When Themba Memela first heard about Funda Nenja, he couldn’t believe his luck.
“Dogs are my favourite animals in the whole world,” he recalls, “so I decided to take my old dog Xoki and have a look.” They were hooked from day one, with Themba pleased to find like-minded animal lovers in his neighbourhood and Xoki enjoying learning new tricks.
Many people in Mpophomeni are afraid of dogs, so when Themba told his teacher that he wanted to work at the SPCA when he grew up, his classmates roared with laughter.
Funda Nenja Dog Training Initiative meets on Friday afternoons, and Xoki would be waiting when Themba got home, ready to go. “Even though he was old, he learnt so fast. He could ‘stay’ for a very long time!” Soon Themba and Xoki were good enough to join the Demo Team, which travelled to shows around the country to showcase their skills. “What fun experiences to go to Durban and Jo’burg and meet many different people. This gave me confidence and I thought I could do anything I wanted to, if I kept learning.” When Xoki died, rather than get a new dog to work with, Themba became a trainer for Funda Nenja, helping others to develop their connection with their dog, learn proper care and handing techniques, discipline and respect for other humans.
When he finished school Themba was offered his dream job at the local boarding kennels. Here he exercises the dogs and is always called on to help with difficult or slightly aggressive dogs as he is unafraid and soon calms them down. While he has always loved horses, he didn’t think he would ever get a chance to ride. Now he has weekly lessons and he regularly competes in show-jumping and cross country events on Ziggy.
Despite being busy at the kennels, he still volunteers on Friday afternoons. He is impressed that Funda Nenja now includes a social worker to look after the children’s needs. “If you want the dogs to be happy, the children must be happy. If the kids suffer, their dogs will too.” Over the past years he has seen such positive changes in the township. “I used to get sad seeing dogs with no shelter lying in the rain. Now everyone understands the importance of providing shelter.” Another improvement he has observed is in sterilisation. No longer are there endless unwanted puppies, and fewer dogs fighting.
A few years ago, an emigrating family left their dog Tarmorine at the kennels, asking them to find a new home for her. Themba played with this dog for four months and loved her, so was very pleased to adopt her. Tarmorine enjoys afternoon walks down to the river near their home every day but does not like children so can’t attend Funda Nenja classes. She doesn’t like rats either and swiftly kills any she sees. Providing the perfect eco-friendly protection for Themba’s veggie garden!
Themba is adamant that one day there will be no hungry dogs in Mpophomeni and every dog will have a loving home. He is determined to do all he can to make this happen. Lucky Mpophomeni. Lucky dogs.
“I used to get sad seeing dogs with no shelter lying in the rain. Now everyone understands the importance of providing shelter.”