The choice of being a chef aboard a luxury game fishing boat chartering out of Cairns, Australia or walking the dusty streets of local Kouga townships caring for the needs of malnourished dogs would be an easy choice for many. And no doubt Rebecca Tilders, in her wildest imagination never foresaw her life taking this latter road when love blossomed when the late Helmie Tilders of Cape St Francis decided to go on a fishing charter in Australia some twenty years ago.
During the cruise Helmie reeled in a monstrous 1000lb marlin realizing the dream of many a fisherman of landing the ultimate prize of the sea. Rebecca had no doubt seen other monster fish being caught but with this one her caring of those creatures that share our planet came into play when she asked Helmie to release the fish back to the ocean. No doubt sensing there was something far more important happening in his life Helmie relented and so back went his prize to explore the ocean deep once more. And so begun a romance that was to see Rebecca give up her job on the fishing boat and eventually settle in Cape St Francis with Helmie. As most know Helmie sadly passed away earlier this year.
After finally moving to South Africa and marrying Helmie, Rebecca taught at Sea Vista school for a while and it was at the school where her work with dogs started. Some three years after settling on our shores and whilst working at the school, a heavily pregnant dog walked into the school. Finding out who owned the dog, Rebecca realized she would have to take charge so after seeing the dog through its pregnancy and finding homes for the litter, Rebecca started on her crusade that was to set her on a path as “dog-carer extraordinaire”.
Working townships of the Kouga district, Sea Vista, Humansdorp, Patensie, Thornhill and others, she initially funded most of her work herself before starting the “April Olive Blossom Fund” so she could continue her work. As a ‘foreigner’ and not speaking a word of Afrikaans says much for the courage it must have taken to enter the townships and whilst Rebecca says 95 percent of those she dealt with were pleasant and co-operative, there were those who did not take kindly to an uitlander interfering in their lives. Added to this, the occasional unfriendly dog didn’t make the job any easier – quite recently being attacked by a pit-bull.
Relating a phone call received recently from someone who had a dog given to her by Rebecca two years earlier truly illustrates how little compassion some people have for their pets. The caller wanted to give the dog back to Rebecca and the reason …. “we have two new puppies and don’t want the dog any longer”. It seems this is a common problem having heard similar stories from the SPCA. Surely a dog is a commitment to the dog’s lifetime not something you give back when you tire of its company.
Rebecca was adamant that I include in this article mention that, without the help of others her work would not have been possible. Most notable was Humansdorp Vet; Dr Barker for her unstinting support and patience for without Dr Barker little of what was achieved would have been possible. She also thanked those who have supported the “April Olive Blossom Fund” that has made it financially possible to cover some of the costs incurred.
During the chat with Rebecca, her passion for dogs was tangible and tears were seldom far away when talking of her her work. Not every story could have a happy ending and those dogs that were beyond help or she could not find homes for had to sadly be euthanized and one cannot imagine the emotions Rebecca experienced having to make such decisions. But there are many, many dogs that Rebecca rescued that have brought joy to so many in St Francis, and further afield, thanks to Rebecca and her efforts.
The St Francis Bay and surrounding communities will truly miss you Rebecca when you leave us to settle in the UK. Thank you for the thirteen and a half years you dedicated to the welfare on our canine friends. No doubt it won’t be long before you embark on another cause whether it is caring for animals or the elderly for some are simply born to care.
Parting words from Rebecca – “Of all the jobs I have ever had, including paid jobs, this was the best job ever and I was never paid a penny for doing it” – that is called passion.
Whilst Rebecca prepares to move on to the UK she is no longer actively involved in the day to day work that has kept her busy these past thirteen and a half years. Stephanie Ernsten has taken over some of the work done by Rebecca so will need the support of donations to the April Olive Blossom Fund to ensure that Stephanie too, can make a difference. (Hopefully we can chat with Stephanie in the very near future.)
Should you need assistance please call Stephanie Ernsten on 071 392 5530
It would be so very interesting to see comments from the many people who have received loving pets from Rebecca over the years and we ask readers to submit your comments below. There must be so many happy stories to tell.