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Reality Bites

Ramblings of a Crazy Dog Lady

Ramblings of a Crazy Dog Lady

Reality Bites

by Tracy McQuarrie – Founder and chief poop scooper of DogtownSA 

Reality Bites is not only the name of my favourite movie, its also something I have had to deal with this past week on a level I wish on no man ever.

For those who maybe don’t know. Before I started Dogtown I was a video editor and post production supervisor. I loved my job and I was good at it. I ran a successful post production company for 15 years before I decided to follow my other passion. Running my own post production company gave me the time and the funds when needed to help others. One day I was watching tv and came across a programme called Dogtown. I was amazed at what they were achieving with their specialised care. Having visited so many shelters aroun the country I knew this is what was so desperately needed in South Africa and I began to make plans to go across to Dogtown @ Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and absorb as much information as possible and bring that back to South Africa and share with our local shelters. I saw they offered a workshop How to start and run an animal sanctuary and I thought PERFECT. I made all the arrangements and headed over there. At the end of the jam packed workshop, they asked us all, if we were planning to start an animal sanctuary, I replied no, I was just going to bring the information back for the existing shelters. After all I had a company to come back to. But that question plagied me the rest of my holiday and by the time I had returned to South Africa I had doubts about whether continuing my life as an editor in a dark room was really what my calling was at this stage. Was there not a reason I came across that tv show at that time, was there not a reason they were giving that workshop at the time I was going to be in America? I tried to put it at the back of my mind and came home and made copies of all the information I had gathered and sent out to all the shelters Id been volunteering and donating to. Then it struck me these shelters are so hectic and busy already without now having to spend hours every day rehabilitating behaviour issues. Plus most of them didn’t have full time behaviourists on their staff.


I carried on with my work. I had the Miss SA pageant that I had to complete, so even if there was this inkling it would have to be subdued until I had at least finished my projects on hand. I completed my last project for the year and one of the animal shelters I had been volunteering with needed some help. Their dogs were currently in private boarding facilities and they had to be out over the Christmas period as the boarding kennels were fully booked. This is something I’ve learnt is an issue for many shelters every year. Fortunately I’d had a good year business wise, so I spoke to a friend of mine who lived on a plot and asked if she would allow me to build some temporary gardens for these dogs over Christmas and I would come and take care of them and try and find them new homes. Little did I know this was the beginning of Dogtown South Africa. I loved working with the dogs every day and seeing that transformation in their personalities. I started to subtly drop hints with hubby that I was loving this so much, maybe I should retire from editing. He nervously laughed but I think he realised I had already decided this in my mind and when I set my mind to something I give it my all.

Mid January is the time the bookings in TV start to come in again and I found myself turning away long term projects as I would not be able to work with the dogs anymore. I had already started the barkingmad.co.za webisite which was supposed to be my commitment to animal welfare in helping shelters by creating a central portal where everyone can post their dogs looking for homes and the public had one spot to see all the dogs available in shelters around the country. I also created the click to feed mechanism to raise food donations to help feed the dogs around the country.

It wasn’t till later I realised our own Dogtown was actually already in the making. I then decided I have to make a choice and the dogs won. I knew if I was going to start a sanctuary I would have to be the one doing the slog work and getting it off the ground. I could never keep my business and run the shelter to the levels I expected. Knowing my personality there is no way I could sit there at work and not worry about the dogs, no matter how good the staff you employ. To make your dream work you need to be the one driving it on the ground. So I sold some of my equipment, cancelled my lease and headed into making my little Dogtown South Africa a reality. Those dogs I took over Christmas stayed with me until I found them homes. My friend Jane was an absolute rockstar with helping me care for the dogs. Before we knew it though we were starting to need more space and I realised this was it, my dream of a little Dogtown was actually becoming a reality. The money from my sold equipment kept us going for a while but dried up within a year, I was grateful I had this money to start us off because I learnt quickly that animal rescue is a sponge when it comes to funds. I new I needed to start fundraising and fast if I wanted to keep this little dream alive. So I registered Dogtown South Africa as an NPO and 9 years later after 3 previous moves. We are finally in our own permanent location with our set up as per everything I learnt at Dogtown USA (apart from all their buildings and vet clinic) we just don’t have that money yet.

Octagon layout as per Dogtown USA

I love Dogtown, I love everything it stands for. Saving misunderstood dogs and giving every dog a chance. Looking at the dog that presents itself in front of you and looking at all the information that dog is giving you to guide that dog and help it become a balanced and happy dog. In my dreams Dogtown would be a safe haven for every dog that needs a bit of TLC from the expertise of our qualified behaviourists and trainers. The reality is every day it’s getting harder to keep our doors open at the level of care and expertise we have provided over the past 9 years. Every day we are turning away dogs because we simply do not have space. We could be double the size we are now if we had the funding. If the funds were not such a daily struggle, we would seriously be considering expanding, we have the space, we could find the caregivers and we could try and raise the funds to build a new octagon and then we could save another 30 dogs lives. It’s the monthly running costs for this expansion that is the only thing that stops us from going forward with this. Its already a struggle to raise the funds for the set up of caring for 160 dogs we have at present so the reality of the matter is, financially we just can’t expand unless there is a huge upsurge in funding. Expansion would require even more dedicated monthly commitments from our supporters and to be honest animal lovers are also struggling with the onslaught of pleads for homes, pleas for funds from hundreds of animal charities. We’re all draining a very small pond and sadly the truth is, it is a small pond compared to the majority of our public. We animal lovers are the exception not the rule. Many shelters countrywide are having to deal with adoptions at an all time low and we are no different in fact we’re even worse off as people think we only have misunderstood dogs here, which is simply not the case.

Dogtown 11

Everyday we are out there finding ways to try and raise more funds so we can save more lives. While at the same time making sure the dogs in our care are receiving top notch care. Just this past week we were at the rand show seeing if we could find some support from people who may never of heard of us. It was hard work sometimes in the rain and wind but we raised a bit of money, we didn’t break the bank but we raised enough to pay for one of our dogs operations and that is certainly better than a kick in the pants. During the same time we did our Saints booksale and raised a little more. So we are not resting on our laurels we are doing everything we can to keep our promise to misunderstood dogs of South Africa. But will it ever be enough?


Being a pro-life animal sanctuary a dog has to be adopted to make space for a new life to save. When I created Dogtown, I wanted to create a sanctuary for dogs that are struggling and needed guidance and special care. I saw these dogs living out their lives in shelters with no hope of being adopted unless someone simply helped them. I love studying animal behaviour and I knew sometimes the dog and family just needed the right guidance to get over some hurdles. Our animal shelters are under extreme pressure they don’t have the resources to have full time behaviorists and trainers taking care of their dogs. This is what I wanted to provide to the rescue world in South Africa.

Dogtown 14

Obviously being this specialised, some of the dogs we take into our care are not ready for adoption for some time, while we rebuild their trust and teach them how to live harmoniously with humans in this crazy world. Sadly there are some dogs that come into our care that even with our modification programmes, their history and quirks make it that a chance of being adopted are slim to none and that’s ok we are here for those dogs. They will live their lives out here at Dogtown, with our staff making sure they receive daily stimulation and love with walks, training sessions, social play dates and giving them various outlets for mental release each day obviously helps them to be happy and understood, so their lives are as good as possible. Many even say they are happier than most dogs in a home. This also becomes a problem for us as people often come to Dogtown and say your dogs are so happy here and rather go and adopt from a shelter where the dogs are not as happy. Which I totally understand 🙁

Dogtown 4-1

These misunderstood dogs are a very small portion of our sanctuary, with the majority of the dogs in our care being highly adoptable and just waiting for that pawfect family to come along. My worry and my reason for my reality bites comment is, even these highly adoptable dogs are struggling to find homes and the calls of highly adoptable dogs being dumped are out of control, at all shelters around the country. Times are hard, people are struggling financially, people are fleeing our country to other shores and dumping their dogs like their furniture 🙁 its the first time in 9 years I’ve wondered if our special sanctuary needs to make a shift to save more lives instead of a few. Even as I type this I feel ill and disappointed in myself for even thinking of it. It was the very reason Dogtown started and here I am re-thinking our entire sense of being. We are the only true behaviour rehabilitation sanctuary in our country, surely this is needed and surely every dog if it has a quality of life deserves a chance to live. It all relies on whether more people will support us to continue our work. The question is do enough people believe in our vision ?

Dogtown 2

I’ve always thought there are so many rescue groups out there, they can help home the, moving overseas, got divorced, moving into a smaller property dogs. But the truth of the matter is there are so many of these dogs being dumped they cant handle all this huge influx of perfectly adoptable dogs. So, here is the thought that’s killing my soul. I cant believe I’m even going to say this, but should we be saving more adoptable dogs, that have a chance of a home and turn away the dogs that have a slim chance of being adopted which then leaves them with the only other option of being euthanized (a part of me died right there, actually writing this) or should we continue to save those misunderstood dogs as per our vision and dream for every dog to have a chance. The reason I’m reluctantly asking this is, our kind of shelter takes alot of well educated, hard working behaviourists and trainers working every day to make our dogs lives better. It takes large gardens for each dog to live in so they have lots of space to play and run even in their daily enclosure. The truth of the matter is the struggle is real, we struggle to raise money to cover the costs needed each month to run this level of expertise and care. Our vet and food bills are huge each month but we never refuse treatment needed for the dogs in our care. Once we have taken them into Dogtown they will receive the best care no matter what. We’re really stuck at the moment. Every day more dogs need to come in and less dogs are finding homes, something has to give. We either have to sadly turn more dogs away that need our help or look to expand. But to expand we need even more monthly commitments of financial support.

What are your thoughts townies? I need to know whose with us in the long haul to save our misunderstood dogs or who thinks we need to adjust with the times.

Email me tracy@dogtownsa.org and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you for reading my rant.

Yours in loving misunderstood dogs