“She just crawled right up my chest … and you could almost see the tension drain out of her.”
The dog would never have been able to free herself. A heavy metal chain was padlocked around her neck, and the other end was secured to a beam. But the dog had still tried to get away — she’d twisted and turned so many times, the chain links had wound together until the chain was half its original size.
In late April, Carol Conradie, a volunteer for Tin Can Town, an animal rescue group in South Africa, was delivering dog supplies to people in Blikkiesdorp, Cape Town, when someone alerted her about the chained dog. Conradie immediately went to help.
Some of South Africa’s poorest people live in Blikkiesdorp, which is meant to be a temporary relocation camp, although people are often stuck living there for years. Instead of having proper houses, Blikkiesdorp residents live in tiny shacks made out of iron sheets, offcuts of wood and old tires, and most shacks lack basic utilities like toilets and sinks.
The dog, Conradie discovered, was chained up in a gap between two shacks.
“The roof had been extended a little bit so she was basically under cover … and they closed off a little section between two houses, and the front was boarded up with broken pieces of wooden planks and little offcuts of roof sheets,” Conradie told The Dodo. “There was only a narrow gap on the one side, and it wasn’t big enough for any of the bigger men to get in there.”
When Conradie spoke to the neighbors, she learned that the dog’s owner had fled Blikkiesdorp over two months ago when gang members threatened to kill him. The owner had chained his dog and left her behind, perhaps intending to come back for her. But he never did, although this may not be any fault of his own.
The neighbors had done their best to care for the dog, pushing bowls of food and water through the narrow opening to where she was — but they couldn’t get the chain off the dog.
When Conradie first peered through the gap, she saw the dog trembling in a corner.
“She was cowering as far as she could,” Conradie said. “I tried to pat her head, and I put food out to see if we could kind of lure her to the front, but she wouldn’t come.”
Conradie talked to the dog in a soothing voice for several minutes, and then she squeezed through the opening.
“Once I was inside, she realized that I wasn’t going to hurt her … and she calmed down quite quickly,” Conradie said. “At first I sat down a little bit away from her, but she came closer and closer, and let me stroke her head and her ears.”
The dog, whom Conradie started calling Chantel, turned out to be very friendly and affectionate. “She just crawled straight into my lap,” Conradie said. “And she was putting her head inside my jacket, and trying to put her head under my arm.”
Chantel’s friendly nature would make the rescue easier, but there was still the problem with the chain. Conradie tried sawing through the chain with a hacksaw, but she couldn’t make a dent in it.
“I said to the people standing around outside, ‘This is not going to work. We’re going to have to try and cut the chain off of the beam, and take her chain and all,’” Conradie said. “So one of them went to find an angle grinder that would be able to cut through steel, and I was trying to figure out how on earth we were going to get this guy in there.”
As Conradie waited for the angle grinder, she stroked Chantel and tugged at the chain around her neck — and she eventually figured out how to get it off. “I managed to push the padlock up to the top of her jaw, and the chain kind of just slid over one of her ears,” Conradie said. “After that, I managed to pull it over her head.”
Chantel was very relieved to be released from the chain. “She was ecstatic,” Conradie said. “She just crawled right up my chest … and you could almost see the tension drain out of her.”
Then Conradie gently pushed the dog through the tiny gap to the other side before squeezing out herself.
“She was just so friendly and so happy to be out,” Conradie said. “She snuggled her head into my neck, and her tail was whipping into my leg.”
Conradie and the other Tin Can Town volunteers took Chantel to the vet for a checkup, and got her spayed and vaccinated. While it would have been a horrifying experience for the dog to be chained up for so long, Chantel was in pretty good health.
By the time Chantel left the vet, she’d found a home — the neighbors who’d been feeding her had asked to adopt her. They already had a couple other dogs, who appeared to be well-fed and well taken care of, and they promised to take care of Chantel in the same way.
While some people have questioned Tin Can Town’s decision to return animals to Blikkiesdorp, the team explained that they always look for the best solutions for both the animals and people in the community.
“Please be assured that we assess the situation of each animal on a case-by-case basis and if we suspect any cruelty, abuse or gross negligence at that home, then we won’t take the animal back,” a spokesperson for Tin Can Town wrote on Facebook. “If the people do care and just need some help and education, then we work with the guardians to make improvements to the animal’s living conditions.”
In Chantel’s case, her new owners knew exactly how to take care of her. Now that Chantel is free from her chain, she’ll be able to run around and play with her new dog siblings, and enjoy everything life had to offer her.