Feeding time for dogs
- They also throw firecrackers when officials arrive
- Tourists visit our sanctuary with relief and joy that at least someone is helping the suffering street animals
- The list of allegations would be laughable elsewhere, but here in Sri Lanka, everything is blamed on the poor dogs
- These supplies were donated by kind UK supporters
- A lawyer represented the shelter and said that he would inform the administration regarding the matters that have been discussed
The streets of Sri Lanka would look somewhat uninteresting for a dog lover without the occasional mongrel loitering around. Stray dogs were allowed to roam freely around the city and the suburbs for years until they were identified as threats. What was quite common on the streets became a threat to many individuals in society, who campaigned against their well-being. This eventually encouraged the authorities to inhumanely get rid of these poor creatures at one point in time. While many neglected these dogs and a few cats, there were some who were willing to give them a ‘safe haven’. But just about a week ago, an unruly mob decided to impose a threat throwing firecrackers and putting roadblocks at Animal SOS Sri Lanka; another one of those rarely found dog shelters located in the South of Sri Lanka.
Animal SOS Sri Lanka
Founded in 2007, Animal SOS Sri Lanka is a UK-based charity which was established under the vision of its founder Kim Cooling. She decided to establish this cause after witnessing the appalling plight of animals in Sri Lanka, particularly stray animals. After years of self-funded rescue work she purchased a plot of land in Midigama, Ahangama and the charity began operating in 2009 with a few dogs and helpers. Many street animals in Sri Lanka suffer from various diseases, malnutrition and even horrific injures. As Sri Lanka doesn’t have many safe havens to protect these stray animals, the work and facilities at Animal SOS Sri Lanka offers a lifeline to these hapless creatures. So far, the shelter has saved the lives of thousands of animals while also providing job opportunities to local people. The shelter also carries out outreach programmes, free neutering, rabies control programmes and even offers English classes for village children.
Determined to protect animals
The spoke to Cooling to inquire into the incident and according to her the mob had carried out the attack at night. “We need to keep the operations running amidst criminal activities. The Police promised an investigation, but so far no action has been taken by the authorities. I’m trying to get through the court case amidst all these,” she said.
She recently posted details of the incident on social media which read as follows: “We are tormented and threatened by an unruly mob operating with agendas. The police offer no protection and have been complicit in the past. We have a recording of a villager demanding funds for charity and doing it through threats. This is done to create issues for us with the authorities in case we did not cough up. We refused of course and this happened directly after sacking a staff member in connection with a theft. Instead of the Police taking action against the blackmailer, as they had evidence and stated they would act, they charged us for causing public nuisance and I had to appear in court and stand in the dock like a criminal who had committed a crime. The court case is continuing”.
“We had many officials who hated dogs visiting the sanctuary after trumped up charges were made against us. One person had stated that we only have ‘bad’ dogs at the sanctuary and not ‘good breed dogs like German Shepherds. Some officials arrived wearing masks, giving the impression like we were having the Ebola virus at the sanctuary.
“We were asked why our dogs are roaming free as they should all be caged for life and that the sanctuary should be entirely cemented and sealed due to microbes from the dogs. Some believed that humans can get parvo from dogs, that the dogs at the sanctuary will bite the villagers and that people can get pimples from dogs even though they have no contact with them whatsoever. The list of allegations would be laughable elsewhere, but here in Sri Lanka, EVERYTHING is blamed on the poor dogs due to ignorance.
The sad plight of these hapless animals motivates kind humans to afford them a safe environment. It’s the overpopulation of dogs that gives rise to such issues
Lawyer and animal welfare activist Lalani Perera
“They threatened workers who were improving drainage facilities in our cattery and almost drowned all our cats. A member of the mob recently exposed himself to us in front of our Buddhist Shrine. They regularly throw fire crackers into our sanctuary to terrorise our animals; many of whom have suffered so much on the streets and only have our sanctuary as a safe haven. They also threw a stone at a dog. These people caught a dog in the wire snare in the past and abused us when we tried to save it’s life when it was choking. The dog remains at the sanctuary.
“They made a roadblock to stop donated supplies, from a shipment, reaching the sanctuary. These supplies were donated by kind UK supporters. We were abused and I was pushed and my camera dropped to the ground. No arrests were made as usual. On one video you can hear firecrackers used to terrorise our animals. They also throw firecrackers when officials arrive and then complain that our dogs are barking. Visiting tourists to the sanctuary have witnessed this mob rule and are both horrified and shocked. Is this the image Sri Lanka wants for its growing tourist industry? Tourists visit our sanctuary with relief and joy that at least someone is helping the suffering street animals only to see our efforts under attack by a lawless, frenzied mob. The horrors continue, said Cooling.
Importance of co-existence
In her comments to the , lawyer and animal welfare activist Lalani Perera said that the shelter set up by Animal SOS is an exemplary endeavour to care for homeless dogs; some of whom are severely disabled. “The sad plight of these hapless animals motivates kind humans to afford them a safe environment. It’s the overpopulation of dogs that gives rise to such issues. And, it’s unfortunate that we humans contribute to that overpopulation by dumping unwanted puppies and even pets when they cannot be cared for, in public places, like market places and temples. Recently I was told about a Buddhist monk who wanted three new-born puppies dumped in his temple, removed from the temple premises since the devotees had complained. Cannot the monk inspire these people (I call them pseudo-Buddhists) to show compassion, the tenet of Buddhism, and find these puppies a home? The Government authorities mandated with the task of neutering street dogs are also responsible for this situation, but they aren’t carrying out that task efficiently,” said Perera.
She further said that as animal shelters are often set up in sparsely populated places and when it becomes inevitable that humans will be neighbours; steps should be taken to ensure that no nuisance or health hazard is caused to humans. “Humans and animals must learn to co-exist. Even with regard to the Human-Elephant Conflict, humans are the main precipitators encroaching on elephant habitat, at great cost to both human and elephant lives.
“It is indeed deplorable that a foreigner who has embarked on such a noble mission has to undergo much trauma,” Perera added. “In this country, where only a minuscule number of local people have set up shelters and engaged in animal welfare, we must support the generosity of outsiders rather than obstruct them,” she said.
Speaking to the , Weligama Divisional Secretary Sumith Shantha said that this shelter has been a long-standing issue with regard to the villagers. “They began as a clinic where they would treat pets and return them to their homes. But eventually people started dumping puppies and sick dogs at this shelter. Now there are over 2000 dogs here and they cannot manage the place. So you can imagine the disturbance caused when they bark. People also claim that they have lice and other diseases which pose a threat to the neighbours,”said Shantha.
Shantha further said the shelter doesn’t have a proper waste disposal system. “Therefore they have dug a drain that connects to the main water line and it eventually disposes waste to the surrounding paddy fields. We then informed the officials at the district irrigation department to inspect the place. Following the inspection they claimed that the drain was illegally dug and have requested the administration at the Shelter to close it down. We were also informed that the shelter doesn’t comply with the guidelines given by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA). Since it is run by a group of foreigners, not even a Public Health Inspector (PHI) goes to check if they are carrying out their functions accordingly. On top of that the area residents staged a protest demanding they shut down the place. So we had to interfere and promise them that we would take the necessary actions. They have even gone to the extent of filing a case in courts stating that this place is a public nuisance.
Protest staged against the attack
“As a result we called for a meeting last Wednesday and pointed out these issues,” Shantha added. “A lawyer represented the shelter and said that he would inform the administration regarding the matters that have been discussed. We have also informed the CEA, the Divisional Secretariat and the PHIs to conduct inspections accordingly for the benefit of the residents,” concluded Shantha.
IMAGE COURTESY BY ANIMAL SOS SRI LANKA
The Daily Mirror also learned that the Weligama Police are conducting investigations to identify the perpetrators. According to them the villagers have filed a case stating that the shelter has become a public nuisance and it has now come under the purview of the Divisional Secretary.