17 August 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Dogs, children and Stormsriver Adventures

As a responsible tourism operator, Stormsriver Adventures in the Tsitsikamma has great credentials. Here’s a heart-warming insight into how it spends a large chunk of its social responsibility money.

Children have benefited, along with the dogs. Photo Chris Marais

In 2003, Fiona Lowndes went to visit an acquaintance in the poorest part of Storms River Village, near the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park

It was raining when she left her friend and she couldn’t help noticing a puppy chained up next door, wire digging into its boney little neck. It was sitting forlornly in a pool of water, with no shelter and only a sodden blanket for comfort.

To Fiona’s embarrassment, she remembers 'shrieking at the owner'. But when she’d spent a little time speaking to a few people, she realised that many of the people in the township were employed by the park, where they weren’t allowed to have pets.

They had no idea how to treat animals, although they clearly wanted them.

'It wasn’t cruelty, just a lack of knowledge,' she says.

So she embarked on a self-appointed mission to teach the basics of how to care for animals – what to feed them, that they must always have a good supply of fresh water, to untie the chain, or at least not use wire around the dogs’ necks. 

And things just expanded from there: Fiona ferries animals to nearby vets for pro bono work, helps de-worm dogs and cats, and treats them for mange.

I’ve seen how the children learn good values from interacting with and nurturing animals.

Most of the financial support for this project comes from Stormsriver Adventures, a Fair Trade in Tourism-accredited company doing forest canopy tours and other activities in Storms River Village.

But it’s not just dogs and cats that gain from the arrangement.

From the beginning, Fiona's allies were children. 'Twenty children would come and look at what I was doing, and I took the opportunity to teach them about animals.

'I saw miserable, runty little children become confident when they were given responsibilities, either for their own dogs or other people’s. If they did well, they’d get praise, and their self-confidence and self-esteem rose.

'These kids often grow up with no role models except adults who drink and abuse drugs.

'They’re like sponges – they absorb what is around them. Now they’re so much more confident.

'They brag about their dogs, and they ask questions. You can see them improve in leaps and bounds.

'The animals are the fulcrum. I’ve seen how the children learn good values from interacting with and nurturing animals. And I’ve also seen how animals often act as a unifying catalyst, bringing fractured families together.'

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