Animal Welfare Inspector – A dedicated life

If anyone was chosen to be an animal welfare inspector, blessed with the perfect character for it, it’s Mark Levendal—a true testament to living your destiny

Back in the 1600s, Sir Francis Drake called it the ’fairest’ Cape; he must’ve left before winter! The southern tip of Africa is a winter rainfall region. But this year it’s been a doozy. Also called the Cape of Storms, the relentless wind has turned my mood sour this morning.

I have spent a sleepless night praying for mercy to any god that will listen. Like a banshee who has lost something important, the wind has howled through every nook and cranny. My dark thoughts have lingered on the difficulties of changing my address because my house has blown to a different postcode, but my real concern is for the thousands of people and animals that have spent the past night in the Cape trying to keep warm and dry.

 

When my phone rings, I pity the poor telesales person that has to bear the brunt of my current frustrations. I am therefore quite unprepared for the laser-like ray of sun that shoots through the phone’s speaker and melts the black mood right off my face.

The familiar voice that says, “I know this lady!” transports me back to a happier time. 

 

Aaah, synchronicity. If anyone can commiserate with me today it’s Mark Levendal, who now heads the Animal Welfare Society (AWS) of South Africa’s Inspectorate. We worked together a lifetime ago at the Animal Anti-Cruelty League (AACL). With the perfect set of skills for his job, Mark is the best candidate I could have found for this article.

 

Mark’s destiny as an inspector seems to have been set in motion before birth. He admits to inheriting his calm, patient and convivial disposition from his dad.

 

Born in Salt River, Cape Town, Mark is the oldest of four brothers. His family moved to Wellington when he was a year old. He fondly recalls his first love of animals at the Murat horse farm where he and his brothers mucked out and groomed horses to get a ride. They moved to Mitchells Plain in the riotous seventies and his dad, who worked for Sasol, Secunda and Mosgas, was often away from home. As man of the house, Mark was required to start earning when he was only a teenager.

 

Even though Mark’s ultimate goal was unknown to him at the time, a series of opportunities led him along a path that would reveal his true destiny. His first job (a storeman in the previously named Cleansing Department of the City of Cape Town) allowed him to keep a close eye on the internal vacancies. He strove for improvement and progression, somehow sensing his destiny.

 

An opportunity to become a beach constable presented itself. He remembers his love for the sea and swimming, and so the choice was easy. Beach constables are trained like other law enforcement officers but their focus is on the City’s bylaws that govern the seashore. He also qualified as a lifeguard. 

 

He was back in the Cleansing Department serving as a law enforcement officer. Part of their mandate was to collect stray animals and Mark would deliver them to AWS in Philippi. After serving the City for 17 years, he resigned at the end of 1998. As Destiny would have it, the receptionist at AWS was also a family friend from their Wellington days and reached out to Mark. In 2000 he agreed to be interviewed and was immediately asked when he could start as an inspector. By now, he had amassed the precise skills they were after. For the next 7 years he worked as an unqualified inspection officer. Mark explains that AWS had a warranted officer who dealt with legal cases but he felt that second-hand information was diluted this way and sought to progress once more.

In 2007 Mark joined the AACL. The draw-card was that they insisted on him gaining his official qualification as an animal welfare inspector and he was off to AACL’s headquarters in Johannesburg to get just that. After five years with AACL and a short stint with the SPCA’s Inspectorate, Mark’s heart drew him back to AWS. 

 

I think the question on everyone’s lips concerning this line of work is the cruelty aspect. Admittedly, it is probably one of the most challenging careers, especially when your love of animals runs so deep. “I don’t like my job” Mark says, “I love what I do, I have a passion for being in a position to help our four-legged friends”. After all these years, one would think that a certain amount of cynicism may taint the words he uses to describe his chosen path. But his enthusiasm and positivity indicate otherwise.

I ask Mark about the day-to-day in terms of the most common complaints and call-outs for animal welfare inspectors. 

 

The adequate living environment for pets ranks high on the list of complaints received by the AWS Inspectorate. Pet owners who struggle with basic care, like feeding, attending to health issues or providing adequate shelter are regularly reported. Inspectors are also called upon by other law enforcement agencies to intervene with free-ranging livestock on our roadways. Illegal dog fighting is another big complaint but those are often dealt with in conjunction with the city’s animal control unit.

It brings into question the difference between a public-funded animal welfare society like the AWS and the city’s animal control unit. The answer seems to lie in quality versus quantity which is by no means a judgement of either. 

 

Animal welfare societies in southern Africa focus primarily on the Animal Protection Act 71 of 1962. Sterilisation of companion pets ranks high on their priorities because it compounds their success with their efforts to improve the quality of life for pets. AWS’s mission and vision statements are:

 

To advance the rights, welfare and health of all animals” and “Our Vision is for all animals to live a life free of disease, cruelty and suffering.

 

Where cases of animal abuse cannot easily be corrected through education and assistance from the AWS and where matters require legal intervention, the animal welfare inspector’s job is to compile a legal docket supported by facts, pictures and as much relevant information that can be garnered to bring the accused to justice. Often, the AWS Inspectorate and vets are subpoenaed as witnesses in court cases.

 

The animal control unit on the other hand enforces a city’s by-laws that focus on community health with regard to dangerous or stray animals and uncontrolled breeding. 

 

The Animal Keeping By-law of 2021 states:

 

(1) All dogs and cats (male and female) over six months of age must be sterilized, unless the owner obtains a permit from the City to keep the animal unsterilized.

(2) An application to keep an unsterilized animal must be in writing on a prescribed form, in accordance with relevant City Policies and Standard Operating Procedures and must be accompanied by the prescribed fee.

 

Due to the dangerous nature of the issue of dog fighting in southern Africa, the animal control unit is made up of law enforcement officers and undercover detectives. It is often the case, Mark says, that when the AWS inspectorate is called out to attend to injured fighting dogs, the human perpetrators have long since disappeared. It is the mandate of the animal control unit to weed out perpetrators in cases that can take months or even years to solve.

 

“I hate confrontation,” Mark says when I broach the subject of these difficult interactions. How then does a peace-loving guy like him deal with a job that seems fraught with the stuff?

 

Mark maintains that everyone, no matter their status in life, needs respect. He approaches every challenge with a calm attitude, setting aside his ego and understanding that the well-being of the animal is the most important outcome. It must take super-human control to remain that focused in the face of cruelty but Mark knows that any difficult situation can be diffused by always remaining calm and focussing on the outcome.

 

“Have you ever blown a gasket?” I ask him. He chuckles. He has— privately. So where do you find the strength to stay on top of emotions that could potentially harm your health? Mark is a religious man who is supported by a loving family. He draws his strength from the Bible and understands that the human condition is only temporary. His love for animals drives him and after all these years he is still as committed as he was in the beginning. 

 

“Tell me a feel-good story that stands out in your career” I venture. He regales me with a tale of horrific animal abuse that I choose not to share with my readers. But, the outcome is positive and the dog in question now lives in the lap of luxury. I realise that this is his world: bitter-sweet, ups and downs. It’s a reflection of life and a narrative about changing what we can and accepting when we can’t. The bad comes with the good but the bad will always be there. It’s how you deal with the bad that makes you who you are. 

We are blessed to have heroes like Mark in our community who not only fight the good fight but do so with dignity and grace.

© Liz Roodt 2023