Mission (im)possible

“Our children are much less scared of dogs.”
“It is such a relief not to have all these puppies walking on the streets!”
“Please help the dogs to get rid of their skin problems!”
“Can I get my dog spayed too?”

These are some of the comments we got from local communities after we introduced our pilot Animal Birth Control/Anti Rabies (ABC/AR) programme. We called the programme ‘Patan Rescue” because it felt like a rescue mission. With over 35,000 stray dogs in the urban areas of Kathmandu Valley alone, and the majority of them suffering from malnutrition and disease such as skin problems, open sores, tumours, birthing complications and –last but not least- much feared rabies, our mission to create a smaller, healthier dog population seemed Mission Impossible.

With the help of a grant from HSI US and a matching grant from HSI Australia, we felt secure enough to take the first important steps: building a rehabilitation center, training our vets in spaying techniques and buy an ambulance. The local forest committee of Chobar, a beautiful historical village build on a hill on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley, provided us with a plot of land. An architect friend designed an office building with operation theatre made entirely from renewable materials: unfired mud bricks, to be covered with cow dung.

Training our staff was a tough one, as virtually no vet in Nepal knows how to conduct the preferred sterilisation method, flank spaying. We were helped by the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Center (KAT) whose vets were trained by Help in Suffering India.

Our happiness knew no bounds when a grant from 30 Million d’Amis (France) enabled us to buy a Maruti Gypsy car, acting as Kathmandu’s first animal ambulance.

Even before the center was completed sick and injured dogs were dropped at our premises. Among the first residents was Toffee, a blind Labrador, abandoned by his owner. He was a handful in the beginning but once Toffee understood the parameters he became a very affectionate dog. A few months later Toffee was adopted by Volunteer Director Pramada Shah and travels with her wherever she goes. He regularly visits our office and his old home at the Chobar shelter!

Another early patient was Marky. Terrible malnourished, Marky suffered from rickets and a bone disorder. His condition is a painful one and apart from providing with nutritious food there was little we could do to ease his discomfort. Marky became close friends with Dutch volunteer Aicha Boele, who decided to take him to Holland. There he will receive physiotherapy and specialised care to ease his discomfort.

Yet another suffering creature staying at Chobar was Namuma, a hairless, extremely weak puppy. Namuna turned out to be a great character who loved to be cuddled but at the same time proved to be a good guard dog. When his hair grew back Namuna developed a shiny black coat with dots on his belly. An elderly lady adopted him; he now guards a large compound while keeping his ‘mummy’ company.

On October 17 we celebrated Kukur Tihar, or national dog worship day, by officially opening the Chobar Animal Sanctuary. In the next two months time 35 dogs were treated and rehabilitated. On December 28 our vets Surendra and Sudeep spayed and vaccinated the first batch of stray dogs. On April 13 we spayed and vaccinated Putali, a lovely black dog from Taudaha village, the 100th dog.

By now we feel confident that we can make a lasting change in the situation of stray dogs in Kathmandu Valley. We have launched a 2-year programme called “Kathmandu Rescue” in which we hope to treat and/or spay and vaccinate 1250 dogs. We also hope to educate and work closely together with the different communities from where the dogs are taken. The two municipalities involved will gradually increase its involvement by providing staff and finances. We will teach children in local schools about animal welfare and encourage them to be involved.

Making a lasting difference means we need to prepare the next generation. They need to develop a different relationship with stray dogs. Not one based on fear, but based on trust, love and care. We are set to make it happen!

Lucia de Vries
Volunteer Director Animal Nepal

Donkey in the back

Night was falling when I drove Animal Nepal’s rickety ambulance towards the Donkey Sanctuary. A man on a motorbike passed the car and looked inside. His face froze; he decreased his speed. Soon he drove along the ambulance, glancing inside.

The man was not eve teasing. He was looking at the patient in the back of the car, an adult white donkey, positioned rather uncomfortable in the tiny car. The donkey’s head partly stuck outside the window, her nostrils flaring. Once in a while she tried to reach me with her nose, as if to say, ‘please take me out of here.’

That morning Animal Nepal’s three vets, Sudeep, Surendra and Parisha, and myself drove to a remote brick factory in the Kathmandu Valley. The ambulance had trouble getting there; we had to cross streams, and navigate around boulders and bricks, apparently fallen off trucks. The kiln was located in a beautiful spot, on the shores of the Bagmati river, amidst fields covered in flowering bright yellow mustard, dotted with traditional mud houses. A scene from a tourist postcard.

However, when we parked the car inside the factory a very different picture emerged. Children dressed in rags, carrying younger siblings on their back, surrounded the ambulance. Their faces were covered in dust; some of the toddlers’ heads were shaven to prevent lice. There were no adults around; while the parents worked the children had to take of themselves and each other. None of the children had any toys. A boy wearing a dirty Nepali topi[1] pulled a wooden brick mold behind him through the dust.

We had to walk up a hill to find what we came for. The open air factory employs some fifty donkeys, mules and horses to carry unfired mud bricks from a hilltop down to the kiln where they are baked. Today we brought a first aid box and planned to teach the donkey owners (four in total) how to use the medicines.

The owners in this particular factory are cooperative, and often call us when a donkey is sick. Still, we were shocked by the conditions of the animals. They were overloaded and continuously beaten by wiry handlers, boys from poor families, as young as eleven.

The vets immediately started treating the animals. Apart from saddle wounds the donkeys and mules suffered from hoof problems and eye infections. One severely malnourished mule stood alone, too weak to move. “Minimum one week rest and mineral supplements twice a day,” adviced Sudeep, after providing the poor creature with a medicine to promote digestion. A mule suffering from laminitis, a very painful condition caused by inflammation of the hoof, was given two weeks rest.

“Please have a look at one of my new donkeys,” one owner requested, “she is blind and her back legs don’t work properly.” We walked over to the night shelter and found a pathetic looking donkey, lying on the path. The creature was dehydrated and malnourished, and seemed unable to walk. The vets became agitated. “Why did you not call us earlier? We won’t allow you to keep this donkey here in these conditions,” they told the owner.

A long debate started, in which the owners explained that someone took the donkey here from another kiln, and that, yes, he was agree to send the animal to our sanctuary. What’s more, he and his friend would personally carry her to the car.

That was how Shree Devi, as the donkey was named, ended up in the back of our ambulance.
Shree Devi at first was apprehensive. After the long, bumpy ride to Godavari, we had to literally pull her to her retirement home, supporting her back legs.

After her arrival the twelve other resident donkeys left the night shelter to sniff at Shree Devi. She easily passed the test. Then she enjoyed the first of many nourishing meals in her new home.

Animal Aid Abroad in 2010 supports Animal Nepal’s working donkey outreach programme and sanctuary for the second year. We support some 500 donkeys in ten brick kilns and hope to expand our programme to more brick factories later this year. Donkey and kiln owners claim that thanks to our work the conditions of donkeys have greatly improved. They say that the loads are smaller, that beating has decreased, and that the general health conditions of the animals are far better than before.

To some extent this is true – inputs such as regular de-worming and vaccinations, first aid boxes, improved harnesses, hoof cleaners, health camps and educational workshops have had a visible impact. Recently three new staff have been recruited to intensify our support services and emergency shelters are being constructed in key brick factories.
However, we still occasionally come across abused and injured donkeys such as Shree Devi. Next time when we visit a brick kiln we hope to leave empty handed…

Lucia de Vries
Volunteer Director Animal Nepal