The day begins before sunrise, as the night shadows fade and the roosters begin to crow. Nocturnal predators are still awake, slinking or scurrying or strutting through the predawn, depending on their disposition. The lioness who lives next to my house plays her usual early morning game of football with a big red resin ball that rattles and thuds against the trees and rocks. This is my morning alarm. There are dozens of dogs to be let out on a morning patrol of the cool damp gardens. It’s a forest of wagging tails and a battalion of sniffing noses that investigate the scents and tracks of any wild creatures that roam the sanctuary at night. Owl feathers, a genet scat, a glistening pile of duiker droppings, the firm roundness of a serval paw in the mud by the water are all clues left behind. The lions are roaring at the red sunrise as it swells over the horizon, the ostriches run through the sun-golden grass and the horses wait at the paddock fence for breakfast.
Our kennel-free dog rescue for elderly and disabled dogs means intensive veterinary care begins first thing in the morning. Our vet nurse moves purposefully with his black knapsack full of medications and antiseptics, a thermometer, swabs and homeopathic remedies. We have many dogs on lifetime medication for chronic conditions. In addition to our old dogs living at Twala, we have dogs in our hospital with biliary and mange, many injured and recovering dogs and an anxious mother with seven squeaking puppies. The phone rings and we’re told there’s a collapsed dog on the road at a nearby school. The reaction is quick and efficient. The rattling red truck is loaded with a cage and blankets, a net (just in case), gloves and medication. The dog handlers are calm and focused. Despite three members of our team attending to this emergency, the morning work at the sanctuary continues. Enclosures are cleaned, water bowls are filled, new hay is put in beds, and fruit and vegetables are chopped into huge colourful piles for our herbivores and then distributed onto teetering trays of plastic plates.
The exotic birds are being carried out of their heated night house in a cacophony of colour and noise. Experienced staff members carry several birds festooned on their arms and shoulders. More tentative volunteers follow behind with one or two, wary of big beaks and ear-splitting screeches. The squirrels are checking out the ‘Squirrel Special’, which is a plate our animal care coordinator prepares for them every morning with nuts, berries and a sprinkling of coconut. The domestic cats lounge in the sun on the veranda with one of our oldest and most cantankerous dogs, Snoopy, who grudgingly shares her blanket with our fattest cat, Gandalf.
The jackals have had their morning snack of biscuits and retire for the day into a damp burrow they have dug beneath my veranda. The eagle owls and bushbabies that live free in the gardens have melted into the cool green depths of the treetops; grey herons and hammerkops swoop silently onto the muddy marsh beyond the dam to search for an aquatic breakfast. Three pied kingfishers hover and dive over the sun-sparkled water and the chatter of the weavers in the reeds increases with the heat of the sun. A line of guinea fowl race down the dusty road as their clattering call mingles with the plaintive cries of the peacocks and the barking of dogs ready to head out for an off-leash walk around the sanctuary with the volunteers.
The squeak of old wheelbarrows, the spark of the angle grinder, trucks idling and the constant ringing of the phone are the background sounds to our morning. There is meat to collect for the predators, milk from the dairy, firewood, stock feed, fruit and vegetables, yoghurt for the bush babies and primates, groceries for the volunteers and staff. The sprinklers on the lawns tick and hiss as water catches the sunlight and the parrots and cockatoos stretch out their wings to catch the iridescent drops of water. The peaceful progress of duikers and tortoises across the grass is occasionally diverted by a posse of puppies tussling over a rope toy.
The day will be filled with a mixture of familiar routines and unpredictable chaos. No day is the same. The bustle of the sanctuary absorbs the triumphs, challenges, joy and heartbreak of an animal rescue like no other. At Twala, a wildlife rehabilitation centre operates, an exotic pet rescue operates and a kennel-free dog rescue for elderly dogs operates. Alongside those, we have a community veterinary centre that cares for hundreds of rural dogs living in households with no formal income.
Every day brings something new and is a reminder of why we do what we do, whether it’s the slow wagging tail of an old dog who has found a new life at Twala, the soaring flight of a bird released back into the wild, the procession of healthy happy dogs heading into the sanctuary every Tuesday from the nearby village for an all-you-can-eat doggy buffet and free veterinary treatment or a wild animal successfully rehabilitated. Every day gives our rescued animals the life they deserve, and will bring a chance for health and happiness to new arrivals.