An animal welfare group is trying to help dog lovers in an impoverished South African township better care for their pets.

The Mdzananda clinic in the sprawling Khayelitsha township started in 1996 in one shipping container. Today, an operating room and other facilities are housed in seven brightly painted containers equipped with electricity and running water and filled with the smell of anesthetic and the sound of big and small dogs barking nervously. The International Fund for Animal Welfare funds the clinic and brings in volunteer vets.

IFAW's Lisa Cant-Haylett said the clinic provides basic care, including spaying and neutering, and educating people who might not otherwise have a chance to learn how to care for their animals. IFAW funds a similar clinic in Johannesburg's Soweto township.

"One of the main things are too many dogs for the amount of people in our area. Education about sterilization is very important," said Dr. Gemma Driscoll, a British veterinarian working in Khayelitsha.

Last year Mdzananda sterilized 1,584 animals and provided vaccinations, deworming and other care to thousands of pets at very low or no cost. Dogs and cats can get care at Mdzananda.

Ntombi Somdyala was in recently for vaccinations for her dog, Nicki, who was sterilized at Mdzananda earlier.

"The clinic took care of her and educated me why this was needed," Somdyala said as Nicki watched her closely.

Every afternoon, clinic assistant Lazola Sotyingwa delivers or picks up dogs whose owners throughout the township cannot afford to travel to the clinic. As Sotyingwa drives, pulling a trailer painted with giant light blue and black paw prints behind his white truck, he stops to rescue wandering dogs at risk of being hit by cars.

IFAW's Cant-Haylett says the wanderers aren't all strays. Some owners don't understand they should confine their dogs for their safety, she said.

The dog owners "maybe have the best of intentions, but have never been taught any better," Cant-Haylett said, adding it was impossible to say how many strays are loose in Khayelitsha.

Each time a dog gets dropped off or picked up, Sotyingwa gives pet care tips to the owners. He dreams of visiting schools across South Africa.

"We need to educate people how to look after their dogs," he said. "These dogs are also citizens of South Africa."