There are an estimated 3 million street dogs on the island of Sri Lanka, and a veterinarian based in the UK is trying to provide medical care to as many of them as she can.
UK vet Janey Lowes was backpacking around Sri Lanka in May 2014 when she was confronted with the plight of the street dogs. Every year, an estimated 26,000 are injured in traffic accidents, and thousands more get sick and die due to a lack of vaccinations and veterinary care.
Her first instinct was not to get them off the streets. Most of them are not true strays. They have humans who feed them, and they are pretty much accepted in Sri Lankan culture — just not housed.
What they truly needed more than anything else was veterinary care.
“I felt so helpless,” she told Metro.co.UK. “As a vet (and I’m sure many vets can relate) it was frustrating to be skilled enough to help but in another country with no equipment or supplies with me, or any idea of where to start with seeking help for dogs in need.”
Back home, and still thinking about how she could make an impact, she sought advice from her boss in the UK, who gave her £10,000 to set up a charity.
WECare Worldwide was born.
In 2014 she went back to Sri Lanka and teamed up with local vet Dr. Nuwan, a local volunteer named Malaka, and a tuk tuk driver, Chaminda, who she paid to drive them around looking for sick and injured dogs. Some she treated on the side of the road, others she brought to her home in Tallalla on the south coast for treatment.
“I started by working out where we could be the most helpful and have the biggest sustainable impact, which is hard when you are surrounded by need everywhere.”
By the end of the year, her organization was offering neutering and vaccination services to local villages.
By 2016, Janey’s house was overflowing with dogs and she rented an old school in a nearby village to continue her work.
A year later, though, money was running low and Janey was giving some thought to giving up.
Then WECare was featured in a BBC documentary and donations surged, allowing her to slowly build the clinic she works from today, which is one of the best equipped vet hospitals on the island.
Janey now has has 10 full-time and 12 part-time local staff, and also helps train other local vets, to improve vet standards across the board.
Locals can also bring their pet dogs in to the clinic for treatment at a reduced rate.
Neutering and vaccinations are free for both street and owned animals.
Janey sees a big distinction between street dogs and strays.
“There’s this generalization that people think it’s cruel for dogs to be on the street, that they don’t have cuddles every night, they don’t eat steak for dinner, they don’t get to go to doggy daycare – but it’s just different over here,” she explained. “They’re not stray dogs, so it’s not like in England where pet dogs are dumped on the street and left to die … These dogs have been on the streets for generations and generations, so to take them in to homes – to even take them indoors, most have never been indoors – is really quite stressful for them once they get to a certain age.
“They’re so happy beause they have their freedom. You can see them when they’re charging up and down the beach chasing each other, or when they’re on a mission in the morning to the nearest roti shop, you can see the joy in their eyes … We don’t believe in scooping up three million dogs to put them in a shelter because for street dogs, that’s like prison. Our job is to provide veterinary care and to let dogs be dogs.”
She admits that her mission a never-ending one and she sometimes gets disheartened. “But then you take a step back and look at how many dogs you’ve helped – which is about 6,000 dogs so far … I just go look at all the street dogs we’ve helped and remember that they would potentially have had a really slow, painful death if we hadn’t been around.”
WECare Worldwide operates on donations.
(Photos: Courtesy of WECare Worldwide)