The animal cost

29 12 2007

He trotted along at the edge of the road, head down, a once proud coat shaggy and dirty. He was tired, that much was obvious but did he know where he was going? I stopped ahead of him and the car that was following him. Getting out with a lead I keep in the pickup for Jenni, I walked back to intercept him. He looked at me, paused and then ventured into two lanes of traffic. Fortunately there were not a lot of vehicles and they let him cross to the other side without event, where he continued against the flow of traffic. We raced ahead of him to cut off his new route but he saw us and simply turned round and went back the way he’d come.

We followed him again, the horse-trainer’s wife and I, hoping to head him off into the building complex at the racecourse. This plan worked a little better than the last and dashing on ahead I set myself up for another attempt at luring him to me. He paused suspiciously, crossed over to the other side of the narrow track and carried on past my endearments. The horse-trainer’s wife was pleased, “I know this place well – we’ll catch him here” and took off after him. She returned a while later saying that they had him in one of the stable areas. I asked her what she intended doing with the dog to which she replied that one of the local vets would keep him for five days and advertise him before sending him off to the local SPCA. Yes, I thought, and there he will be put down – better a good death than an uncertain future. But at least it was a chance.

But it was not to be. We had to drive around the race track to get to the stable area and by the time we got there and over the locked gate, he was gone. The “minder” had wandered off and not secured the gate.  He could have gone anywhere but we still had a good look down Borrowdale road when we drove out of the racecourse complex. Yesterday on the way into town I even went back down Borrowdale road just to check, just in case. Fortunately I did not see a pathetic corpse anywhere, besides, he seemed more traffic-wise than that. I can only wonder where he is now. It’s not great weather to be out, lost and confused. It’s been raining  for the last three weeks but I guess it’s relatively mild and there is no shortage of water to drink.

There is no saying that this particular case is a result of the upheaval in Zimbabwe, though without doubt the animal cost has been high. It was more noticeable when the farm invasions were at their height and animal cruelty was often a tool used against the farmers by the invaders (I have seen BBC footage of this where a farmer whom I know had dogs beaten to death). The SPCA (officially the ZNSPCA) had the unenviable task of trying to effect rescues and be seen as apolitical at the same time. The senior official was Meryl Harrison and she did an admirable task (I believe she has since moved on). The problems are much lower profile now, pensioners who cannot afford to feed themselves are unwillingly neglecting their pets, people emigrating are abandoning theirs or having them put down. A few years ago I heard from a reliable source in Mutare that the local veterinary surgery closed early one day after the vets (veterinary surgeons) could not face putting down any more dogs left to be euthanased by people leaving.

The tragedy is not of course limited to domestic animals; the wild animal population has also taken a hammering, increasingly predated by a hungry population.



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