Dogs shielding S Africa's youth from violence

Dogs  shielding S Africa's youth from violence

When Thobani Gasa took his puppy for obedience training a few years ago it was just for fun. But soon his own behaviour started to change thanks to his canine companion.

Many townships in South Africa are notorious for gang-related violence but in Mpophomeni, near the southeastern town of Howick, pet  dogs  are helping lead the way to a more peaceful future.

With their  dogs  in tow, dozens of children filed neatly into the grounds of the Zamuthule primary school for the weekly training session.

"I was part of the gangs, but this programme changed my life," said 20-year-old Gasa now a trainer.

"When I started learning about  dogs, I started to focus on the  dogs  and abandoned gangster life."

Eight years ago, volunteer  dog  trainer and retired teacher Adrienne Olivier started teaching children how to treat pet  dogs. Every week some 100 children aged between eight and 15 go with their animals for the training she pioneered.

The project, which is called "Funda Nenja" -- Zulu for "learn with the  dog" -- has helped to nurture kinship and respect between humans and their  dogs  in the township in southeastern KwaZulu-Natal province.

"Coming here has taught me to treat  dogs  with respect," 13-year-old Sihle Dubazane said, while caressing his four-year-old crossbreed, Lion. "A  dog  has to be treated nicely, it has blood, it can feel."

In a classroom nearby, children and their puppies sat quietly on cream-coloured rubber mats, listening attentively to a tutor.

In the playgrounds outside, children and their  dogs  are clustered into three classes -- ordered from beginners to seniors, depending on their  dog's level of obedience. A better understanding of animal behaviour has helped the youngsters to understand their own.

Vuyani Dube has been taking his  dogs  to Funda Nenja for just three months and already his family has noticed the change in his behaviour.  "He wasn't this disciplined and he wasn't this responsible," said Siphesihle Dube, referring to his nephew as he walked back home from the school.


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