Meeting Melinda Brink’s fur family

Melinda Brink is one of South Africa’s rising stars. You may know her for her role as Tracy Smit in the KykNet show, Binnelanders, but do you know about her rescue pets, Kallie, Phoebe and Jack? We spoke to Melinda to find out how she adopted her pets.

Fur family

The three animals who rule Melinda’s household are Kallie, the five-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Phoebe, the three-year-old Staffordshire Terrier/Labrador Retriever mix, and Jack, the three-year-old domestic short-haired cat. Each of these animals is sterilised and has a different story to tell. Let’s hear their stories from Melinda…

I’m not just saying this ’cause he’s my boy, but Kallie is an exceptionally beautiful Cocker Spaniel with a gleaming copper coat, especially in winter when we let it grow – it’s just curls and waves of Spaniel. My husband, Francois Viljoen, always says he looks like a French prince. He’s in incredibly good shape – a very ‘fit’ dog. People tend to fall in love with Kallie immediately when meeting him.

Phoebe is about as 50/50 a mix of Staffie and Labrador as you can get, with the Lab nose and tail and the Staffie chest and ears. Her nose is always wet and can give you frostbite! She’s pitch and shiny black with a tiny tuft of white on her chest. She has fine, white stubble around her nose and mouth that looks grey, making her look 10 years older. When she sits with her ears relaxed, she looks exactly like Dobby from the Harry Potter stories. Francois is very good at accents and sometimes gives her a Dobby voice with her facial expressions and body language, which always makes me laugh. She has the cutest little body. She had puppies very early on in life with her previous owners, so she has the cutest mommy belly. The marks and scars on her tell a million stories.

Jack is an all-round black cat, which is why we called him Jack Black. It was either that, Norman – because we were watching Bates Motel at the time – or Batman, which Francois thought would be cool. Jack has lime green eyes and, apparently, he’s quite a big cat, according to the vet.

Glorious food

Kallie and Phoebe like hooves with some peanut butter in them to keep them busy. They also like the small treats from Marlton’s. Jack likes the Nibbles cat treats.

We feed the dogs Montego Classic Adult according to the prescribed feeding guidelines, and Jack likes Ideal Adult Cat food. Since we gave Jack canned cat food ‘that one time’, he now insists on/demands canned cat food for dinner every evening at 17:30 sharp, and he likes the taste of Puddi-kat the most. For that reason, the dogs also get tiny tasters of Dr Hanz canned dog food with their evening pellets. Also, Kallie is obsessed with cheese! Somehow, every time I unwrap the cheese, he knows.

Being active

The dogs love going for drives, visiting different dog parks and playing fetch with balls, swimming (lots and lots of swimming) and meeting other dogs. At home, I love to teach them tricks. They are very eager to learn, so they can sit on their bums for quite a while, front legs in the air; high-five; lie down; and leopard-crawl for treats.

Kallie and Phoebe are ball doggies. They love balls, especially if they squeak! Jack seems to like the stuffed fishies on yarn we got to toy with him. At least, I think he’s somewhat amused.

Giving them love can also easily turn into a game when I kiss them all over their bodies. Kallie crawls with legs stretched out wide and turns on his back, nibbling on whatever he can grab hold of. Phoebe lies on her back, twisting, turning and kicking the air as she gets a love overdose attack! It’s the most beautiful thing ever.

Jack lets you play with him the day he deems you worthy but, on other days, he loves being silly, playing cat and mouse – where you’re the cat and he’s the mouse. Go figure!

Pet siblings

Kallie and Phoebe have become like brother and sister in less than a year. They’ve never fought, as far as we know, and they play together so well. When we first adopted Phoebe, that wasn’t the case at all. In Kallie’s mind, he couldn’t understand why this dog ‘visiting us’ wasn’t going home. She lay in his bed, ate his food and got all his attention but, as time passed, he grew protective of her. He found that he didn’t have to stay home alone anymore when we had to go somewhere, and now, he loves playing fetch even more because he has competition.

He’s also faster and his jumps are more majestic! He even gets jealous in the park when other doggies like his sister a little too much and sometimes feels the need to ‘protect’ her with a cute growl/bark. Phoebe has learnt so much from him so quickly, and it’s really as if she looks up to him like her older brother and does whatever he does. She was so afraid of water at first, but Kallie’s natural love for water and swimming now has her wading in the shallows already.

Phoebe wasn’t used to cats at all at first and, when she first saw Jack, she wanted to eat him for dinner. But, with some strict reprimanding and getting her used to having him around, and her seeing Kallie accepting Jack, she accepted him too. They now sometimes sleep only a few feet apart and Jack seems to be tolerating her presence, haha… They’ve really become great animal siblings!

Kallie’s story

Kallie was born on 28 May 2016 at my parents’ place as part of the only litter my parents’ two Cocker Spaniels, Coco and Pebbles, had. He was the puppy Francois chose for his birthday that year. Since then, our attitude has changed surrounding adoption, home breeding and shopping for animals. Pebbles was neutered soon after, but we’re extremely glad and blessed to have gotten Kallie from that litter, and it’s so special seeing them together, as he still gets to visit his real doggy parents regularly.

Kallie is a really special little guy! Even though he’s my husband’s dog, I’ve been along for his journey since day one – helping raise and train him and adding my ‘motherly’ touch. He’s extremely sensitive and in tune with us, always aiming to please but also, in a way, manipulating us with his cuteness to extract the maximum amount of love he can get from us. He’s basically a five-year-old puppy. He’s very smart. He taught us a lot about reaping what you sow when it comes to raising your dog. A dog’s behaviour can tell you a lot about his owner; in fact, you don’t get bad dogs, you only get bad owners. We saw how eager dogs are to learn new things and be mentally stimulated. The way he listens to us and understands us blows my mind.

 

Phoebe’s story

Phoebe is a total goofball. She’s the most awkward, clumsy sweetheart of a little girl you’ll ever meet! She had to be a mom when she was still a baby herself and had to feed a litter of puppies while hardly being fed herself, so she must’ve been desperately hungry most of the time. I don’t think she knew what ‘fun’ was when we got her, so, when she settled in with us, we could see her transforming into the HAPPY, CAREFREE little girl she had never had the chance to be. We call her ‘dogtertjie’. She’s outgoing with us but can be very shy around other people and dogs.

She loves breakfast and dinner time, completely freaking out about the miracle of two meals a day! And she sometimes stares at us like she can’t believe we are hers, that she is ours, that she ended up with us, and that she can just be happy and comfortable all the time. It’s been truly amazing to see her transform since the adoption. It has been a blessing.

 

Jack’s story

Jack has also grown so much closer to us since he first showed up at my place one evening in February 2020. It was a rainy evening and the end of a very emotional and difficult day. He just showed up in my kitchen out of nowhere and started throwing himself against me like we knew each other, comforting me in a way I’ve never been comforted before. It felt like hugging to me. It was a very special encounter with an animal that I’ll never forget. He’s very affectionate and loves to snuggle up right on top of you, if you let him.

At the beginning of 2020, I moved to Randburg to be closer to work and, one evening, Francois says, Jack just showed up, super friendly. He thought it was probably someone else’s cat and shoo’ed him away but, sure enough, he stuck around and the following evening, while Francois was off playing indoor cricket, I had my encounter with him. I noticed he was quite emaciated, and he would even eat some of Kallie’s pellets. Needless to say, I needed him there and he even slept on Francois’s head that night.

We started feeding him and he just kept coming back, so we took him to the vet to see if he was chipped, which he wasn’t, but he had been neutered. After checking with the local community, advertising him as a lost kitty and having six couples come to see if he was theirs, unsuccessfully, we decided to keep him. We weren’t expecting to have a cat at all, but Jack crept/clawed his way into our hearts, and we’re now also cat people.

We adopted Jack because we just aren’t the type of people who would be able to take him to a shelter as a stray. After establishing that the dynamic between him and the dogs would be safe, we decided to keep him, and he’s just grown closer and closer to us. He’s still pretty independent and likes to do his own thing, but we love having him as our cat boy!

 

Adopting Phoebe

We always wanted a friend for Kallie. He’d always been around friends’ and family’s dogs and was well socialised. We became very passionate about adopting and visited Wetnose Animal Rescue Centre regularly for their ‘pet a pooch’ day/walking the shelter doggies. So, in May 2020, we decided to go to Wetnose to get him a companion. Of course, he went along, so we could test which doggy would suit him best and so, after considering a few options, and wanting to adopt them all if we could, we decided Phoebe was the best fit.

Adopting Phoebe was very special. She was one of the only doggies in the kennels who wasn’t freaking out – almost like she had given up on having a better life than that. She just sat there in her kennel, wagging her tail meekly, but her soft, light brown eyes caught our eyes and hearts. We were told that she was only about two years old at the time and that she had been at Wetnose for about nine months already.

We were also told that she had been brought in with a litter of puppies who had all been adopted out from under her, and that she wasn’t getting adopted due to not getting along well with other dogs, which is also why she was all alone in her kennel. She had been through a lot in her short life. We decided to introduce her to Kallie in an open space, away from the kennel. She freaked out with excitement and wanted to play with him. She was so happy to be in the presence of another doggy! Which was a great sign that they were going to get along just fine. Francois and I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and today, more than a year later, the transformation is astounding!

 

Routine

Almost everything I do includes them in one way or another. As soon as they hear our voices in the morning upon waking up, they jump on the bed for some good morning cuddles. When I’m at work, I talk about them and tell my colleagues about them. When I have time off between scenes, I go home to them. When I’m at home learning my lines, they’re at my feet or next to me on the couch. Francois works from home, so he’s with them all the time as well and, of course, they have each other. For Francois and me, most of our favourite activities include them anyway. They only add to our marriage and lives. We can’t imagine life without them.

 

Animal love

My father played a huge part in cultivating my love for animals. When we went on holiday, he would consciously choose routes he knew had filling stations with lots of animals because he knew how much it would take our young minds off the long road, and we would look forward to the next stop where we could see some more animals. We were lucky enough to have a variety of pets from a young age, among whom were my two chickens (Lemon and Herb), hamsters, birds and our childhood dogs. My dad always told us stories about his animals growing up and that started my beautiful love affair with animals.

When I was four years old, we got two dogs. Kiki was a black and white wirehaired pavement special. I remember my mom bringing her home in a box, so Kiki was our very first rescue. For my fourth birthday, my dad got me Rex – a beautiful German Shepherd boy.

 

Importance of adopting

Adoption is all about second chances. I’m sure all of us, at one point or another, longs for a second chance. All dogs – all animals – in shelters lost their first chance, and sometimes even their second and third chances. Not through their own doing, but because of difficult circumstances and irresponsible choices made by humans. Regardless, they all deserve another chance of someone giving them the life they deserve – the chance to fulfil their purpose, which is to give back what they get tenfold. That’s what they do; they’re God’s little ambassadors on earth – His tangible examples of unconditional love and what love can achieve. Francois is convinced dogs must be some kind of angels. We believe God put them on earth to set an example for us and teach us about responsibility, the loss of a loved one, and what it is to love and be loved in return.

Every single doggy in a shelter out there can give you that. All you need to do is adopt one. We have the chance to correct someone else’s mistakes. I truly believe adopting pets makes a difference in the world; adopting makes the world a better, kinder and less lonely place.

I feel that a lot of (maybe even most) people are afraid of adopting an animal from a shelter because they think that the animal will have baggage, is untrained, has an unknown temper that they can’t trust, is somehow ‘wild’ and that they’re damaged goods. Or that they are somehow maladapted and incapable of giving you the same love an animal would if you got to raise him from puppyhood yourself.

Phoebe proves that those are misconceptions. She went through the whole puppy phase again because we gave her that chance. We’ve applied exactly the same principles and love to her as we have with Kallie, with a hint more patience and understanding, especially in the first month or two. She seemed to expect the same bad reactions from us as she had received from her previous owners, but we got to introduce her to a new way of life… And that has been the most rewarding journey of my life! She has absolutely blossomed. I doubt she would’ve been all that different if we’d had her since she was a puppy. ‘Old’ dogs CAN learn new tricks. They can be trained; they can be taught. If the right amounts of stimulation and love are in the mix, you’re going to be better off for it. So, if you’ve ever wanted to adopt but decided against it, overcome your doubts and take that leap of faith. You’ll change not only an angel’s life, but also your own.

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