Meet Yogi.One of the thousands of dumped, neglected and abused dogs of Sri Lanka. Cute don’t you think? Could you walk past and leave her starving on the side of the road? Step over and pretend she’s not dying of hunger? Well, many like her suffer daily while people walk past and do just that – nothing. Even worse, many puppies (and kittens) are deliberately dumped along busy roads, at temples or in the jungle by careless owners who don’t have their dogs neutered or vaccinated. Other “luckier” dogs, who’ve somehow managed to survive past infancy, have to face the risks of speeding buses, trucks and tuktuks, most of whom don’t slow down or deliberately drive at the dogs. Or when they become a “nuisance”, they get chased away with rocks and fire crackers. It may seem unbelievable, but this is the reality hundreds of dogs face on a daily basis in Sri Lanka.
Yes – this is the island that sells itself as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”. Idyllic beaches, nature parks, temples and tea plantations. Sun, surf and happiness. But look a little harder through your coconut cocktail tinged glasses and you’ll see the vast number of neglected, abandoned and abused dogs. Strays that nobody wants and very few care for. There are an estimated 3 million street dogs, surviving on scraps and the mercy of a handful of kind people. Tourists often avoid them like the plague for fear of picking up some heinous “disease” and the locals chase them away because they actually just don’t give a damn.
Yogi was dumped on the side of the road at about 10 weeks old, weighing almost 1.3 kgs, badly malnourished, severely dehydrated, neglected, infected with mange and babesia, which can be fatal if not treated. This is the plight of thousands of dogs in Sri Lanka.
We came across Yogi while driving along a potholed road in a farming community on the outskirts of a village called Komari, on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Not far from the increasingly popular surfers hangout of Arugam Bay. She was a small, grubby bundle of patchy fur stumbling through the bushes on the side of the road. We stopped and gave her the only thing we had in the car at the time – a yoghurt drink, which she slurped up frantically. We initially thought that she may have strayed from one of the homes close by – dogs like this are common place here. We were headed into a nearby village and thought if she was still there when we returned in a short while – we would take her with us, but she was nowhere to be seen when we returned.
It rained that night and I was worried that she wouldn’t survive unless she had found her way “home”. Sadly that was not to be – we went to the same spot the following morning and found her lying in a crumpled heap on the edge of the road – as if she had crawled there in a last desperate attempt to be noticed and saved, but Tuk Tuks and motorbikes were casually cruising past without a second glance. Thinking she might be near dead, I tried lifting her to her feet but her legs just collapsed. Picking her up and running from house to house to ask if anyone owned her, we were just met with shoulder shrugs and total disinterest. This was not surprising. We brought her back to our hut and fed her some buffalo curd and banana. She was dying but still had a fiesty will to survive.
We took her to a local “vet”, which is not common in this area and when you do find one its usually a livestock vet with very little interest in dogs. The woman reluctantly lifted Yogi’s eyelid, mentioning the obvious that she was dehydrated and handed over worm tablets and a multivitamin syrup and sent us on our way.
Despite our attempts to fatten and clean Yogi up so that she would look more appealing to any potential adoptee parents, nobody was interested. This feisty little creature was already barking at the bigger dogs after just a few days of care and food.
Our attempts at contacting animal rescue groups in Colombo to take her in, were futile. Inundated with daily calls for help, they are all already under so much pressure and pushed to their limits, both financially and in terms of numbers they can handle.
Yogi started looking a little stronger and we decide to use the recommended dosage for deworming. This turned out to be a big mistake – a few hours later, with a rectal prolapse and looking like all her intestines were about to leave her body we knew we had to get her off to a proper vet if she was to stand any chance of surviving.
Racing towards Colombo, our desperate calls were heeded by Animal SOS Sri Lanka, who offered to take her in despite their resources being beyond capacity and strained financially. This was her only chance, she was so weak in the car and wouldn’t drink anything and once again we thought she would die.
250 kms and 6 hours of non stop driving like a deranged local bus driver we arrived near the surfing hotspot of Midigama. We were met with some of the Animal SOS staff and vets, who treated Yogi with such care and a genuine concern for her well being. A few tests later and she was diagnosed with Babesia, but they refused to give up on her. We realised later on that this is their approach to every animal that comes in there. They will do everything possible against all odds. Despite a very shaky start and doubts about her strength, Yogi pulled through, but sadly many don’t.
Beach dogs, street dogs, jungle dogs – call them what they may, nobody wants to take responsibility for them and that a volunteer organisation like this has to pick up the pieces is disgraceful. Many local organisations are unwilling to help and the locals consider them a nuisance factor. The Government solution is to “destroy” the street dogs.
Animal SOS, Sri Lanka, is a free ranging sanctuary, working tirelessly around the clock to save and rehabilitate so many desperate dogs and cats. They also operate neutering/rabies vaccination programmes in the local area, adoption schemes and animal welfare education amongst others. They are a charity funded rescue centre and for more info on what they do and how you can help please read this.
Mahatma Gandhi said ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. You have a long way to go Sri Lanka.
For a country that is 70% Buddhist they seem to have lost touch with the essence of their belief system. One of the key teachings of Buddhism about animals are, “Animals and humans share the same essential nature. We are not a separate class of beings to whom a separate class of ethical rules applies. The highest Buddhist virtue is compassion, which we are to show to all sentient beings at all times.” Somehow that compassion is massively lacking amongst a lot of people. Unless you think its kind and compassionate to lock away your child or grandmother in a cage all day, or throw stones at helpless strangers?
If you are in the Midigama area, please pop in and visit Animal SOS. You will be amazed at the incredible work they do. They do need your help and no amount is ever too small to make a difference. Please see what you can do to help here. Thanks to AnimalSOS-Sri Lanka for saving Yogi and so many other lives!