers more than just veterinary and humane support -- it is a community building exercise like no other.

CLAW has touched the hearts of a large number of volunteers and supporters from South Africa and around the world who send donations or offer their personal help in so many ways.

Through animals, CLAW brings people together. It creates a caring and more compassionate society where people look out for each other. It is Ubuntu.

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South African Community Led Animal Welfare Program: An Example for the World

This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y, United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday -- which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 -- is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.

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