Volunteer vets go the extra mile in the Karoo
A few dedicated women are making great strides for animal health in small towns across the Karoo.
It’s 4.30pm on a sweltering afternoon, and in a municipal hall in the village of Prince Albert Dr Hilldidge Beer stitches the abdomen of her 20th patient of the day. Beethoven’s Fifth dips and soars from a pair of portable Shox speakers, drowning out the sound of cicadas screaming through the open windows as she threads the final needle.
She operates at a fold-up table separated from her patients’ “recovery room” by a hessian screen – just another makeshift feature of this extraordinary theatre played out not only in Prince Albert but also in numerous other small towns across this vast semidesert region.
Dr Beer, veterinary surgeon and founder of pet-care conglomerate EberVet, is one of a handful of veterinary professionals who devote some or all of their time to mass animal sterilisation projects across the Karoo in communities where unemployment is endemic. “The majority of pet owners here live on welfare. They have no access to transport. There are no vets in their towns, and even if there were they couldn’t afford private veterinary fees,” says Sister Hilda Mills, a veterinary nurse who works as Dr Beer’s assistant.
So Dr Beer packs her Land Rover emblazoned with EberVet Community Veterinary Care stickers and makes the journey from her company headquarters in Somerset West to towns like Barrydale, Calitzdorp, Ladismith, Zoar and Prince Albert to sterilise as many cats and dogs as she can. Sister Mills leaves her own farm at Vleiland on the Seweweekspoort Road near Laingsburg at 4am, criss-crossing unlit dirt roads to join Dr Beer wherever she is needed. Often, the pair are on their feet for eight-hour stretches, sometimes longer. “The biggest challenge is obtaining a facility to work in,” says Dr Beer. Some local municipalities are helpful, others aren’t yet.
These spay clinics are targeted specifically at the poorest of the poor, and paid for not by local authorities but by small animal welfare organisations such as Prince Albert Animal Welfare (PADS) that fund the drugs, the sutures and the minimal fees charged by the vets and their assistants.
“I have operated in a ladies’ loo at a station, in a hairdressing salon, in a bar, in a stable, in a kitchen and even in an outside bathroom where we used the shower as the surgery and apple crates as scrub tables,” says Dr Beer. “A-grade office space for us is a community hall with running water and a toilet with a door that closes.”
Why does she do it? “If you live in Africa, welfare and private >