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 >

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