Welcome to the home of Paw Pals – the Cape Town based therapy dog unit in South Africa

(Druk hier vir Afrikaans)


We are a group of volunteers working as chauffeurs for the most important members of our group – the four-legged ones – without them, we won’t have a ‘job’!



How & why did "Paw Pals" start?

-        The Planning

-        Training & getting dressed!

-        Getting a foot in the door…& the start of the visits:

What is Paw Pals all about? The mission statement says it all!

Who belongs in “Paw Pals”?  What kind of dogs will qualify for the job?

The members of "Paw Pals" therapy dog unit

Requirements for registration with “Paw Pals”

Where and when are the visits?

What do the dogs do?

Photos taken during our visits.

Special thanks to

The following centres allows us in for training


Contact us:


How & why did "Paw Pals" start?

After years of dreaming about using animals to help people (a full time nursing career put that idea on hold for over 2 decades), when a dog called Shadow came into my life on the 1st of February 2000 to be exact. At six weeks old, he was the cutest black fur ball I’ve seen in years. As he grew older, his gentle nature came through and the old forgotten dreams started coming to the surface again.

Toying with the idea and researching in the library and on the Internet about what could be done to make this work, a lady contacted Jonathan Rodwell (at that time the Owner/trainer of the Dog Obedience Centre) to find someone interested in starting a therapy dog unit in Cape Town with her. I had been training dog handlers at his school then and he was very aware of the dream.  My immediate plans did NOT include starting a unit at that moment in time, but after a brief hesitation, I said “Yes, count me in”…

The Planning:


Research on the ‘net got me in contact with a name at a therapy dog unit in Vermont – a guy by the name of Steve Reiman who patiently answered all my questions – stupid and good ones. Then I made a BAD move – asking him for a few ideas of what to do to get started. He sent me the ‘To-do-list-from-Hell’ – no less than 65 things to take into consideration before we can even begin to think of doing the visits. GROAN… Deep breath and start from the top. Reading up on the Australian & British websites as well as our local unit (the only one in the country in 2001) had more of the same. Sifting through their info, the list would look the same – Steve just summarised it for me in a nutshell – even though the nutshell was a coconut!


No sense in procrastinating – time to get to work… the list got printed and I started in a logical sequence to ‘do’ the ‘to-do’s’! By the time the first 20 were done, I felt so pumped up – just to plummet back to earth after a look at the ‘dreaded’ list and see it is but one third done IF that much. Deep breath and here we go again… After weeks of grinding teeth, chasing dreams and banging heads, the list got short enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and this time around it was NOT the train.


Advertising the event, taking calls from interested parties and arranging for a venue when you have a low budget (or in our case a NO BUDGET!) was not a walk in the park, but thanks to a lot of generous people, we got a lot of things done in good time and the seminar took place without a glitch.  When approached about the use of the boardroom at Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic (where I worked for 7 years till 1998), the hospital manager, Mr Clive Lake, gave us permission to use it free of charge providing we cleaned up after ourselves and the attendees buy their refreshments at the hospitals’ restaurant. Not only did we have access to a perfect venue, we had fascilities we only dreamt of.


That last weekend in March 2001, Les de Klerk from the Roodepoort based unit called Paws for People™, flew down to Cape Town to train us with regards to the do’s and the don’ts involving therapy work with dogs. She’s been doing it in and around Johannesburg since 1997 with great success and she had her own dream to start units like that all over the country. Since we’ve started, a few active units have sprouted under her guidance. For the whereabouts – the info is available on the Paws for People™ website. See links for details.


The planning for the weekend of the seminar had my life on fast forward in a big way. The period from early February, but especially  March 25th -26th & the first 10 days of April 2001 truly had been a life enriching period for me. After the seminar on the Saturda,y with enough info to burst our braincells, Les demonstrated on the Sunday morning HOW to assess the dogs before we started the training sessions. That was when the realisation hit me – this was not enough ‘hands on’ experience to work with for me.


A busy 2 weeks followed with the 10 day trip by car to Johannesburg for the ‘hands on’ training sessions and visits to be used as guidelines for our own training in Cape Town. Shadow had to go with so we could learn together and come back to demonstrate. Not only did we spend time with Paws for People™, but I had the priviledge to visit the head quarters of the SA Guide Dog Association to observe the magic of new owners handed over freshly trained seeing-eye-dogs. It was one of the most amazing days in my life to see the end result of dedicated training paying off for the new handlers and their newfound freedom on four legs. The trip proved well worth it with a lot of practical knowledge gained from the visits and some theory from the other handlers on what they did to get & keep their dogs ready. We came back home with loads to share.


Training & getting dressed!


Between training sessions, Les sent me a template of one of her uniforms for the dogs so we could use the same design. Trying to find matching material in the whole of Cape Town proved more of a problem than initially anticipated. With the yellow pages & a Cape Town street map book on my lap, my son took the wheel and we started the search for fabric shops. We started off in Fish Hoek and reached the bottom of the barrel of names in the directory, however, there was still one name on the list which we considered to be a real long shot. So, it was with no hope at all that we stopped in front of the “Alternative Dive Supplies” building on Natal Rd, Paardeneiland. The secondary business is called “CEDEN bags” – and that was literally my LAST option on that day. I was already planning how to research an alternative fabric for our uniforms.


At the security door (after doubtfully pressing the bell), a jovial man with a plate full of chips covered in ketchup in his left hand asked if he could help. Still on the outside of the door, I held up the template and asked him if he has any idea where we can find this particular fabric. His question “How many meters would you like?” floored me for a splitsecond or two. I was SO ready for the “Dunno” we’ve had up till that point in time, that he totally got me off guard.


He was trying to fit my body into the doggy jacket (and try as he might – it just didn’t work!) and had a very puzzled look on his face. When I explained that it was for a dog, he wanted to know where the dog was and what the story behind the jacket was.  At this point I recovered my senses, remembered that Vernon and Shadow were waiting in the idling car expecting to leave empty-handed again.


Des Mouton – owner of the shop – invited all of us, including Shadow, into his shop, demanding all the details as to why we needed these doggy jackets. The dog lover that he is, he had a bowl of water ready for Shadow, and as an after-thought, offered our parched throats a cup of coffee … priorities Des, priorities!


He then handed the template to one of his cutters with instructions to make a template for us in order to give us time to figure out which lining would be best suited for our dogs. He insisted on hearing the long version of our plans and the number of dogs in our unit. Much to our surprise, Des offered to sponsor the first 6 uniforms and make all subsequent uniforms at cost. My jaw dropped and I just stood there looking at this stranger with a heart the size of an elephant!


Not much later, the cutter came from somewhere in the back of the shop with a fully made jacket and Shadow played model. It fitted like magic. The next week  Monday, I got the call – the uniforms were ready. (For the hot summers we’ve been experiencing these last two years, we have bandanas as our ‘summer outfits’ since the jackets are too hot for those days.)


Golfshirts for the handlers were bought & longsleeved tops made for the approaching winter. On-Top Clothing made the long sleeved tops and did the screenprinting (our logo printed on the back and ‘therapy dog handler’ on the left front). We were finally ready for action – all we needed was a venue who would allow us in …


What would we call ourselves?


Deciding on a name was another headache – since we’re so far from the Mother unit in SA in Jhb, we had to come up with our own name and work on our own. “Paw Pals”was the name we decided on at the first general meeting from choices of “Hospital Hounds”, “Pals in Pets” & “Paw Pals”. At our very first training sessions, it was muddy on the field where we were working, and one of the dogs ran over my paperwork leaving HUGE muddy paw prints on the page, and as I was moaning “Oh nooo man, look at the paw print on my papers” one of the girls in the unit said in a joke “We want to be known as Paw Pals – why not use it in our logo since we’ve already got a Paw PRINT on our paperwork”. The design for the logo with the paw prints in the letters ‘a’ was almost a ‘no-brainer’ after that.


Getting a foot in the door…& the start of the visits:


Before any public work with the dogs could start, we needed insurance called Public Liability. Because it is such new grounds, it was yet another hurdle to overcome. Lyall & Morgan has been insuring us for the same amount for the 6th consecutive year since we’ve had no claims. We intend to keep it that way.


Eventually we got a foot in the door. Huis Zonnekus, an old age home in Milnerton was happy to give us a time slot and a chance. It was a big day for us to finally DO an official visit on the 4th of October of 2001.


That was a very wet day – Cape Town’s drizzly weather didn’t dampen our spirits when we reached the entrance of the building. The lounge area was filled with people eager to meet the mutts (even at our very first visit, we already felt like chauffeurs). Towards the end of the visit, the first anxious question from the residents was “When do we see you guys again?” With a promise to be back in 2 weeks’ time and a nod from the manager that it’s OK, they finally said good-bye and let us go. They couldn’t wait for the 18th of October. (We celebrated our 5th anniversary at Huis Zonnekus in style in October 2006: A special tea and cake day for all the residents who enjoyed it thoroughly.)


Red Cross Children’s Memorial Hospital:

The day before our first official visit, we also received an invitation from the Red Cross Children Memorial Hospital in Rondebosch. They wanted to try out the dogs in their burns unit complex treatment plan and they wanted to meet with us on Friday October 5th 2001 at the hospital to meet the dogs.


When we arrived at the hospital, Prof. Rode, drs. Albertyn & Thomas with the pain management of the burn victims, were very keen to start with the visits as soon as possible. The reaction of some of the small patients when they noticed the dogs definitely contributed to this decision! We arranged to be there on the afternoon of 9 October 2001.


The first visit there felt surreal. During my nursing career, I dealt with burn patients a lot, as was the case with two of my colleagues on the therapy dog unit - it was familiar turf. However, the other two handlers did not have that advantage, and for them it was a hair rising experience. To deal with kids who can’t bear looking at their scarred faces in a mirror, who cannot stand to be touched due to pain or nerve damage to their bodies, needs time to get used to.


The kids were all hesitant to touch the big dogs, but we had a trick up our sleeves… a beautiful German Shepherd (called Xanto) carried a basket in his mouth filled with sweets. Once they realised that it was safe to fetch a packet of sweets from the basket, (reasoning that the dog can’t hold the basket and bite at the same time…) they were very keen to get a sweet supply and walk with the other dogs holding onto the leash.


All dogs are equipped with 2 leashes attached to the collar – one short leash for the handler to make sure we don’t have a ‘runaway train or Superman’ situation should a dog take off with the ‘lightweight’ passenger in tow, and a longer leash for the patient so that they can keep a ‘safe’ distance between the dog’s sharp end and themselves! Not all of them trusted the dogs – and not without reason. We reassured them that the dogs with blue jackets and our badges on could be seen as ‘safe’ to approach. This was a double edged sword – it would be unrealistic and irresponsible to tell them all big dogs can be approached with safety.


The dogs are all trained to respond to hand signals, so when the kid would tell the dog to ‘sit’, we’d quietly give the hand signal so that the dog would understand the command given by the child, and sit. Their ecstatic expressions and the excitement about their ‘achievement’ when the big dog listened to their instructions were absolutely priceless.


At the second visit – the same kids ran up to us, hugged and thanked us for bringing the dogs to see them again. The most significant change after just one visit was the request by each and every one of them for a photograph of themselves with the dogs. What can be more permanent than a picture – and this from children who hated seeing even a glance of their own reflection in a mirror!


The growing confidence in the pint sized patients made all the trips there worth it.


What is Paw Pals all about?

The mission statement says it all!


Our Mission Statement

Our Mission:

To bring together two species to share some love and compassion in a friendly environment under controlled circumstances.


Our History:

Well into our 6th year of visiting retirement homes where frail people share the joy, love and companionship of our dogs, it still is a heartwarming experience to see the tired and lonely faces light up when they notice the wagging tails as we arrive. The warmth of our receptions cannot be explained in mere words – it is something that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.


Our Responsibility:

Is to have suitable, healthy, happy, gentle mannered and well trained dogs at work. The dogs must be clean and happy to be with strangers to succeed in this field of work. Shy, aggressive (to man/animals) & aloof dogs are not considered for therapy work.


Our Vision:

Is to get the general public and medical experts more aware of the benefits of human-animal-interaction if done right. Animal Assisted Therapy is widely used in the UK , USA & Australia for decades already. It is time we catch up with them.


Our Future:

With a Northern and Southern unit in place in the peninsula, we are going to branch out to Somerset West/Strand areas soon with a new satellite branch setting up in Helderberg region. So far we had a lot of interest via the phone, but no takers for the leadership role required to make it work. Watch this space for details as soon as it is available. Contact us at admin@pawpals.co.za if you are interested to find out more!


Animal magic is simple ~ no fancy words or lies about anything ~ just unconditional love & acceptance of you as a person who can potentially give them attention for a minute or two – that’s all they require. Watching dogs running free in the forest or on the beach can teach us humans a few lessons about using every minute to enjoy simple pleasures instead of reaching for the impossible…They find joy in free running, chasing each other, smelling other dogs’ markings, investigating the trees & strange/new smells!  The wagging tails and happy faces (the tongues out by a mile) & with a bounce in each step they take, THAT makes it impossible to miss their joy in little things.


Who belongs in “Paw Pals”?  What kind of dogs will qualify for the job?

The requirements are NOT breed specific, but according to personality. Friendliness towards strangers is always regarded as a plus.  All dogs are tested and evaluated for therapy dog work suitability. A dog with aggression of any kind towards another dog or strangers will not be considered. Should the dog need attention or training in the obedience field, we will re-assess at a later stage after successful completion of training. An obedience champion dog does not guarantee a good therapy dog. 


Obedience trained dogs might be clingy to their own handlers – it is how they are trained. Therapy dogs are required to work with any person they are handed over to for companionship at the visit – even for just a brief period of time. If the dogs stress to be separated from their own handlers, it can pose a problem although that can be overcome by a dog with an outgoing personality. Dogs can be shy too and appear aloof which will not go down well at visits.

Although everybody feels that their dogs are special, not all are suitable for work as a therapy dog.  Not every human see themselves doing this kind of work – neither does every dog. The only difference is that they can’t verbalise their feelings. It is exhausting work for the dogs to do the visits – they are not allowed to be just dogs – they must be a ‘little Miss/Mr. Perfect’ for the hour. Lots of hands stroking, some rather clumsily and not so gentle – and they just have to take it in their stride. Hugs can be a bit tight too. They need the ability to deal with that without incident.

The members of "Paw Pals" therapy dog unit:

·       Juleen du Toit (Co-ordinator) with Shadow & Sunshine (two brothers with 2 year age gap GSD X Golden Retriever) plus 4 rescued dogs from TEARS called Lady (Maltese X Yorkie), Tuppence or 2p for short (Collie X Fox Terrier), Tammy (Toy Pom X Schipperke) & Allie (Jack Russell X Chihuahua).

·       Shirley Blaine - with Thembi (Black Labrador) & Basil (Labrador X) from DARG.

·       Gillian Robertson – Sunshine believes he owns her…

·       Monica Perrin with Thumi (GSD)

·       Annelize & Charles Crosby with Nina (Belgian Shepherd)

·       Mart Louw with Jesse, Dinky & Minkey (Yorkshire Terriers)

·       Tracey & Freda Cooke with Frankie & Oliver (Pugs)

·       Anna-Mart van der Westhuizen & Angelo (Pekingese)

·       Deidre Donnelly – no dog of her own, but works with Lady & Allie & Tuppence at visits.

·       Cathy Williams with Trinity (Labrador Retriever) (Durbanville branch)

·       Sheila Wills with Scottie (Scottish Terrier X)  (Durbanville branch)


The breeds vary from a pedigree a mile long to pavement specials (just don’t quote me on this – I’ll deny I’ve ever said that! J) rescued from shelters (TEARS & DARG). At a visit, what they are, is not important – what they achieve by being there is what counts! At the same time, they don’t care what the people they visit wear or look like – as long as they can get and give love, they’re yours. 


To become a volunteer with "Paw Pals", you should be prepared to put some time aside to do training with the unit as a whole as well as visits on a regular scheduled basis.  All venues are visited on a 3 weekly basis for an hour maximum at a time. Simply choose which venue & time suits your lifestyle and just do that one – there is no obligation to do them all. If you fancy more than one, that will be welcomed too.

Currently active in the unit, we have a mixture of pure bred dogs, as well as cross-breeds rescued from shelters.

Requirements for registration with “Paw Pals”

Handler & dog must pass the specially designed tests from therapy work guidelines – it is not obedience or show ring based – but to assess whether the dog has the aptitude for the work required.

·       Tests will be done once the handler has completed a questionnaire and observed a visit without the dog present to assess whether it is what they really want to do. 

·       If successful, a minimum of two training sessions will be necessary to attend before the supervised visits will start.

·       More than one dog will be tested separately.  

·       Dogs should be under control at all times regardless of their size.


The assessments will be done by appointment.


·      Dogs must be a minimum of one year old to be tested.

·      Vaccinations & inoculations must be up to date.

·      Should the dog have had surgery, a certificate for fitness of duty is required before training and visits will recommence. If more than one procedure – the dog will have to be re-assessed before commencing training and visits. Pain can alter the tolerance levels of a dog.

·      Absence from activities for more than 2 visits & training sessions will require at least one training session to get the dogs re-acquainted with the group before resuming visits.

·      Once the dog is over 8 years of age, a Veterinarian Certificate every 6 (six) months, to state the mental and physical health of the dog, will be required.

·      If you have no dog but would like to work with us using one of the other dogs, then you can apply to become an Associate Member – the dogs usually adapt quite easily since it is a necessity for them to accept strangers.

·      The annual fee is R85.00 to cover the insurance of public liability which is compulsory for all.

·      Cost of basic animal health care and travel is the handlers’ own responsibility.

·      Regular parasite treatments required. Fleas & worms not welcome!

·      Grooming essential before visits.


Where and when are the visits?

(Rotated every 3 weeks all dates are pre-arranged and available on request)


Glendale (Galway Rd, Heathfield) on Tuesdays 14h15

Trianon Frail care (Francis Rd, Plumstead) Wednesdays 14h15

Rehoboth Age Exchange Centre (Downberg Rd, Hanover Park) Wednesdays 10h30

Peers Village Frail Care Centre (Genoa Rd, Fish Hoek) Wednesdays 10h00

Huis Zonnekus (Algoa Rd Milnerton) Thursdays 14h45

Huis Zonnebloem (Caledon Rd, Cape Town) Saturdays 10h00


The dogs’ obedience levels must be achieved without shouting – we cannot allow loud reprimands at the visit, so no use getting the dog listening only when a raised voice is used. Hand signals are ideal.


Training sessions are held every three weeks on a Sunday morning with a social walk in the Tokai Forest or occasionally an afternoon (depending on the time permission we get from the centre where the training would be) at neutral venues to get the dogs used to working as a team and it is compulsory. The social interaction without the ‘responsibility keeps the dogs calm when they meet at the venues and the ‘ranking’ order gets established without incident.


 What do the dogs do?

The dogs bring some contact into a very sterile environment where people don’t touch very often nowadays.


The value of "therapists on paws" is blatantly obvious. Clinical tests have proven that stroking an animal or talking to them decreases blood pressure, stress levels reduced and depression eases. The tails are wagging regardless of dress code – even if the residents are still in their pyjamas late in the morning when we get there!


Regular visits from therapy dogs and their handlers stimulates people with mental disabilities i.e. Alzheimer’s patients. People who have had a stroke are encouraged to use the affected hand to touch the dogs and exercise the muscles without realising it. They could also be used to work with the therapists to exercise stiff shoulder joints by fetching the ball to be thrown again and again and again… that way they have fun while exercising and the complaints are forgotten. Sneaky… but effective!


Visits are pre-arranged at a time to suit the staff & residents/patients best.  It gives them something to look forward to when the visits’ date & time schedule is at hand.


Photos taken during our visits.


In Memoriam:

Sheila Wills’ companion of almost 10 years, lost the battle to a very aggressive cancer in the space of 3 weeks.

Carla 13/6/97 – 25/5/07.

This gentle girl was so special – a natural thief of hearts.

She deserves a special THANK YOU from all she served so selflessly.

RIP sweetheart.           


Special thanks to:

·      Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic for the use of the Boardroom for the seminar held on Saturday March 25th 2001 which gave us a good start. We could not have asked for a more suitable venue.

·      Jonathan Rodwell (then owner of the Dog Obedience Centre) allowed us to use the school grounds for the assessment on the Sunday March 26th 2001.

·      Jackets for the dogs and pooch pouches for the small dogs are specially made and sponsored by CEDEN Bags and Alternative Dive Supplies owner Des Mouton and remain the property of the unit. 

·      Sweatshirts: On-Top Clothing in Maitland manufactured and printed long sleeve tops at a discount price to help us get started in 2001 – and topped up our supplies when we had new members joining at the same price some 2 years later.

·      Golf shirts: Later supplied by Hill’s Pet food

·      Logo badges embroidered at a special price by A. E. Barlow in Bark Street, Retreat.

·      Name tags for the dogs’ jackets embroidered by Embroi-da-name, Cathy Tel no. 021-7132146, at 10 Anette Close, Bergvliet

·      Linda Berold of Alphen Marketing supplies us with buttons for the residents and patients we visit. Tel: 021-7945303. Address: 43 Pagasvlei Rd, Constantia.

·      Prazifen de-worming tablets

·      Hill's Pet food

·      Rob Wilson for his generous donations towards our entertainment fund of people we visit for our celebrations of anniversaries. The treats always go down well when we celebrate in style!

·      James Louw & Family for their continuous generosity and belief in our quest.

·      Glendale for their donation towards the photos taken for the residents

·      Fujifilm photo centres in Canal Walk and Blue Route Centre for the special discount of pictures we print for the people we visit.

·      Irvin from Van Kalken photographers in Wynberg for printing our year end pictures for 2006

·      Johan from Wizardz for his patience & the outstanding quality prints & laminations at a special discount of picture posters for the institutions we visit.


The following centres for allowing us to train indoors:

·      Bayside Shopping Mall, Table View

·      Stadium-on-Main, Claremont

·      N1 City, Goodwood

·      Neelsie Studente Sentrum, Stellenbosch

·      Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic for situational training at the doctor’s entrance and X-Ray area to train the dogs to relax with the automatic doors and the lifts.

·      Blue Route Shopping Centre, Tokai



http://www.copywizardz.co.za/information.asp Wizardz Printers in Tokai Rd

http://www.pawsforpeople.co.za/  Paws for People

http://www.therapydogs.org/ Therapy Dogs of Vermont

http://www.mediclinic.co.za Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic

des@altdive.co.za  Des Mouton owner of Alternative Dive Supply & CEDEN bags

http://www.baysidecentre.com/ Bayside Shopping Mall

www.alphenmarketing.co.zaLinda Berold for badges

http://www.carteblanche.co.za/Display/Display.asp?Id=2364 (transcript of TV interviews of November 9th 2003 recorded on March 13th 2003)


Contact us:

If interested in any of these services or would like to join us, contact:


c/o Juleen du Toit

+27 21-7888158 (h)

+27 82-8683962 (cell)

or via e-mail at: admin@pawpals.co.za