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The water crisis hits shelter animals

Water was always plentiful.
Today the dams are at 13% capacity.
Day Zero still looms like a dark shadow
over the city's population of 4 million.

Day Zero and what it means for the shelter pets of Cape Town

Water for paws donates water to animal shelter

Shelter cats at the Lucky Lucy Foundation examine the water bottles they received from Water for Paws.

Can you imagine a world in which your city is forced to shut off the taps and you and your pets no longer have access to running water? How would you cope if your water was rationed and you had to queue in line to get your daily quota of only 25 liters of water?

If it sounds almost apocalyptic and scary, for people living in the bustling coastal city of Cape Town, South Africa, this is about to become a reality.

This is ‘Day Zero,’ the day when the City of Cape Town plans to shut off the water supply to its 4 million citizens, except for critical areas such as hospitals, strategic commercial areas, and high-density regions. Due to abnormally low winter rainfalls in recent years, the surrounding reservoirs and dams supplying the city with water are critically low and have been for the past three years. Cape Town is the first major city in the modern era to face the real threat of running out of drinking water as a drought impacts the city, the worst drought in 100 years.

Last year in my post about Earth Day I had highlighted the water crisis and how Capetonians like my family who still live there, have been coping with the tough water restrictions imposed upon households in the Cape. Since then, the city has implemented even harsher water restrictions as the expected winter rainfalls last winter was barely a teasing drizzle.

While the taps have not been turned off yet, I always wondered how the city’s 80 or so animal shelters are coping with the water crisis.

Enter a wonderful group of guardian angels to the rescue, called Water for PawsI reached out to them recently to catch up with them and discuss the wonderful work they are doing to bring much-needed water to thirsty animals in shelters.

An interview with Claire from Water for Paws

water for paws cape town water crisis

Can you explain what is Water For Paws and how it all started?

In January 2018, animal lover, Fiona Barron, wanted to do something to help animals in shelters caught up in this drought. With Day Zero looming, she couldn’t just sit back and hope someone else would do something. Within hours of our Facebook page being active, a few people offered to get involved and become water drop off and collection points. We had no idea how this would spiral way beyond our expectations. People from far afield as the Eastern and Northern provinces in the country offered their water donations and help.

Water is literally pouring in and now Water for Paws has a network across South Africa, with Cape Town being their core team consisting of province coordinators, trucking, warehousing and distribution.

How has the water crisis in Cape Town affected animals in shelters and what has been the biggest challenge in caring for these animals during this drought?

The staff at the shelters have to practice frugal water consumption methods, recycling water to wash bedding, then catching this water again to wash out cat litter trays or dog kennels. Many shelters allow the dogs to play in paddling pools to cool off in the hot summer but this has been stopped and in this way, the dogs have ‘suffered’. They are also being bathed less often.

Some shelters have well water points so this water is being utilized for washing, cleaning and if good quality for drinking too. Many of the shelters are now just giant ‘sandpits’ and they need plants and trees to provide shady areas so some replanting might be required. Some shelters have had their well points dry up already.

We’ve been following Water For Paws since it started up and so excited to see how it has grown. I understand there has been an overwhelming response of support from the public and other provinces. Can you tell us a bit more about what initiatives took place in the various regions?

Schools all over South Africa got involved with the children bringing water to school. Veterinarians, pet stores and other people in various regions offered to be drop off points for the public to donate water. For various events such as dog walking events, car clubs and social clubs the requested entry fee was in gallons of water bottles instead of money. Social clubs donated a percentage of their sales for a night to us and a car club held a big event with the entrance fee being 15 liters (3 gallons) of water. Food stalls around the city are donating a percentage of their sales, some car washes offered a lower rate if you donated another 15 liters and a nightclub gave us a 500ml water for every beer sold.

Porsche South Africa launched a new car and instead of giving the 300 guests an expensive gift they each received 15 liters of water to donate to a shelter of their choice. Radisson Blu Hotel did something similar for their Chinese New Year (Year of the Dog) dinner! We also received some huge amounts of water from smaller water bottling companies.


Can you please share some of your challenges that you are facing in water collection or distribution to the shelters?

There are various drop off and collection points across South Africa and Cape Town. We need trucking sponsors to get all the water to Cape Town and we do not have money to pay for this. The other big challenge is distributing the water to the shelters in Cape Town from our warehousing facilities. Some companies have generously paid to send down their donations to us. We have appealed to smaller businesses and private companies in Cape Town and the public at large to assist us. We have had a good response so far but we need more as the sponsored warehouses need to be emptied all the time to make room for more water storage.

How do your pawsome ‘water warriors’ ensure the water gets distributed to the shelters most in need?

We speak to the shelters to see how they are coping and at present are working our way through every shelter and will then start with those who received first again. Those who totally run out of water we deal with immediately. The public gets to see which shelter their donation is being given to via our Facebook page.

I’m sure there have been quite a few “awwww” moments and success stories. Can you share a special story (or two) that has resonated with you?

The biggest thing has been the realization that the people of South Africa can really pull together in times of crisis and their generosity has been amazing. One dairy farmer who also bottles water from the spring on his farm gave us 6,500 x 5-liter bottles of water and trucked it down to us too!! An “awwwww” moment was seeing a little girl’s Disney Princess bottle in among one delivery of water. Schools have printed labels with personalized messages on the bottles.

Success Stories? Well, that’s every time a shelter receives water.

How many animal shelters have received assistance and is it mostly cats and dogs in shelters? What about horses, farm animals, and wildlife sanctuaries/outreach?

Cape Town has some 80 or so registered shelters and organizations in animal rescue and some just do outreach work in the townships, assisting the impoverished with their animals and doing amazing work with sterilization drives. Cape Town still has a group of informal traders who use horses and carts and they are monitored by the Cart Horse Protection Association.  When out on the road in the suburbs selling their fruits and vegetables, they would knock on residents’ doors to ask for a bucket of water to be filled for the horse to drink. Sadly, with the restrictions of 50 liters per person per day, they can no longer knock on doors as many people turn them away. Our goal is to ensure that these traders always have their large water bottles at hand for their thirsty horses.

We have also assisted SANCCOB, the Penguin & seabird sanctuary and rehabilitation center who must use fresh water in the pools at the facility.

What are the next steps or initiatives of Water For Paws in ensuring that animal shelters can keep up with the demands of drinking water for thirsty animals in their care?

Drinking water is a small part of the amount of water used at a shelter, cleaning takes way more.
So Water for Paws needs to receive water but we need ‘cash as well as splash’ so we can get the shelters into a water-wise sustainable position going forward. We have a bigger vision for Water for Paws, to help and encourage animal shelters to be part of the solution. We need to keep Day Zero at bay for as long as we can and this requires an overall mind-shift in thinking about our precious water resources.

  • We would like to install water storage tanks, guttering & piping so no rainwater is ever lost again
  • Install boreholes/well points, where viable, as well as filtration systems at shelters
  • Drinking water is essential but hygiene is too. Cleaning kennels, dog runs, catteries, doing laundry at shelters use a lot of water.
  • Setting up shelters to be ‘Water Wise’ and not dependant on municipal taps will not only be helping in the drive to avoid Day Zero, but will enable shelters to use their hard-raised funds for vet bills, Spay and Neuter drives, community outreach and free flea and tick baths for dogs in informal settlements.

We are in the process of starting more fundraising events and auctions and we hope to get the big corporates on board to sponsor our projects and vision.

A huge thank you to Claire from the pawsome Water for Paws for taking the time to enlighten us about their amazing work in a city caught in a crisis. You can follow them on Facebook to see more photos and watch their work in action and if you wish to make a donation please visit their website at Water for Paws and scroll down to the Paypal option. The kitties and the woofies will thank you!

Cape Town is not the only city at risk of running out of water.

This is a worldwide concern, especially when you consider that although water covers 70% of our planet, fresh water only makes up 3%.

Growing up in Cape Town, I’ve never experienced a drought before. After all, the peninsula is known as ‘The Cape of Storms’, named so by early Portuguese explorers to the Cape. In the winter months starting in June, the North Easterly winds are known to bring abundant winter rainfalls right into September.

Water was plentiful. Today, the dams are at 13% capacity. But population growth coupled with climate change and other factors have lead to a serious shift in the way Capetonians think about and use the most precious resource on earth, water.

Water conservation efforts have now pushed Day Zero to early 2019, but the day the taps run dry is still looming unless it rains cats and dogs!


About the author

The Lady Cat

Whiskers make me smile.
Coffee is good for you.
And cats are for life.
Helping cats live enriched lives with their people.
(Yasaar Nakchbendi)


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  • What an amazing story – these stories rarely get told in the news – it’s that underground network of people who love animals who are able to carry the “need” in shelters to the world. People pulling together to help the helpless. It’s heart warming AND it’s working! Thanks for telling us about this. Also congratulations on the win at Blogpaws.

    Hugs, Teddy and Mom Pam
    Teddy recently posted…Pre-Tease MondayMy Profile

    • Thank you, Teddy and Mom Pam. Yes, that is the reason why I wanted to tell this story. We always see the negative things in the media because I guess those get the views. This is the positive side of a dire situation. You’d be glad to know that Cape Town had some good rain recently. We’re hoping there is more where that came from!

    • Hope you had a fab day too! I just love projects like this, where ordinary people are making a huge impact for the benefit of their fellow citizens, including their furkind!

    • I love these heroes! I’m just constantly amazed at what they’ve achieved so far in a short space of time. It’s people like this who give me hope. The city has received some rain so they’re hoping for more!

  • What a hair-raising situation to be in with this water situation.

    It almost reminds me of a sci-fi setup, with famine ruling all the remaining inhabitants.

    I think it’s wonderful that so many people have come forward in this critical moment, and just how grateful we should all be to them.

    I sincerely hope the water-shortage won’t last much longer, and all will be back to normal soon.

    • You’d be glad to know that they have received some rain and they are hopeful that there is more to come. I hope it returns to the way it always was, a water paradise with dams filled to capacity!

  • How awful for Cape Town and thank God for that organization! In Flint, Michigan they were without water for over a year (due to it becoming tainted)…….and the families were struggling (some still are) beyond belief. We always received updates about the people affected but not the animals. Thank God for the souls in Cape Town who are looking out for the animals. BTW, I didn’t know you have family there, my Grandfather was from Johannesburg and I have family there still that I have never met.
    caren gittleman recently posted…Cat Play Boxes from “Cat in the Box” Give-Away Winner!My Profile

    • Yes I was following the Flint story too, it was awful!
      I love hearing about the lesser-known but proactive people on the ground engaging and actively helping to find solutions to a problem. (No armchair warriors there!)
      I’m glad to say that South Africans, in general, are an animal-loving culture but you don’t often see this in the news. So I wasn’t surprised when I had heard about them.

      I remember you mentioning a family member of yours was from Jo’burg. My whole family is there and I visit them each year 🙂

  • What a sad situation to be in, but what an awesome organization this is to come together and help solve a problem! In Southern California, we went through a recent drought, but nothing of this magnitude! I can’t imagine how awful this must be. So happy that people can come together like this.
    Three Chatty Cats recently posted…Chatty Cats: Lizards, Spaceships and More!My Profile

    • It’s interesting to note that Southern California and The Western Cape have the same Mediterranean climate, mild rainy winters and hot dry summers. When I was in Cape Town last year visiting, there were restrictions but nothing like this. Now every household is monitored, with an interactive online map showing exactly which households are going over their quota indicated by a red dot. If you have a green dot, you’re good.
      I’m excited to see if Water for Paws can reach their goals!

  • what a wonderful post, very sad 🙁 yet… happy at the same time. I hope this project gets the funding it needs for all the peoples and the animals in Cape Town, and by God’s grace, He will favor them with some much needed rain ~~~~~~ ♥♥♥

    • Yes, we do take it for granted. When I returned from my vacation from Cape Town last year I started to watch my water usage and now it’s a habit. And it’s amazing all the water-saving measures the people of Cape Town have come up with. It’s become a model for water conservation worldwide.

  • Another wonderful article Chirpy Cats! Thanks for bringing to light the water crisis in South Africa. It is so-o wonderful that the shelters are so-o focused. Their efforts are paying off and I cross my paws that more water donations continue to come their way. I wonder, has the US or other countries offered to share water with South Africa? Purrs.
    Valentine recently posted…Oliver’s Bum Deal!My Profile

    • Thank you, Valentine! Water for Paws is hoping that they will get some overseas donations to build more water tanks and filtration systems for the shelters in Cape Town. Let’s cross paws that they reach their goal!

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