Ignoring the news is becoming impossible: nearly every channel confronts us with coronavirus headlines connecting the world by one conversation.

Even social media feeds are filled by posts from celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger urging his Instagram followers to “stay at home” and “listen to the experts” (March 16) while sitting in his kitchen feeding carrots to a small furry horse and a donkey ( – a strange way to promote hygiene consciousness during a pandemic, but each to their own!).

‘Stay home!’ is a command endorsed by governments globally, and South Africa is not unusual in its implementation (and two-week extension) of lockdown restrictions.

At midnight on March 26, 2020, South Africans joined the estimated one-third of the world’s population currently in lockdown (World Economic Forum, April 9). South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed the nation on the ninth of April and reported that “…the National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to extend the nation-wide lockdown by a further two weeks beyond the initial 21 days” (CNBC Africa, April 9).

Consequently, pet owners like Schwarzenegger are connected once again by a positive distraction from global collective anxiety: they can spend more time at home with their furry friends.

For neglected and abandoned animals, however, national lockdowns mean, quite literally, death sentences.

“Help! Much needed fundraisers for the Sandton SPCA have been cancelled due to COVID-19. Our lifeline has been shortened. Please donate now to enable us to keep our doors open!” is the foreboding cry of a Johannesburg-based Society for the Prevention of Animals (SPCA) (Facebook, March 18).

This post is just one of the hundreds calling for attention to the dire situation facing animal welfare organisations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With decreases in amounts of charity donated to the SPCA, coupled with increases in the number of animals needing help, the merciless choice between euthanasia or closing down must be made.

National Inspector Meg Wilson, who is the Head of Public Relations of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), explains how “the volume of animals that will be in need [during lockdown] may outweigh the SPCAs’ resources.” Both the NSPCA and SPCA rely on charity donations to operate, yet volunteer work has become inaccessible due to restrictions of movement by order of the government.

Wilson expresses how the crises facing South Africa’s SPCAs are shared by animal charity organisations globally “at a time where the world’s economy is taking a knock. [Lockdowns are] a huge setback for non-profits and animal owners, not to mention the fall out with animals due to […] affordability.” Contrarily, a problem unique to South Africa emerges from the reality that most of the country’s population live in over-crowded and poorly sanitised ‘townships.’

When asked how this demographic impacts the number of stray animals during a lockdown scenario, Wilson said that “[…] if plans to evacuate townships come into fruition, […] a lot of people cannot work and often this results in no work, no pay – we are concerned that many families face the difficult decision [about] whether to feed their families or their animals: we know that families will take precedence.”

Fearmongering by blaming animals for carrying the coronavirus is yet another immense challenge that the NSPCA and SPCA face in South Africa, and one which further increases the number of animals surrendered to these organisations. 

Credible sources and community education are vital platforms of intervention to deter against misinformation and the resulting abandonment of pets

Kathryn van den Berg

When trying to come up with an alias for my blog, I turned to words people have used to describe me for inspiration. The term 'control freak' popped up in my mind, but I'm not that confrontational and opinionated (anymore...). And so came into existence a happy compromise between my A-type personality and sense of humour.

Kathryn is The Control Enthusiast.

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