Rabid dogs brought in for treatment
- During the curfew time due to the non availability of food, many stray dogs were congregating around the Vihara Maha Devi Park and were being fed by the CMC and the Mayor herself
- There are presently four dogs in the CMC facilities, of which three are for sterilisation, four for observation as they have bitten people on the street and one extremely aggressive dog which cannot be released due its nature
On the night of May 29th, accusatory social media posts began making appearances across Facebook and Twitter, claiming that Mrs. Rosy Senanayake, the Mayor of Colombo had issued an order to relocate all dogs residing at Viharamahadevi Park to the Dog Pound. The shocked animal welfare activists and citizens immediately lashed out against Rosy in regards to the inhumane and cruel basis of the order. Rosy resorted to delaying her statement until the situation came to light. On the morning of May 30th, she addressed the claims:
“This statement is a response to the various false allegations being made on social media that all stray dogs including all those in and around the Vihara Maha Devi Park are being rounded up by the CMC and will be put down. Let us explain what the actual situation is. During the curfew time due to the non availability of food, many stray dogs were congregating around the Vihara Maha Devi Park and were being fed by the CMC and the Mayor herself. Due to the lack of food during those times there was a large congregation of dogs at the park in addition to the dogs which were resident around that area from before. There have been mounting complaints to the park administration from park users, the general public and from the park workers themselves that some of these dogs are aggressive and have chased after both walkers, cyclists and even children. Also 8 ducks who were resident in the park have also been attacked and killed by dogs. Due to this the Veterinary department took measures to identify the more aggressive dogs resident at the park and relocate them temporarily until a more permanent solution can be found. As a matter of information two dogs were removed, as they were identified as being aggressive. All other dogs remain in the area. Therefore the stories floating around that all dogs from Vihara Maha Devi Park have been removed, and to be eventually put down is false and that orders have gone out to remove all street dogs is also false. Anyone who cares to visit the park today or even did so yesterday would have observed that there still are dogs in and around the park. For your further information there are presently four dogs in the CMC facilities, of which three are for sterilisation, four for observation as they have bitten people on the street and one extremely aggressive dog which cannot be released due its nature. Also the CMC has not put down any stray dogs in the last few years and will not be doing so in the future. This is a fact well known by all animal welfare groups. What we hope to do is develop our halfway house facilities which will be a holding place for stray dogs until foster homes can be found for them. We have invited animal welfare activists to discuss steps we like to take in this regard and also obtain their valuable input and assistance to better manage these facilities.
We trust that this has shed light on what has actually happened and will put things in perspective. The Mayor will also be making an inspection visit of the facilities presently housing the dogs today and will give the necessary instructions to upgrade the facilities if required.
Thanking You. Office of the Mayor of Colombo 30th May 2020.”
Daily Mirror reached out to a group of well-known and respected animal welfare activists - Otara Gunewardene, Anusha David, Shilpa Samaratunge, Sharmini Ratnayake, Iraki Kodithuwakku & Panchali Panapitiya, to determine their side of the story in regards to the issued order, Rosy’s statement and their response to the incident.
It was revealed that when curfew was implemented, a few activists swiftly created a community group to ensure the welfare of the stray animals - the primary task being the delegation of feeding rounds. Anusha was amongst the activists who volunteered at the Viharamahadevi Park.
She stated that her team and herself alone has fed the 15 dogs residing at the park everyday since the lockdown, excluding the day that curfew was first implemented. Her efforts during curfew were made abundantly clear from her constant social media updates.
Shilpa later declared that Rosy’s statement regarding the CMC and Mayor feeding the dogs cannot be verified by the group as they had not been spotted doing so, nor was the group informed. Anusha revealed that she was the first to find out about the order. She admitted that it was during the evening feeding round on May 29th that she had noticed a few dogs missing. She stated that the Park officials and the officials at CMC had in fact confirmed that Rosy was indeed behind it. She proceeded to mention that a CMC worker had confessed that although reluctant, they had no choice but to carry out the order. Anusha told Daily Mirror that Rosy had later admitted to a mutual friend, Lakshika De Silva that the dogs who had been taken to the dog pound were well taken care of and that her daughter Thisakya Senanayake was supervising the feeding rounds for the pound.
Panchali revealed that the dogs were first relocated to the dog pound on the 29th. She further revealed that a few municipality workers had disclosed plans involving more relocations to be implemented on the 30th.
Otara stated that upon contacting Rosy on the night of the 29th, Rosy had denied issuing the order, and had claimed that the police had given the order to remove the dogs. Otara expressed her scepticism to Daily Mirror as the police had actively supported the animal welfare activists during curfew and had assisted in swiftly gaining curfew passes to continue the feeding rounds. She further declared that Rosy was aware of the situation of the dogs being rounded up, and had discussed the need for this to be spread to other locations.
Iraki informed Daily Mirror that the dogs had resided in the park for years, and that they have been sterilised and regularly vaccinated since 2008. Panchali added that the dogs in Sri Lanka aren’t, in fact, considered strays as they are a part of the community that eagerly looks after them. Along with Anusha and Sharmini; she too voiced her disbelief on the claim that the dogs were aggressive in nature.
Anusha proceeded to mention that the dogs were so timid that despite years of feeding them, that they still refused to approach the food until her team was a considerable distance away. In the process, the dogs would lose half their food to the crows, she added. Anusha further stated that in all her 40 years of being in the field, she hadn’t had any bad encounters with “rabid” or “aggressive” dogs. She proceeded to add that barking is simply a trait of dogs and is not a sign of aggression. She thus declared Rosy’s statement blatantly false.
As Daily Mirror continued to gather the statements, the dog pound was adamantly called a prison and a hellhole on multiple occasions. Sharmini and Iraki, having previously visited the dog pound, voiced their concerns regarding its conditions. Iraki told Daily Mirror that the dog pound consists of two rooms that could possibly fit 10-15 dogs at most and further mentioned that food and water were generally scarce. Panchali voiced her concerns in regards to dogs being territorial by nature, and stated that overcrowding them in the dog pound would, without a doubt, result in brawls to the death.
Otara and Shilpa revealed that a meeting was held between Rosy and several activists regarding the animal welfare of Sri Lanka last year. Here, a proposal for sterilisation programmes to be executed by the government was suggested. Furthermore, the meeting adjourned on the agreement that if any problems arose in relation to stray dogs in Colombo, a few of the activists who were present would be informed.
Ultimately, the proposal was not followed up and the agreement amounted to nothing as none of the activists were notified despite Rosy’s statement. Shilpa denies that the activists in the community group had been invited to assist with the halfway houses and fostering programme, or even informed prior to the incident.
Otara proceeded to reveal her disappointment in the sudden urgency to remove the dogs just four days after our release from lockdown, proper humane solutions being proposed during the meeting with the Mayor last year. Panchali stated that CNVR programmes are the only humane solutions to regaining control over the population of stray dogs, and that it is, in fact, the agreed upon method between the government and animal welfare organisations. Otara announced that drastic actions such as this are hurtful to the animals and that as a compassionate nation, this act opposes the expectations of Sri Lanka’s concerned citizens.
Shilpa declared that the animal welfare of Sri Lanka is in the hands of the government. She urges the government to allocate a budget for animal welfare and that they pass the Animal Welfare Bill, which encourages seamless sterilisation programmes and strict laws that restrict the dumping of animals. She further voiced concerns over the lack of communication between the government and the activists, and stated that the activists were not notified and are still unsure about the situation.
The statements gathered from the activists greatly contradicted Rosy’s statement, therefore the reasons behind the sudden order are still unclear. Speculations have begun to circulate through social media all the same. However, the issuing of this order has caused citizens to recall the 2018 incident involving Rosy calling for dog catchers. Shilpa stated that Rosy had also claimed that she’ll be visiting the pound in 2018, only to go back on her word.
Yesterday (30th) afternoon, activists and citizens gathered outside the Mayor’s Official Residence in Colombo to protest for the release of the dogs. Proper health instructions were followed by all protesters who diligently wore masks and gloves, and responsibly practiced social distancing. Perhaps in light of the protest and the backlash, a few dogs have been released. Further, Rosy has called for a meeting in the following week with animal welfare activists.
Pics by Kushan Pathiraja and Waruna wanniarachchi
Need support to put up a dog shelter : Rosy
By Kamanthi Wickramasinghe
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Colombo Mayoress Rosy Senanayake said that only two dogs were taken to the dog pound because according to the officials at CMC they were a bit ferocious. “But the next day I gave them the orders to bring the two dogs back to the park. The Park is frequented by children and families who come to spend time there. So they have been complaining about the dogs. Even after I released the statement the activists still protested in front of my house. There are over 2000 dogs in Crow Island and the North Colombo area. There are around 8-10 dogs in the Park so I would like to ask these activists whether they could take any of them home. There’s a huge difference between an activist and a person who is actually concerned about dogs. We sterilise a large number of dogs and I also visited the dog pound to see the status. What we need is the support of the private sector and relevant associations to have a shelter for these dogs.”
A costly operation
The Daily Mirror also visited the rabies control unit under the purview of the Colombo Municipal Council. The construction was completed in early 2006 and the unit serves the purpose of treating and rehabilitating rabid dogs. Upto 30 dogs could be accommodated and the CMC staff provides them with food and medicine on a daily basis. Speaking about the challenges, Dr. Mohamed Ijas, Veterinary Surgeon of the rabies control programme at the CMC pointed out two challenges; funding and land. “In developed countries the government doesn’t get involved in animal welfare. It’s mostly the private sector. Here people demand from the government to get involved in animal welfare. These are man-made problems. If they are responsible this problem won’t be there. It’s good to have pressure groups, rather than having a win-win situation it’s better to go in the middle path. Animal abuse and animal rights lie at the two extremes whereas animal welfare lies in between. In Sri Lanka people have gone to extremes. I’m not encouraging to have a government shelter. The private sector should get involved and manage shelters and the government should act as a regulator.”
The total budget to run the operation with 100 dogs is around Rs. 5.6 mn for a year. “This includes meals, medicine, water, electricity and other facilities. The dogs are put in 4’16” size cages that could accommodate three in one. The cost of construction excluding the land value was estimated at Rs. 16 mn. This includes staff quarters and other units within the premises. During the curfew period we had challenges in getting food, especially meat for the dogs. But we didn’t take a back step. However, in moving forward, it would be best that the private sector gets involved in the operation.”