Once the centre becomes a success, it would be replicated islandwide to achieve a zero stray dogs population within five years
The first criterion proposes the establishing of a “Dog Village”, firstly in Colombo
The primary focus behind the project is to shift the stray dogs to a secure location
The fee will come into effect after the establishment of the first Dog Village
The soaring population of stray dogs in Sri Lanka has given rise to numerous issues time and time again. From matters pertaining to their health and safety to reports of public nuisance and their negative impact on tourism, news of problematic incidents has often reached our ears. Stray dogs, although close to our hearts, have congregated into large populations; and have escalated to becoming a growing health hazard. The issue is posing a threat to the tourism industry. Further, the presence of rabies within Sri Lanka from its first known appearance during the colonial period, still wreaks havoc in our country. Although there are continuous attempts at eradicating rabies globally, an estimate of 59,000 human deaths occur annually - which accounts for 1 death at the hands of the rabies disease, every nine minutes. Each year, the government’s health budget spends over Rs. 500 million on curing rabies through vaccination and sterilization programmes of dogs and infected humans in Sri Lanka.
Evidently, Sri Lanka is direly in need of a lasting solution to humanely control the population of stray dogs, followed by successful attempts at rabies elimination. Forum on Disarmament and Development [FDD] proposed exactly this to the Colombo Municipal Council [CMC] by presenting an action plan that works towards a zero stray dogs population. Through the implementation of the proposed plan, the extravagant expense can thus be reduced to less than Rs. 10 million; and in the long-term, to a zero amount.
Prior to formulating the proposal, FDD had consulted the enforced laws that directly align with their aims for this project; with relevance to rabid stray dogs, unclaimed stray dogs and the no-kill policy. Finding the laws to be in their favour, they had then concocted the action plan for the proposal. The proposal comprises 2 key criteria. The first criterion proposes the establishing of a “Dog Village”, firstly in Colombo, which aims to relocate stray dogs to its vicinity. The base of the concept for the Dog Village is vaguely; similar to that of a municipal animal shelter in Arkansas named ‘Little Rock Animal Village’. It shelters stray dogs and abandoned or lost pets, tends to their health and puts them up for adoption. The animals that don’t find homes have the luxury of residing at their sanctuary and enjoying their vast facilities. In this case, the proposed centre aims to provide a sanctuary for stray dogs that concentrates on their health and comfort, while also enabling adoption and fostering programmes. The primary focus behind the project is to shift the stray dogs to a secure location while simultaneously clearing up the streets. Due to the growing congregations of stray populations in the CMC area, FDD had approached the CMC with their proposal. Thorough consideration of the By-Laws of the CMC, and consultations with the Standing Committee on Finance led to the formulation of an action plan for the centre.
An MoU with CMC
The first order of business will be in finding an eight to ten acre land that can accommodate at least 3000 dogs. It would be acquired either as a gift from a donor to the CMC, or by the CMC signing a 20-year lease from the government or a private individual, or the corporate sector. The land would be located just outside the Colombo city. The stray dogs, residing in the particular area in which the centre will be located, will be the most benefited as they will be prioritised to receive free treatment and rehoming.
An MoU will be signed with the CMC and the respective local authority in this regard. Further, the residents of the area will be benefited by strictly abiding to hiring staff from the centre’s area, for cooking and cleaning at the vicinity.
Further, the traction gained by encouraging locals, schools, students and tourists to visit the centre will additionally raise the growth and the economic status of the local shops and businesses. The setting up of the infrastructure facility for the Centre will include a fully fledged animal hospital consisting of quarters for the doctors and the in-house employees. No electricity cost will be incurred due to the use of solar power. The expense for water will be considerably low due to the responsible utilisation of digging wells. Further, a swimming pool for the dogs will be built at the centre. For dogs swimming generally provides a means of entertainment and a great method of exercise.
Keeping in mind that these stray dogs will come in all ages, sizes and handicaps, the swimming pool can be utilized to provide canine hydrotherapy to ease mobility, to rehabilitate after major surgeries. A main committee will be appointed to undertake the responsibilities of the centre. The CMC will be the sole decision maker in selecting the persons, and furthermore, the committee will be chaired by the Commissioner of the CMC.
The committee will, thus, comprise of the Commissioner of the CMC, the Chief Veterinarian of the CMC, the Accountant of the CMC, a representative of the Ministry of Local Government, a representative from the Faculty of Veterinary University of Peradeniya, and two NGO representatives and two corporate sector representatives. The management of the Centre will be handled on a Private-Public Partnership basis. The animal hospital will be managed by the CMC Chief Veterinarian and the representative from the Peradeniya University; and a permanent in-house doctor will be stationed there on a 24 hour basis. Hospital staff will be hired on a contract basis. The cleaning of the Centre and the preparation of food for the animals will be managed by either the NGO representatives or the corporate sector representatives. Staff will be hired on an annual basis, and their contracts will be extended in accordance to their performance.
Further, local and international volunteers who are avid dog lovers will be sought to work at the Centre. At the inception, the CMC and the government will be required to allocate the funds that can be contributed towards funding the centre. The corporate sector representatives will be urged to raise funds, along with the NGO representatives who will be urged to encourage global fundraising. Foreign tourists who visit the centre will be made aware of the possibility to make donations. The funds gained through the dog registration fee can, too, contribute to this cause. Ultimately, the funds will be pooled into one bank account, and these accounts will be audited. The corporate sector representatives’ involvement will be furthered with their support in regards to the CSR programmes. The NGO representatives will, in turn, help raise awareness about the centre and actively seek volunteer support. The food and medicine will be handled by the respective fosters. Such foster programmes are carried out extensively by international animal welfare organisations - for instance, RSPCA which is based in England and Wales. As per their research, a significant outcome of fostering is its aid in encouraging stray dogs to recover from neglect, abuse, illness or injury through undivided care and attention. This is the first step toward finding them homes. A dedicated website and social media pages on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will be published. These platforms will be utilised to encourage the public and schoolchildren to visit the centre. Further, through continuous promotions, the centre is hoped to gain traction as a tourist attraction. Finally, once the centre becomes a success, it would be replicated islandwide to achieve a zero stray dogs population within five years. The second criterion urges that the dog registration fee of Rs. 5.00 be raised to a minimum of Rs. 2,500.00. Vidya Abayagunawardena, FDD Coordinator, voiced his concerns regarding the low-priced fee to Daily Mirror. He affirmed that the low stature of the fee truly undermines the respect and the dignity of an animal. The registration fee of Rs. 2,500.00 will only be applicable to new pets; and those who already own pets will be charged a nominal fee. All resident dogs will be required to register with the CMC. A Dog ID will, thus, be provided.
This will record the dog’s medical history, health status and will additionally help trace the dog to the owner under any circumstance. The fee will come into effect after the establishment of the first Dog Village. There will be an amnesty period between six months to one year where the stray dogs will be gathered and relocated to the centre. compassionate members of the community will be wholeheartedly encouraged to volunteer at the centre. However, the impact that the registration fee will have on the compassionate dog lovers who carry out countless rescues on a day to day basis is undeniable.
Their efforts at sheltering over thirty to forty stray dogs in their own homes deserves recognition. Our nation is truly indebted to their kind and valuable service, and they are considered our heroes. Through the establishment of Dog Villages, FDD hopes to shelter these rescues and provide them with kindness at the centres. Visiting hours will be made public. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all stray dogs will be relocated into these vicinities, so that none will be left behind. Through these procedures, FDD aims to humanely narrow the congregations of stray dogs to a zero population and control and eliminate rabies. This proposal presents a grand opportunity to provide comfort and luxury to abandoned, homeless stray dogs within their very own sanctuary while simulataneously relieving Sri Lanka’s streets of avoidable acts of animal cruelty. Hence the negative impact of stray dogs on Sri Lanka and its tourism industry can, too, be completely turned around. This proposal was presented to Rosy Senanayake, the Mayoress of Colombo and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on December 30, 2019. FDD has since received a letter from the President’s Office, conveying the executive’s gratitude towards the commitment shown for the betterment and the sustainability of the country and for supporting his vision of “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor” to create a prosperous Sri Lanka. However, the fate of the proposal still hangs in the balance. Firstly, it is of paramount importance that the existing archaic laws related to stray dogs within the Council be amended. Further, the Animal Welfare Bill awaits to be passed by the new Parliament which is to be formed after the General Election. Till then, the proposed Dog Village would remain a wonderful dream that’s all but a reality.