MINDA Coetzee is an animal behaviourist and together with her dog Benji she is now also a member of the Guardian Angels and visits old-age homes.
She was working at the laboratory of the State veterinarian and ten years ago, four years before retirement, she decided to study Companion Animal Behaviourism in South Africa. After two years she received her diploma which has to be renewed every year by submitting a case study.
"My aim is that people and their pets understand each other and that they can thus live in harmony and enjoy each other with minimal problems," she says.
She works closely with veterinarians in Windhoek, who refer cases to her. If a pet owner has a problem such as a dog that constantly barks and her help is called in, she would go to the house and observe the animal in its surroundings for one hour.
Coetzee would then issue a report to the pet owner and the veterinarian, suggesting solutions. That specific dog might be barking because it lives in a yard which is surrounded by solid walls and it cannot see what is happening outside. In such a case, small holes in the wall could be the solution.
"Most problems can be resolved when people know the problem and the solutions are in most cases simple, easy and cost next to nothing."
Through her work she has shown people how to help their companion animal to be happy, and thus the people happy and the balance and peace in the house are restored.
Although she is not a qualified therapist and Benji is not a trained therapy dog, the two have visited children's homes, old age homes and the hospital.
"If a person touches an animal the brain releases endorphins, which is the feel-good hormone," Coetzee says.
Especially old people benefit from having an animal around. They have to get up to feed, walk and take care of the animal, which encourages exercising. The animal also encourages communication, as people have something to talk about - and talk to. The animal loves unconditionally and is always there; it is a great companion for the elderly.
Benji was born to feral parents living in a cave on a farm in the Namib.
"Years ago the people brought some border collies to the area which became feral over the years," says Coetzee. Farmworkers' children saw the bitch was pregnant and when she left the cave to go hunting they went inside and removed the four-week-old Benji.
After three months the people had to move and could not take the dog with them, so they contemplated shooting him. Coetzee's daughter, Jacobina Levin, heard about the dog's fate and contacted her mother who drove to the farm and collected him. Benji is now 11 years old.
People who have animals with behavioural problems or who want a visit from Benji can phone Coetzee at 081 280 5444.
Guardian Angels is an organisation whose members make house visits to elderly people to keep them company. They currently have 25 members but not enough elderly people to visit.
"The elderly who are in old-age homes have company. We as Guardian Angels are looking for elderly who are in their homes, who don't have children who visit them. If people know of any elderly person who is lonely and needs company or a friend, please contact me so we can help," says founder Zia Stellmacher.