How the kindness of strangers turns short-term sanctuaries into forever homes

 
 
 

Rachael Sylvester wants to transform humanity – starting with a dog’s life. The sheer number of strays on the street troubled her, especially when so many people have the ability to assist. In 2014, Sylvester established Sidewalk Specials, a foster-based organisation that saves canines from neglect, abuse, and euthanasia. Based in Cape Town, the initiative doesn’t operate from a shelter but rather an extensive network of temporary homes. Sylvester relies on the kindness of strangers to take in rescues until they find permanent families. This system eliminates additional costs and reduces the stress on animals who would otherwise be placed in overcrowded shelters. “We're the Uber for dogs,” Sylvester explains.

For some strays, these short-term sanctuaries have become forever homes. Ralph, a playful pup with a sweet demeanor, was found emaciated and with a broken leg. Appearing beyond help, he was scheduled to be put down. “But nothing is hopeless,” Sylvester says. Through Sidewalk Specials, Ralph was introduced to a loving foster family who have since adopted him. The now happy and healthy dog has become an integral part of his new home. “His story is one of many but it will not be the last,” Sylvester says. 

To prevent more dogs from being born into neglect, Sylvester organises mass sterilisations. Every outreach drive lessens the heartache on the streets. And for strays who’ve already produced a litter, there’s still a future. With the help of strangers who open their hearts and homes, Sylvester is reshaping the lives of Cape Town’s canines and encouraging empathy in society. “Doing this really makes me feel like there’s hope for animals and people,” she says. “We can't save every mistreated dog, but we certainly can try.”