Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG)

Faustina Gardner and a quiet resolve

It’s no secret that the Domestic Animal Rescue Group has had its share of troubles in the past. I chat with the Managing Director, Faustina Gardner about this amazing animal shelter and a brighter future.

Faustina is quietly nestled on a couch in the DARG office with a Pit bull. Spinal surgery has left his hind legs weak and she is gently massaging them, hot water bottle pressed against his back.

My guest today—private and soft-spoken—is the Managing Director of DARG. “How,” I think to myself (the ever nosy story-teller), “am I going to beef out a story of this incredible person if she doesn’t want to talk about herself?”


But as we chat, I realise that this interview is going to be less about the person and more about a dedicated team and their quiet resolve to make a difference in the lives of all the animals that come through these doors.


We skim over Faustina’s personal history: born in Johannesburg, worked in USA and UK, moved to Cape Town in 2010. Faustina worked abroad as an English teacher and school principal. On her visits to her folks in the Cape she volunteered at DARG, assisting with behavioural issues in pets. When she finally moved back to Cape Town the bug had bitten. Spending an increasing amount of time there, she was hired in 2017.


A volunteer interrupts our flow to give feedback on some cats that she has been visiting: who was playing up and whose antics were noteworthy. Faustina gives her full attention, praise and encouragement; genuinely interested and engaged.

A dark past

DARG has a chequered history; one that has been tainted with corruption and greed. The organisation is set in the beautiful Hout Bay valley surrounded by mountains and trees. The site and buildings were formerly a boarding kennel but in 1999 DARG leased the land. In the same year, the land was purchased by Mr Giovanini who passed away in 2012. His wife became the director and the problems began. Mismanagement of funding set the shelter on the road to failure and in 2014 a facilitator—Mr Ryno Engelbrecht— was appointed by the High Court to pull it out of the mud. So began a legal battle that is still not fully resolved but in that same year the court officially recognised that DARG was the only member of the original trust.


Despite its troubled past I can’t imagine a more serene location. Set on the banks of the Hout Bay River, the property looks to the Klein Leeukoppie outcrop (small lion’s head) in the west, the Skoorsteenberg to the east and the Table Mountain range to the north. Large fields and tall trees abound, making it a haven for animals and volunteers alike.

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”   

W.E. Channing

Enter the A-Team

It seemed the decay in the past had created a new bed of growth. In 2017 a team of highly qualified directors were appointed. Natalee (finance), Helen (administration), Jeremy (operations) and Faustina have learned the tough lessons and are quietly forging ahead so that this time around, things are done right.


As a ‘pro-quality-of-life’ shelter, DARG is home to about 60 dogs and 60 cats. The previous powers labelled DARG as ‘pro-life’. This means that some of the animals in their care, if not suffering physically, were suffering emotionally and the ‘pro-life’ approach prevented a release from this type of suffering. Today the directors ensure that they adhere to the’ Five Freedoms’ so that they meet the mental, emotional and physical needs of the animals in their care.


The Five Freedoms for animals are:


Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

Freedom from Discomfort: by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment

Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour: by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.

Freedom from Fear and Distress: by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.


Animals that no longer have a quality of life, due to illness or physical damage are humanely euthenased so as not to prolong suffering.

DARG operates locally

The shelter provides a service to Hout Bay which includes two extensive indigent communities: Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu. Operations director Jeremy works closely with these communities and attends to an average of 35 sick and injured cases per week. Animal welfare issues are a global problem but DARG has learnt that by retaining focus locally more valuable work can be achieved.


Let’s get back to the couch. I ask Faustina about her day-to-day responsibilities as the managing director. The list is impressive and it fills her week to the brim.


Adoptions and fosters manager: DARG’s ethos is that every pet has the right to a loving home. In this regard, Faustina works hard to match pets with good homes thereby reduce the amount of time any animal has to spend in the shelter.

Behaviourist: Preparing pets for rehoming sometimes requires behavioural training. Puppy habituation and de-sensitisation, fear-aggression and resource-guarding are some of the issues that could prevent a dog from finding a home. Dogs are also evaluated with regard to their behaviour around cats. The challenge of securing suitable homes is ongoing and DARG understands the need to pay special attention to this aspect of the re-homing process. Faustina works with two certified behaviourists who assist her on a voluntary basis. DARG’s return rate is extremely low because their focus is on homing responsibly and finding the right match for adopters.

Volunteers: DARG has an average of 50 volunteers who ebb and flow when they have time to offer. DARG would not be as successful without the help of these dedicated people, so nurturing the love of their work is of paramount importance to Faustina. With gentle guidance, she trains and orientates people from all walks of life to provide valuable assistance to the visions of the shelter.

Managing staff: Faustina oversees the staff with the help of her co-directors and views each individual as part of the DARG family. She organises counselling for staff members if they are struggling with a personal issue and stresses the importance of working as a team: mutual respect, honesty and hard work are the basic tenets of DARG.


A member of the public enters the office and delivers a box of donated goods for the DARG shop. Again, Faustina gives her full attention and ensures that the donor goes away feeling appreciated; she’s even promised to return with more.


The Pit bull is collected and Faustina calls a member of staff to bring the puppy. A boisterous young dog bounds into the office and recognises Faustina immediately. Temporarily removed from an unfortunate situation in the nearby Imizamo Yethu community, the puppy will be kept until the owners can create a suitable environment for a dog. The puppy is given her pick of toys from a large trunk and happily bounds around our feet as we continue.


Project manager: DARG and its sponsors provide a number of community outreach programmes. They host school groups at the shelter and travel to schools where Faustina herself gives educational talks.

Social media: Creating awareness and fundraising is primarily driven on social media platforms. Part of the day must be dedicated to updating these with the latest news and appeals.


The puppy, thrilled to have the whole toy box to herself, is returned to her kennel for a nap. Faustina jumps up and fetches a small furry bundle from the nursery nearby. She has brought a kitten (who didn’t have a great start in life) to syringe feed. We continue again when they are both comfy. Syringe in hand, Faustina doesn’t really need to coax the little creature to devour its contents.


Another staff member enters to report to Faustina that one of the dogs has a bad stomach today. It’s like a rollercoaster here; endless dips and rises that are each handled with confidence and care.


“I must show you our beautiful clinic, Liz!” she says and we are off. A generous donor has provided most of the funding to create a well-laid-out clinic consisting of buildings and containers. With a vet bill that sometimes reaches as much at R120 000 a month and 30-45 sick and injured cases to tend to every week, this new clinic will provide local support for the two low-income communities in Hout Bay, reducing the financial burden from private vet bills.


Faustina takes me on a tour around the facility. She’s got a sneaky pocket full of donated biltong bits and as she greets every dog by name, I can see that her affection for them knows no bounds.


At the bottom of the property, an enrichment garden and the ‘donkey’ run provide dogs with plenty of stimulation. A grassy area makes a beautiful venue for their monthly markets and in the bright sunlight, it feels like a small patch of paradise.


My time with Faustina is up and she has to attend to a hundred other pressing issues. With a fresh understanding of the past and lessons learned, I feel confident that this shelter will only grow in success. Without sorrow and pain there can be no joy and, under the leadership of this expert team, I believe that DARG’s future is as bright as this beautiful Hout Bay afternoon.


(C) Liz Roodt 2023