“All living beings fear being beaten with clubs, fear being put to death.
Putting oneself in the place of the other, Let no one neither kill nor cause another to kill,”
-Dhammapada verse no. 129
In the recent past, with media’s exposure of increasing disappearances of stray animals’, their brutal capture and the absence of transparency in removing dogs from public places, has given rise to speculation that these animals were killed.
Especially during the events at the 11th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards ceremony in 2010 and the 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2013 held in Colombo, the special operation was carried out to remove stray animals from streets as a beautification measure launched by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). In the most recent attempt to remove stray cats and dogs from the Moratuwa University, a fatal accident happened where animals were overdosed by ‘Ketamine’ that brought them unfortunate deaths. Daily Mirror explored the subject of killing animals after the public and Animal Rights Activists poured outrage after a shocking video went viral recently in social media. The video showed the alleged cruelty to animals that took place within the premises of the University of Moratuwa.
In recorded history, ancient Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was the first-ever country to practice an animal-friendly culture. After all, Mihintale was proclaimed as the world’s very first wildlife sanctuary. This came as a result of the efforts of Arahath Mihindu Thera in guiding King Devanampiya Tissa. As a result, animal sacrifice wasn’t permitted and the practice spanned at least two millennia under many Buddhist kings.
According to Mahavamsa, the history of strays dates back to the beginning of time, the Sinhalese civilization. ‘Kuweni’ sent a stray dog to guide Vijaya -- an Aryan Prince who was expelled from India for his notorious acts -- to the village from the shores. He later became her husband.
Religious and regional mythologies – Dogs and Cats were Gods, worshiped by the people Dogs and cats are mankind’s first and most common domestic animals and have played a sacred role in many religious traditions. The dog is one of the 12 animals honored in Chinese astrology. The second day of the Chinese New Year is considered to be the birthday of all dogs.
Later in 2016 and in the beginning of 2017, State Universities were concerned about removing strays from their premises. They charged that the medical units of the universities had records of many dog bite incidents. The university authorities didn’t hesitate to remove many domesticated cats and dogs
A dog is mentioned in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, faithfully accompanying Tobias, Tobit’s son and the angel Raphael on their journeys.
The Catholic Church recognizes Saint Roch (also called Saint Rocco), who lived in the early 14th century in France, as the patron saint of dogs. The feast day of Saint Roch, August 16, is celebrated in Bolivia as the “birthday of all dogs”.
A black and white dog is sometimes used as an informal symbol of the Dominican order of friars, religious sisters and nuns. Domini canes in Latin means “the dogs/hounds of the Lord.”
The Ancient Egyptians are often more associated with cats in the form of Bastet, yet here too, dogs are found to have a sacred role and figure as an important symbol in religious iconography. Dogs were associated with Anubis, the jackal headed god of the underworld.
Dogs were closely associated with Hecate in the Classical world. Dogs were sacred to Artemis and Ares. Cerberus was the three-faced guard dog of the underworld.
The dogs are worshipped as a part of a five-day Tihar festival that falls roughly in November every year. The dog (Shvan) is also the vahana or mount of the Hindu god Bhairava. Yudhishthira had approached heaven with his dog. Therefore among many Hindus, the common belief exists that caring for or adopting dogs can also pave way to heaven.
There are a number of traditions concerning Muhammad’s attitude towards dogs. He said that the company of dogs, except as helpers in hunting, herding, and home protection, voided a portion of a Muslim’s good deeds. On the other hand, he advocated kindness to dogs and other animals. Abu Huraira narrated that the prophet said:
“While a man was walking he felt thirsty and went down a well, and drank water from it. On returning, he saw a dog panting and eating mud because of excessive thirst. The man said, ‘This (dog) is suffering from the same problem as that of mine.’ So, he (went down to the well), filled his shoe with water, caught hold of it with his teeth and climbed up and watered the dog. Allah thanked him for his (good) deed and forgave him. The people asked ``O Allah’s Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving (the) animals? He replied: ``Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being)”.
Even though the animals were sacred and worshiped by our ancestors throughout history, people gradually lost interest in them and gave priority to urban development. In this new endeavor they saw animals as a threat to the beauty of the nature. Dogs were identified as the cause for Rabies, hence the destroying of a large number of stray dogs.
Sri Lanka as a country, where the majority Buddhist community practices non-violence, hasn’t paid enough concern for the welfare of animals, especially those categorized as stray.
Cruelty to animals has forced Animal Rights Activists to work towards imposing a more efficient and down to earth mechanism using legal help.
Despite this country’s Buddhists practicing a non violence, and it being given a foremost place not only from its Constitution, but also in the hearts of the majority of people, it’s questionable why a sudden spate of incidents regarding animal cruelty are reported across the country. Is there a real need to remove these animals from people’s backyard or is it the mind set of the government?
From the perspective of the authorities, who removed stray animals, rabies had spread among the urban community at a considerable pace. In 2016, Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha put the figure regarding stray dogs in Sri Lanka to 50,000 and said they were a public nuisance.
Minister Musthapha appointed a committee to make a national policy, regarding strays, which would become a Bill. But their efforts never reached the Parliament. Animal rights activists claim the Minister pretends to safeguard animal rights, but the Advisory Committee appointed is nothing more than a white elephant. The minister had stated last year that and if dogs were released in public places, action will be taken against their owners.
Rabies was back in the news in January 2012 during the time of then Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena. Animal lovers and animal rights activists raised their concerns when Sirisena announced that Sri Lanka had decided to lift a moratorium on the killing of stray dogs. This came in the wake of the government struggling to tackle the problem of 2,000 people being admitted daily to hospital after being bitten by dogs.
Later in 2016 and in the beginning of 2017, State Universities were concerned about removing strays from their premises. They charged that the medical units of the universities had records of many dog bite incidents. The university authorities didn’t hesitate to remove many domesticated cats and dogs. Starting from the Sri Jayewardenepura University (J’pura) until the final incident- where as many as 23 stray cats and dogs were taken out from the Moratuwa University premises-the removal activities were continued without any guideline from the University Grant commission (UGC) or the Public Health Veterinary Services of Health Ministry.
Meanwhile the strays reportedly went missing in large numbers prior to many international events held in Colombo. According to CMC sources these efforts were taken to maintain a clean environment.
Govt. hired private pest control institutions
During many occasions ‘Ultrakill’ Pest Control (Ultrakleen), licensed in Sri Lanka as a pest control service provider (License No: RP/PCS/WP/007) was hired by the CMC. This was to remove the strays from the streets.
Meanwhile, on 10th April 2017, Divisarana Animal Welfare Society of University of Sri Jayewardenepura exposed an incident where 32 dogs at J’pura went missing.
The members of the society had complained regarding the incident on11th April to the police who discovered that this company was allegedly involved in a racket. Investigations revealed that the company had been given the tender to remove the strays by J’pura Vice Chancellor (VC), a claim that the latter rejected.
It is said that the University security- managed by the Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL)- was involved in removing stray animals from the Moratuwa University premises. The RALL security personnel are said to have removed the strays using Ketamine (an anesthetic drug). The animals were mistakenly given an overdose, leading them to tragic deaths. The VC refuted claims that the university authorities were responsible. “We maintain a dog free environment within the university premises. It is unfortunate that the security officers overdosed the animals when they attempted to sedate them,” the VC told Daily Mirror.
The law of culling stray dogs was imposed in 1983 and is still effective in keeping with present laws. This allows the killing of stray animals to to keep a check on rabies. At a time when the rest of the world is concerned over stray animals, the first ever nation which was able to maintain a wildlife sanctuary for centuries has started moving towards digging a mass grave for strays. It’s a shame how the law operates to maintain a stray-free Colombo.
SRI LANKA’S LAWS ON ANIMAL CRUELTY, DOG POPULATION CONTROL AND RABIES ERADICATION-
Lalani Perera, Lawyer and Animal Rights Activist
Animal cruelty and rabies control in Sri Lanka are still governed by archaic laws enacted over a century ago. They reflect on the thinking of that era that animals are chattel. The punishment for cruelty will slap one with a fine of a mere100 rupees. The government took a decision in to enforce a “No Kill Policy”. This paved the way for strays to be vaccinated and sterilized. However, still, the media continues to highlight the increase in the brutal capture and the disappearance of dogs and the absence of transparency regarding these activities. While many countries are affording statutory recognition to animals as sentient beings or “non human persons” with a right to life, our policy makers, are yet to reach that level of enlightened thinking.
An Animal Welfare Bill proposed by the Law Commission back in 2006, to replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, is yet to become law. This is because groups with vested interests have continuously impeded its enactment. Issues that arose regarding strays have been resolved at the highest level and involved the Attorney General’s Department, the former Presidential Secretary and the Rural Economic Affairs Ministry Secretary (the Ministry responsible for the Bill).
The government took a decision in to enforce a “No Kill Policy”
“I am against cruelty to animals”
- Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Musthapha
As for the Rabies Ordinance of 1893 and the Dog Registration Ordinance of 1901, a group of activists have, through a court case, recommended to the local government authorities to amend these laws to provide statutory recognition to the “No Kill” Policy and repeal all provision that allows killing. The Animal Welfare Advisory Committee of Local Government Minister Faiszer Mustapha, too has, at the Minister’s request, submitted a draft law to address the matter. This has been done using the globally acknowledged humane method called CNVR (Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release).
The government must give priority to get these laws enacted without further delay. Animal lovers hope that President Sirisena will intervene to ensure that that compassion will be shown to animals with whom we share this land.
“I’m against animal cruelty. I have other national priorities too. But killing animals isn’t the solution for rabies,” Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Musthapha said.
The government must give priority to get these laws enacted without further delay. Animal lovers hope that President Sirisena will intervene to ensure that that compassion will be shown to animals with whom we share this land
“I’m personally against any kind of animal cruelty. It’s unfortunate that the incident took place at the Moratuwa University. However, I’m not wishing to comment on it as it is the Vice Chancellor’s duty. Social media claims that I’m behind this animal slaughter which is false. From the beginning I intervened to offer a better solution to the issue. Animal shelters were to be built according the plan, but these efforts were halted because the animal rights activists showed displeasure.
“Most of the Animal Rights Activists expect us to let stray animals roam freely on the roads. There were dogs under the beds of the Cancer Hospital. We found dogs in religious places and public markets causing nuisance to the public. The public accuse us of not removing these animals from the streets fearing the spread of rabies and other diseases. Animals should be removed from the streets and provided with shelter,” Musthapha said.
Musthapha added that the social media was slinging mud, but warned they couldn’t stop what he was doing. I’m compassionate towards animals. Some classy people are claiming that I’m involved with the killing of animals. The CMC and other municipalities don’t come under my purview. The direct authority lies with the Chief Minister (CM) of the particular province. The Local Government Ministry only has a coordinating responsibility according to the 13th Constitutional amendment. I have decided as a citizen of the country that I too should play my role to put an end to animal cruelty.
Last year I formed an Advisory Committee following many requests made by Animal Rights Activists. It was our main goal to pass the Animal Welfare Bill. During the past two and half months I couldn’t attend to the matter effectively as floods, dengue and garbage became national issues. Those were under my direct authority and I had to commit my time to them. However, I give assurance that I will not delay this issue further. Though I have no authority on the subject, I will coordinate with the relevant CMs and table the Animal Welfare Bill in Parliament soon.
“Dogs and cats were a part of our university life”
- Hassini Silva, Young Animal Rights Activist
I am one of the main persons who has voluntarily undertaken the responsibility regarding the welfare of the dogs at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura since 2010. It’s from this university that I graduated with the degree ‘Bachelor of Science in Business Administration’ (Special) in 2015.
In that capacity I have taken part in re-homing closer to 120 puppies and adult dogs born and bred in the university premises and the surrounding area. I have taken steps to feed them frequently, especially during the Avurudu and Christmas vacation when food is scarce.
Up to now there’s no information regarding the missing dogs. These dogs were our friends during the time we studied there. We loved and cared for them even after leaving the university. We spent our scarce funds to ensure their health and safety. They were more like companions than animals to most of the students and the staff of the university. There were a few puppies who had just recovered from distemper attacks. One already had a new home and was waiting for transport to be sorted out. One dog provided security to the students (especially the girls) during the times we walked around the university at night. There was even one dog who led protests with the boys.
They were a part of our university life, giving us fond memories. Therefore in the name of justice for our lost friends who were cruelly taken away, and for the sake of future undergraduates I sincerely hope this act of cruelty doesn’t set a bad example. This prestigious institute is supposed to inculcate virtues in the minds of the young.
“A group of people complain that the govt is behind killing of strays”
– Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka
When the government attempts to resolve the current issues gradually, some people are making baseless accusations that the Unity Government is killing strays. They claim that during the past regime dogs were slaughtered in large numbers, especially at the time when the IIFA function held in Colombo. I assure that we never did anything like that. Why don’t the ones who have claim to have a passion for animals and speak for their rights come forward and save the lives of the poor strays who are consuming polythene on the streets? Don’t pretend to be Animal Rights Activists on Facebook or on other social media. I kindly request these people to come forward and offer a helping hand in the operation carried out by the local government bodies to ensure the safety of these animals. Strays snarl as authorities turn predators!
Accidents involving animals claim the lives of a large number of motorcyclists annually
“Rs. 200 million allocated per annum to eradicate rabies”
- Public Health Veterinary services (PHVS) Director Ruwani Pimburage
Rabies is 100% fatal. But it’s also 100% preventable, both in human and animal populations. The only preventive measure is to remove the rabies virus from the dog community and minimize its spreading.
Around 600 strays are affected with the rabies virus yearly. To safeguard the people the government has carried out many initiatives.
The PHVS control the stray population using birth control procedures. We are conducting over 150,000 sterilization surgeries per year. Usually a female dog breeds twice a year and has a total litter of at least six puppies. Therefore we control a dog population which is around 900,000. They have been controlled by the PHVS since 2008.
However, we never kill a stray dog unless it’s infected with rabies. Our policy is to sterilize stray animals to control the population, not to kill them. But CMC has powers to remove animals from the streets under the public disturbance law. It’s the local government bodies that have killed animals since1976.
‘Ketamine’, a chemical used as an anesthetic, causes paralysis in animals. This anesthetic is mostly used across the world. Veterinary surgeons (Vet. surgeon) are the only authorised personnel to carry the drug and use it. Even Vet. Surgeons run a risk when administering the drug and might give an overdose to strays because they don’t do clinical tests regarding the animals. However regarding the Moratuwa university incident, if the drug was used by non-Vet. Surgeons, an investigation should be carried out. Unfortunately we don’t have the authority to take prompt action regarding such incidents. In 2016, 21 deaths were reported in connection with rabies. Ten of those deaths were reported during the first half of this year. If humans or animals are affected by the virus, there’s no other solution except destroying them. Any way, the affected will have a natural death after 10 days. The most important fact is to prevent it from spreading. It’s the PHVS’ duty and we never kill an innocent stray.
“Stray dogs are a big issue to motorcyclists”
- Ceylon Motorcyclist Association Secretary Chirantha Amerasinghe,
The issue of stray dogs is indeed a big issue to motorcyclists. However, from our perspective, the issue isn’t limited to dogs, but to animals such as cows as well. Cows are black and night creatures. They possess a coat that absorbs light, so unlike dogs, remain invisible at night. These animals sleep on the road and cross the road without any regard, often being in panic mode. Accidents involving animals claim the lives of a large number of motorcyclists annually. There are instances when dogs and cows attack motorcyclists and have caused major loss of life and also caused injury. We however condemn the killing of animals and don’t approve such methods as the solution. We believe that by installing illuminated collars on such animals many accidents could be avoided.
The only preventive measure is to remove the rabies virus from the dog community and minimize its spreading