Couple conquers Patagonia to raise funds for Darg

Intrepid Hout Bay couple John and Caryn Kennedy raised more than R80 000 for the Domestic Animal Rescue Group (Darg) after conquering Patagonia 2017, one of the world’s most gruelling footraces.

As part of the prestigious RacingThePlanet series, the 10th edition of the seven-day race which began on November 12 took competitors over 250km of arid steppes, grasslands, deserts, aqua-coloured lakes and rivers in this famous part of Argentina. They were required to carry all their own equipment and food, weighing more than 11kg, and were only provided with drinking water and a place in a tent each night to rest.

Not only did John and Caryn put in a tremendous showing, placing 19th and 63rd overall, respectively (Caryn was among the top 10 women home), but their efforts raised funds for hundreds of animal sterilisations for Darg as Hout Bay and Cape Town residents opened their hearts and wallets to their cause.

It is not the first time the couple, who took up running seriously in 2008, have made such an undertaking. In 2013, they tackled another RacingThePlanet roving race in Iceland, though comparatively Patagonia was a far more enjoyable experience.

“In Iceland the weather was horrific, with 100kph winds blowing each day. It was very cold and miserable, and there wasn’t a chance to meet anyone properly,” Caryn explained.

“We were actually pleasantly surprised by the conditions in Patagonia. On three of the days we had temperatures above 30 degrees, and there was far greater opportunity to socialise and meet people from other countries.”

John, who agreed endurance races of this nature were as much about meeting new people as it was the run itself, said Patagonia was beautiful, and was marked for its stark changes in terrain from “Karoo-type” landscape to snow-covered alpine regions.

“Our camp life after each day’s run was fantastic. We even got to camp next to rivers on some days.”

The couple, who have three teenage children, were introduced to Hout Bay’s champion trail runner Ryan Sandes through their involvement with the Hout Bay Harriers running club, which was how their love of endurance races began.

They steadily built up to international races by taking part in local events such as the Hout Bay Trail Challenge and AfricanX, which takes place in the winelands.

Caryn said the most challenging part of her Patagonia adventure were “issues with my feet” and twisting her ankle, while John battled to come to terms with days of freeze-dried food and the cold that crept in at night.

Charitable by nature, the couple raised thousands of rands for the Miles for Smiles Foundation during their Iceland undertaking, but chose to “look a little closer to home” on this occasion.

“We wanted to do something for animals, and initially we were set on rhinos, but since our kids have volunteered at Darg we decided to raise money for them. Debra (Buys of Darg) was phenomenal, updating people on social media as to how we were doing along the route,” Caryn said.

“I had set a target of R50 000, which admittedly was a bit ambitious. But I think at last count we had raised about R83 000. It’s crazy.”

John said the figure was testament to the people of Hout Bay’s generosity, and was an inspiration. “We have been so humbled by this,” he said.

The couple’s children were extremely proud of their achievement, they said.

“They really look up to us, and they’ve been amazing. They never complained while we were training after work and at weekends.”

Darg managing director Faustina Gardner said there were many unwanted litters in both Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg.

“For those kittens and puppies that do survive, they often become strays and face neglect and/or abuse. Often puppies that have not been weaned at the appropriate age (around 12 weeks, but never before 8 to 9 weeks) lose out on a critical developmental stage by not being with the mother dog and litter mates. A further problem is that it is illegal to sell puppies without a licence, so sterilisations help prevent a reality Hout Bay residents deal with far too often,” she said.

“Darg is fortunate to have a number of responsible and supportive owners in both Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg who understand the dire need to curb unwanted litters.

Our goal is to assist with sterilisations to avoid the suffering of animals. Often, a concerned individual will call about a stray whelping mother that is skin and bones.

“One of the most tragic things I personally experienced was being called to assist with a whelping mother. She had given birth to eight puppies under a small tree and was desperately trying to retrieve them as they were crawling around while people walked by and cars drove past. I am eternally grateful to the concerned community member of IY who contacted DARG. No animal should ever have to endure such incredible stress. By continuing to decrease the number of unwanted animals in both communities, we can focus on assisting owners who require our help.”

She said staff’s frustration lay in seeing the overwhelming number of unwanted dogs and cats, yet they were already bursting at the seams as a facility and simply did not have space to take in animals.

“Many years ago, I used to look at posts about a dog or cat that had been rescued and had found its forever home. I felt incredibly relieved. Now I know the sad truth that there are literally thousands upon thousands of animals that are in need of help. The only solution long-term is to sterilise. We as an animal shelter will not lose focus of our goal as it is possible to effect change with the help of committed individuals from our community such as Caryn and John.

“Pet overpopulation is a worldwide issue and is the responsibility of every member of society to support local animal welfare and sterilisation drives. Apathy about such societal issues is only a contributing factor. We are, therefore, indebted to Caryn and John: the money they have raised is going to allow us to sterilize so many cats and dogs.”