South African animal welfare worker wins top international award

Newman pic
Network for Animals (NFA) chief campaigner David Barritt with 2019 award recipient Shaygam Newman.

For a second consecutive year, a South African has won the coveted Brian Davies Award, a prestigious international award that recognizes the outstanding work for animals in difficult and dangerous situations. The 2019 award recipient – Shaygam Newman – is a crusader for animals in Hangberg, a desperately poor settlement near Cape Town.

The Brian Davies Award is an annual award hosted by international welfare organisation, Network for Animals (NFA) and the winner receives R148,000 [$10,000] in prize money.

At least 7,000 people live in Hangberg. Only a few people have jobs and many live in rickety shacks on a steep mountainside, without electricity or running water. Rubbish piles the filthy streets, and gangsterism and drug abuse are rife. Scores of uncared for street dogs roam the area, because street dogs rank nowhere on anyone’s scale of concern – except for Newman.

Thanks to him, where once the lives of street dogs were virtually certain to be nasty, brutish and short, the dogs are now regularly fed, monitored and medically treated. Newman’s success has been enhanced by his establishment ‘Shaygam’s Crew’ – a group of youngsters he taught to love and care for dogs, and who now patrol the streets checking on their well-being.

NFA’s co-founder Gloria Davies saluted Newman for his exceptional work and said there are many heroes for animals, but that Newman stood out because of the scale of his success in very difficult circumstances.

“He works in a difficult and dangerous place with little money and minimal resources, yet he has been instrumental in caring for and changing the lives of street dogs,” said Davies.

“He succeeded in his devotion to street dogs and has become a role model to other children in his community.”

Newman grew up in Hangberg. He was orphaned as a child and was brought up by an abusive alcoholic uncle who beat him so badly that he became permanently brain-damaged. Fleeing the beatings, he found comfort among street dogs, sleeping among them at night for warmth and savouring their love – which is the only love he ever got. Newman vowed that once he grew up, he would repay the street dogs.

And that he did. Newman colonised a piece of Table Mountain immediately above Hangberg and scrounged old fencing to secure it. Then he started caring for dogs. His first rescue was a fighting-dog that was so aggressive – even his owner was afraid of him. Newman adopted him and within weeks the fighting-dog became a friendly and loving animal.

Newman then started making regular visits to street dogs in the area, feeding them whenever he could find money to do so. There are no veterinarians in Hangberg; residents are pretty much on their own, so when animals fell ill, people started asking Newman for help.

Newman doesn’t have a car and getting a driver’s license is difficult for him because of ill health. Despite this, he would carry sick dogs on foot to a friendly vet several kilometres away for help, and it didn’t end there. Newman began teaching children and adults how to care for dogs. Due to his gentleness and obvious kindness, he has become a well-known and popular figure in the community.

To pay for dog food, he makes dog leashes that he sells at a market in the nearby town of Hout Bay. People learnt of his mission and he began to receive small donations from townspeople. NFA helps by providing him with a monthly grant.

The other 2019 finalists for the award were the Al-Rahmeh animal shelter in Jordan, and NUZZ – a Montenegrin group which cares for street dogs in Nikšić. Al-Rahmeh and NUZZ have each received R37,000 [$2,500.00].