Rescue Dog Day on May 20 is a celebration of the bond of love and friendship between man’s best friend and the special people who do not have the heart to see abandoned dogs end up on the street and would rather make them part of their family.
It is also a celebration of the unconditional loyalty that dogs display. At the FOUR PAWS Big Cat Sanctuary in the Free State, LIONSROCK, it is no different. It is a celebration of the animal-human friendship that is a hallmark of FOUR PAWS, and an extension of values of reveal, rescue and protect.
The more than 100 big cats lead a sheltered life in the enclosures of the sanctuary but there are also six rescue dogs who have found a warm and loving home here thanks to the kindness and love for animals of the staff under the leadership of the sanctuary Site Manager, Hildegard Pirker.
“They have a very special life here,” says Hildegard who believes humans can learn a lot from dogs and there is always with a dog the promise of love, friendship, and kindness.
Each year, millions of dogs, are abandoned by their owners and end up on the streets despite this promise. “Every rescued animal is individually different, and you can bond with them. They truly are companion animals.”
Hildegard’s circle of LIONSROCK four-legged canine friends include Iana, Nikki, Mellow, Afra, Gem and Bruce. They were acquired after she arrived at the sanctuary in 2008.
Hildegard calls the eldest of the pack, a 13-year-old Africanis dog named Iana, “an old lady who doesn’t hear that well anymore but is still the leader.”
When the mixed-breed, Nikki was saved from a farm, she decided to keep the dog with the sweet temperament as a companion to Iana. “This is a friendship that worked out well as Iana is the leader and Nikki the follower.”
LIONSROCK visitors’ dog favourite is the nine-year-old Border Collie, Afra, who arrived from a local shelter at the Sanctuary as a friend to another Border Collie who in the meantime has passed on.
“Afra insists on having a biscuit every day and is cheeky enough on a walk with us to chase the free roaming antelope and zebras.”
One of the later arrivals, Mellow was rescued by resident veterinarian Christine Steyrer and staff when they found him injured in 2017 on the road leading to the Sanctuary gate where he was hit by a car and left behind.
“He gives meaning to his name as he is a calm dog enjoying life here in the open.”
It took a while to get the gentle giant’s nerve damage and broken bones to heal, but he is fully recovered and loves lounging in the office.
“I think because of his struggles Mellow understands that sometimes you must just be there for someone.”
The two latest rescues, Gem and Bruce, arrived on their own at the sanctuary in 2020 as if knowing it is a place of refuge. “After unsuccessfully looking around for their owners or possible new owners, we build them a camp with shelter and they are looked after by the volunteers,” says Hildegard. “Bruce is gentle and soft, but Gem is a bundle of energy.”
For Hildegard the value of companion animals lies in how they pick up on your mood and cheer you up. They also bring a smile to her face when during her customary walk through the sanctuary late in the afternoon the accompanying dogs would have a race down the fence with some of the big cats.
“I think it is nice for them to be part of our animal kingdom of more than 100 lions, tigers and horses. During the day they like being around us in the office and the door is always open with plenty of fenced space surrounding the office. But later in the day there is this exuberant walk. Somehow, they know that the lions can’t get out, and the race is on, dogs on this side and lions on the other side.”
To Hildegard one of the best parts of taking in a rescue dog remains exactly what she sees on these walks, the chance to give an animal a second chance at happiness in a forever home. “It remains a rewarding experience.”