No historical event, no matter how unexpected and terrifying, is entirely bleak or negative. One of the most positive aspects to emerge in this country from the novel Coronavirus debacle is a visible concern for the suffering of stray animals – dogs, cats, and even birds such as pigeons and crows.
The sudden curfew which descended over the island from March 27 left many people with no option but to go hungry, or fall back on a bare existence at best. Many of those who were better off were moved to help the less fortunate. But this was a more or less invisible train of events between individuals.
A clearer picture emerged where animals were concerned. There were reports of dogs dying of hunger in rural areas. As far as we know, no one has been able to compile any record of such events, so we may never know if many died, or if these were isolated incidents.
In Colombo, however, many people were engaged in feeding stray dogs and cats. One could see them going around in cars, vans and three-wheelers doing this. Some did it regularly during the two months of curfew, while others did so on a one off basis. Undoubtedly, this spirit of generosity helped save many of the city’s stray animal population from starvation and death.
This change of spirit is highly welcome in view of the uncertainty which hung over the fate of stray dogs a few months ago. Soon after the presidential elections last year, unconfirmed stories of dogs disappearing in Colombo and suburbs, while the public by and large remained indifferent. There was a strong belief among many that the strays were a menace and needed to be ‘dealt with.’
But the Coronavirus epidemic seems to have put things in a different perspective, that all creatures must share this earth, its cities and population centres despite any inconvenience caused to those driven by a vision of gentrified cities turned into comfortable habitats for those successful in the neoliberal socio-economic game. Let’s hope it stays that way after the epidemic loses its sting and the well-oiled gentrification process gets going again in Colombo and other cities.
Animals may have been kept from starvation, but medicare was another matter. With veterinary clinics closed, and curfew preventing vets from visiting homes, pet owners were stranded. Again, any number of pets may have died due to lack of care, but such incidents have not been recorded.
"Animals may have been kept from starvation, but medicare was another matter. With veterinary clinics closed, and curfew preventing vets from visiting homes, pet owners were stranded. Again, any number of pets may have died due to lack of care, but such incidents have not been recorded"
TheSri Jayawardenepura Animal Hospital, situated facing Diyawanna Oya where the 168 Nugegoda bus turns off parliament road towards Ethulkotte, is one of the most popular clinics in the Colombo area. It has been there for 23 years and two vets work there in turn – Dr. Molligoda in the morning and Dr. Karunanamage in the evening, helped by their veteran assistants Upali and Sanjeewa.
The clinic reopened as the curfew was relaxed on Monday, May 18. When I visited it two days later with a sick cat, the entrance was jam-packed with anxious pet owners, some of whom waited more than one hour to get in.
It seemed to be a golden retriever day, with at least four waiting outside. But not all animals present were pedigree types. It was touching to see people sparing no expense in these very hard times to treat puppies and cats who had been dumped outside their gates.
It was also deeply moving to see two Buddhist monks who had come all the way from Maharagama with two pups. Someone had dumped three pups at the temple the previous day. One had died, and the monks had rushed here with the two survivors.
These are the heartwarming stories to come out of this very bleak time of Coronavirus. The list of those needing help in this crisis is long, but let’s hope this spirit of generosity towards those at the bottom of the list – animals totally dependent on the charity of people for survival – will continue.