Pro-life animal rescue society TEARS seems such an established part of the landscape that it is difficult to imagine it began from nothing, just an idea and a passion.
“I never imagined it would grow,” says Marilyn Hoole in TEARS’s busy hub down Lekkerwater Road.
Volunteers are taking dogs for walks. A veterinary assistant brings a kitten, woozy with anaesthetic, with bandaged paws, having burnt them in the Redhill fire.
The outreach clinic van is being loaded, phones are ringing.
“We need a million a month to survive – we have to find a million rand a month. We started with nothing – no money, no experience.”
Marilyn had always wanted to work with wildlife and animals, her passion. But when she finished school, she didn’t know how to do that; it seemed an impossible desire for a woman.
So her father’s friend, a Fish Hoek bank manager, suggested she work at the bank.
“I was going to work there a couple of years, then try to get a job at Kruger National Park helping out,” she says, laughing at the vagueness of the idea. “Instead I got stuck in my ways and enjoyed it. I liked looking after my customers, especially the older folk.”
After working there for 22 years and building up her client base, she was transferred to Plumstead.
“I was desperately unhappy. My late husband, who was a chartered accountant, said why didn’t I join him in his business?”
So it was exactly 20 years ago in February that Marilyn resigned from the bank, fully intending to help her husband. Except three weeks later, she was phoned by DARG (Domestic Animal Rescue Group) in Hout Bay, where she began working in a rickety pondokkie, which had buckets to catch the rain, and Marilyn had to stand on the table to hold the roof when the wind came.
But this inauspicious beginning led to her recruitment of Emma Geary-Cooke who had been looking for a dog. Both women lived in Lakeside and hit it off immediately, going to pounds far afield to rescue dogs.
“I could never leave any animals behind. I had this Ford Sierra hatchback, and I would come back absolutely loaded with dogs.”
In October 1998, Emma “begged me and begged me” to start her own organisation.
Another DARG colleague, Joan Bown, had said that Masiphumelele, then Site 5, was being established and more and more animals were in need.
“I said okay. I resigned in November to leave at the end of December.
On December 16, Emma went to a wedding in Franschhoek. My last words to her were, ‘Drive safely!’” But Emma and her two friends were killed in a collision with a truck as she was doing a U-turn, trying to find the venue.
“I was devastated. Joan and I were thinking of a name for our new rescue organisation, and we wanted to name it in Emma’s memory.”
And that is how TEARS – The Emma Animal Rescue Society – came into being.
At first it was all based at Marilyn’s house.
The study was cleared, the garaged emptied of cars to become a storage space, “virtually our first charity shop”.
A cattery was built under the house. All rescued puppies were kept at the house.
“My house is on different levels, and every door you opened there was a little face behind it.
“Volunteers were dropping off stuff, people were coming to adopt dogs – my house was like Grand Central Station! My poor, long-suffering late husband! He stood by me and was my chartered accountant.”
TEARS was not only all over Marilyn’s house, but all over the peninsula. Dogs were kept in kennels rented in Skaapskraal, Ottery way. The vet was in Bergvliet.
The dogs in need were in Masiphumelele and Ocean View. It was then they heard that a property would be available down Lekkerwater Road. They had to canvass all the neighbours before they got permission, moving in to converted stables and pigsties in 2002. And here they have stayed.
“Through the years, as we get money, we have added on. It’s a bit like a TEARS village, very haphazard, but it works!”
They have to juggle things according to the funding but the staff are, says Marilyn, incredible and dedicated. As are their “precious volunteers”.
Since 2006, TEARS has had its own vet who runs a clinic as well as sterlises cats.
TEARS has several feral cat projects across the peninsula and way up the West Coast where feral cats are caught, given a health test, sterilised and returned to their colonies.They also look after animals in need in those areas and run various outreach projects.
They rescue all animals, whether domestic, such as the pig that is now in residence, or wild, the odd dassie, porcupine and the like.
“In welfare you encounter horrendous cruelty and neglect.
Very hard stories. But you just have to carry on. I just stay focused. It’s no good if you fall down in a heap. If it wasn’t for the community’s amazing support I would never have been inspired to keep going.
“It is the community that has supported us and enabled us to do what we do.”
Marilyn emphasised: “It’s not about me. “I couldn’t have done this without so many participating and giving so much of their lives to animals and the organisation.
It’s their passion and the compassion that drives TEARS.”
* TEARS has set up a new website page which features interactive adoption pages, video clips, animal advice and unusual rescue stories on www. tears.org.za