TAWI was founded by Richard Norton in 2009 who, having retired from a career as a school teacher, sold his house in Pretoria and used the proceeds to set up TAWI and fulfil his life’s dream of doing something to help the unseen Dogs of the former Transkei. In the beginning TAWI was called PSJ [Port St Johns] Animal Welfare and started out with the typically naïve and reactive attempt to ‘just do something’ for the many suffering and diseased Dogs in the isolated town of Port St Johns where the closest vet was (and still is) ever 100km away.
Rich soon realised we were pretty much on our own in this vast area where the need stretched far into the hinterland where 100s of rural villages and isolated rural households are accessible only by footpath and where thousands more Dogs live, suffer and die with not ever having the benefit of even the very basics available in any urban area.
Rich soon employed Mawethu “Isaac” Kunyu and together, with little experience or knowledge, they set up a temporary clinic in port St Johns where they were able to sterilise the majority of Dogs in town, take in a few strays, diseased and unwanted dogs at a time and deal with local emergencies. This really helped the situation in the town a lot but did not deal with the wider situation in the surrounding rural villages.
In 2010, they started an outreach programme to 5 neighbouring communities, visiting each household, as they could obviously not bring their Dogs to town. They would load a motorbike onto the 4×4 kombi, drive as far as they could into the hills, then use the motorbike to get from house to house along the cattle tracks, armed with dip and deworm pills. Little did they know in those early days that no one had really attempted it like this before and for the first time, basic help was getting right to the heart of the matter.
In 2011, our name changed to TAWI (Transkei Animal Welfare Initiative) to reflect the need beyond Port St Johns and in December of the same year TAWI became an officially registered NPO.
In 2012 we were forced off the land in Port St Johns town and relocated to a plot within Nenga State Forest Reserve on Agate Terrace. Across the river from town, the new location is much better situated for access by quad bike to many of the rural communities we work in whilst still close enough to continue helping Port St Johns regularly.
In 2012, after several years of consolidated learning, Isaac gained his qualification as an Animal Welfare Assistant, enabling him to carry and administer certain scheduled drugs based on his knowledge and ability to assess and diagnose. This really opened up the scope for TAWI to help more animals.
In 2013 Helen Whitehead joined the team as a full-time volunteer and now handles marketing, fundraising and looking after the 10 or so rehab Dogs at Bush Camp.
At the end of 2015 Zolile “Tyson” Makhayakude also joined the team and is currently training to qualify as an Animal Welfare Assistant as Isaac has done. Tyson’s from Noqhekwana, one of the first communities we started working with. His confidence with animals, dedication to improving their lives and his extensive local knowledge are proving invaluable.
2016 was the first year of government Compulsory Community Service (CCS) for vets. Newly qualified vet Ashleigh Lord was appointed to TAWI in January and throughout the course of last year assisted TAWI tremendously with her skill and knowledge. Although from 2017 CCS vets can only be appointed to the state (and not to animal welfares as last year), TAWI has a strong relationship with the state vet and hopes that the new CCS vet will still be able to get involved and help us with our work as the nearest vet (state and private) is over 100km away.
In 2016 TAWI also gained tax exempt Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) status.
Since TAWI began, not only have we gone through a steep learning curve regarding disease, medicines and what people need, but we also leaned a number of very important early lessons (we will never stop learning). The most important of these was that a reactive approach is a never ending bottomless pit and if we were going to actually make a difference, we needed to start looking at the challenges from a proactive point of view and deal with the root causes of the underlying problems. Through these valuable first hand experiences we could see, feel and ask what was needed most which helped us adopt the best use of our resources in the most effective way and to start looking at what realistically could be done to reach more of those Dogs and people.
Beside the figures of 16,000+ Dogs treated and 2,000+ sterilised in 7 years, what is just as relevant is the acceptance and trust gained from the local indigenous people and the understanding gained through home visits. Today, TAWI is proud to be working with 16 communities, alleviating the suffering and improving the health of their animals.