There are 40,000,000 (yes million) street dogs in Sri Lanka. When I decided to volunteer at a rescue centre here, I envisaged an underfunded complex, full of tatty cages and ramshackle buildings. How wrong I was. Dog-Care Clinic RV resembles a 5* luxury resort. There are lily ponds, streams, ornamental bridges, and a doggie swimming pool, on a site which sprawls over 25,000 square metres. I was totally stunned when I arrived, and actually considered moving in myself, as the accommodation here is better than anything I have enjoyed on my trip. In 2007, an inspirational German lady, Marina Möbius, came to Sri Lanka on holiday, and saw the plight of the street dogs. She started by caring for a few herself, and then funded a small clinic which has grown into the state of the art centre it is today, with a staff of 45. Marina still runs a highly successful recruitment agency in Germany, and funds most of the €500,000 per year running costs here herself. She is an amazing human being.
My role here is not terribly arduous. I have to cuddle and brush dogs all day and help with feeding time and administering medication. There are 300 canine residents, so that means a lot of cuddling! It also means that I smell like a dog by 9am every morning and, by the time I leave, I have usually had a Flip Flop, T shirt sleeve or hair band chewed or devoured completely. The four legged residents spend their days snoozing in exquisitely designed pagodas and gazebos, under a canopy of coconut palms, until all hell breaks loose. Each morning, the local monkeys get bored of eating bananas, and at 11am they decide to have some fun. So the mickey-taking Macaques swing from the tall palm trees above, whilst sticking 2 fingers up at the canine community below. This leads to utter chaos, as every dog on the site joins in with a deafening cacophony of barking, which only subsides when the monkeys realise they also need earplugs, and retreat gleefully, leaving the hounds to drift back to sleep. That said, I have never seen dogs so well cared for. If a Sri Lankan street dog gets to this place they have certainly won a golden ticket, and with two home cooked meals a day, served in landscaped gardens, I would also settle for that. I would certainly settle for their food. Breakfast and dinner are bowls of freshly cooked minced beef, with shredded fresh chicken, and a sauce of chicken stock. My meat consumption has been so restricted on my travels, that I have been sorely tempted to eat the odd bowl when no one is looking… Beats vegetable bloody curry any day, or should I say every day?
Although the setting here is surreal, the reality of Man’s inhumanity to animals is ever present. A steady stream of injured, starved, gassed, burnt and tortured dogs and puppies arrive every day. I have seen hounds whose feet have been cut off by their owners and others who have been set alight as part of the local gang culture. Those that are beyond help lie at peace to the side of the operating theatre, to make way for the ones with a chance. I witness amputations regularly, as basking dogs are run over by car and tuk tuk drivers who do not give this a second thought. A dog’s life has no value to most people here. Some of my group were actually in a tuk tuk the other day when it ran over and killed a dog, and the driver just continued on.
As well as the rescue centre, the organisation runs a daily feeding programme for the local dogs. Today I went out with the driver in our sign-written tuk tuk, and in the space of 6 hours we fed 650 street dogs. I had to fill food bowl after bowl with lightening speed as we stopped at each location. The hounds actually recognised the vehicle and ran towards it. They knew it was dinner time! The driver, staggeringly, knew every animal and how many would be waiting at each spot. He also removed ticks as we went round and administered tablets, for various conditions, to specific dogs, which were concealed inside fresh sausages. This was so impressive. Interestingly the centre has another virtually identical tuk tuk which it uses to collect animals for its mass sterilisation programme. So far it has neutered 60,000 dogs, in an attempt to reduce the amount of unwanted puppies in the area. The driver told me that when the ‘neutering tuk tuk’ drives round, the dogs actually run away from it, as they know it is there to ‘spoil their fun.’ I knew these creatures were clever, but number plate recognition? That’s cool.
Yesterday I bumped into the legendary Marina, who was attempting to hurl Christmas baubles at a tropical tree, to create a Christmas display. I told her that I was an interior designer and could help if needed. She immediately plonked the boxes of decorations at my feet and said, in a very Germanic fashion, ‘You do the tree.’ Minutes later I was up a ladder trying to attach tinsel and red balls to foliage that belonged in a jungle, rather than a Nordic pine forest, whilst not feeling at all Christmassy in the searing heat. Despite this I gave it my best shot. Definitely my most tasteless Christmas tree job ever, but one I won’t forget…