The Battle of Grahamstown's SPCA
Updated: May 7
Humans made a connection with animals thousands of years ago. From beast to best friend, years of evolution have seen wolves morph into dogs and feline preditors transform into cats. As the agricultural revolution spurred into popularity, creatures such as cows and goats became frequent foods and commodities. However, along the way some began to look at animals as things rather than beings. Many pets are treated as such, abused and tossed aside when they're deemed unuseful. But there are some who fight to bring justice and change to this order.
Sitting on the outskirts of the Eastern Cape's Grahamstown is the base of the dedicated and hardworking employees of the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). They stand against animal cruelty and strive to uphold the rights of all animals. Their work is challenging, with many obstacles thrown towards them, but their dignity and determination push them onward and upward.
The SPCA is a non-profit organization with the aim to alleviate the suffering of animals, prosecute those who are involved in abuse, and promote animal kindness in the community. The SPCA started in the early 1800s in the United Kingdoms and opened 150 SPCA branches in South Africa in 1872. Now, there are only about 80 branches left standing as funds decreased.
The Grahamstown SPCA was built in 1967 and is currently under the management of Mark Thomas, who works with five other local employees. With a catchment area of 1 000 kms in every direction, including Patterson, Bathurst, Cradock, and Peddie, the SPCA is extremely busy. The large amount of heartbreaking work, and the small amount of funding, leaves the SPCA to work within the brackets of a grim reality. However, the passion emitted from the employees ultimately drives the organization.
Animals arrive at the SPCA for a myraid reasons. Either a collarless dog has wandered from its home, a stray cat is about to give birth, or an attack on a donkey has been reported. Any animal that the SPCA takes into their care is sheltered, fed, and looked after by the humble SPCA recruits. With the help of volunteers, the animals are exercised, loved, and entertained.
Thomas likes to say that the SPCA acts as a ‘bus stop’ for the animals who are awaiting their journey to a new loving home. The SPCA has rehomed 250 animals in the last 12 months, and are working towards increasing that number.
Thomas has incredible plans to update the branch. A borehole water system has already been installed, creating a self-sustaining environment which improves the lives of the animals as well as the surrounding suffering areas. Plans for further improvements are in place to upgrade the office and reception area, the animal shelters themselves, and develope an additional grooming and surgery room.
The SPCA is also working to creating a more visitor-friendly space, which includes a coffee shop. The money made within these spaces will go towards the improvement and functioning of the SPCA.
Currently, the Grahamstown SPCA owns only one truck for all catchment areas. Thomas hopes for another truck and the extension of a segregated horse box for transportation. To aid the wider community as well as the centre, Thomas envisions a portable clinic and monthly sterilizations. This clinic will perform vaccinations, de-worming, and dripping in the local townships.
However, these projects, as well as the general running of the organization, require funding. As a non-profit organization, the SPCA relies entirely on donations. It's one of the biggest and most fragile challenges. The Makana Municipality gave their responsibility of running a pound to the SPCA, but stopped payments for this necessity many years ago.
In this way, the municipality has made the choice to not perform the tasks the law stipulates. Thomas believes that R40 000 a month is needed to run a pound, money that the SPCA simply doesn't have.
To make up for this loss and ensure the running of the organisation, the SPCA runs a recycling system, as well as a cosy library and thrift shop.
Unfortunately, the municipality hampers the SPCA’s ability to function as they should. Electricity cuts are frequent and running water is rarely avaliable. Waste is only collected in dire situations and the municipality constantly fails to assist in the removal of sewage from skeptic tanks. The SPCA has therefore had to compromise these basic fundamental services, costing them more money than it should.
There's only so much the employees of the Grahamstown SPCA can do with the money they receive. This creates the warped perception that the SPCA doesn't care about certain animal concerns. One truck and limited funds clearly hinder the SPCA’s vitally important operation.
The battle continues as the SPCA fights against the disruptions that disable them to achieve their goals. Fortunately, despite the many seemingly endless challenges, they have successfully prosecuted nine individuals in the last 12 months who have been found accountable for animal cruelty.
In spite of the complications, the Grahamstown SPCA are intent on creating awareness in their need for donations in order to help the animals. By holding regular events, such as themed dog walks, bake sales, and quiz nights, funds are slowly raised.
Thomas often holds meetings for the community where he presents upcoming projects and clears out any misconceptions about the SPCA. These meetings extend to schools, which the SPCA can present in 5 different African languages. The school children are taught about the care of animals and the knowledge of the SPCA to ensure the next generation's understanding towards animal abuse and, in turn, the prevention of future animal problems.
The battle continues through jarring municipality mayhem, merciless animal abusers, and a frustrating lack of funds, but the Grahamstown SPCA is unswervable. Their compassionate and undaunted nature allows them to continue their honorable work to the best of their ability.
With the SPCA's presence, the future is bright for the animals of Grahamstown.
-By Georgia Carter