The pride of the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, reinforced by a primary component of the Sri Lankan Flag, is its compassion. The very element is nurtured into our minds and hearts and is ceaselessly preached across religion and culture. Yet, this comes into question upon witnessing the growing congregations of starved stray dogs that meekly seek shelter in parks, temples and the streets, while surviving on scraps of garbage.
Unbeknown to most, the street dogs of Sri Lanka are largely populated by a local pedigree that goes by various names, Ceylonese Hound, Sri Lankan Hound, Sri Lankan Rice Hound, Sinhala Hound and Sinhalese Hound. Widely referred to by the degrading term, “Wal Ballo”, they are known for their intelligence and ability to survive. In the times of Kings and Queens, the Sri Lankan Hounds were prized for their companionship and their hunting skills. So treasured that they were gifted to foes to forge alliances. This local pedigree, consisting of various sub-breeds, has since lost its rank among the pedigrees and with that, their perceived worth. This leaves us to aimlessly wonder - how did we get here?
Having evolved for centuries since the 5th Century B.C. (Embark Magazine, 2014), the Sri Lankan Hound is unquestionably the most well-suited pedigree to our climate, while requiring the least amount of grooming in comparison. They have adapted to survive the toughest of environments. A modern depiction of this would be, how dogs in the busy hub of Colombo patiently await traffic lights by the edge of zebra crossings, while men hastily jaywalk amidst incoming vehicles. Loyal and affection to the ends of the earth, they are simply an effortless pet to have. Yet, locals actively opt for and lust after needy pedigrees that require constant care while perpetually pawing at their wallets.
Image Source: Embark Magazine, 2014
This was made quite evident to me last year. To those of you who do not know me, I run an online pet adoption service named ‘Adoptees LK’; and quite recently, I narrowed down the services to exclude pedigree adoption. This was fueled by an instance in which I published two posts requesting help to home two separate abandoned stray dogs in dire situations, within mere hours of each other. While one gained quite a bit of traction and engagement, and yielded countless inquiries, the other simply obtained a few likes. And yes, you guessed it, the former was a pedigree. This opened my eyes to understand that when a Sri Lankan Hound is in the presence of a pedigree dog, they seem to stand no chance. Pedigree animals are almost always prioritized, and sadly enough, they seem to cast an invisibility cloak on our local dogs.
The vain assumption that pedigree dogs are superior is deep rooted in the ill-informed mindsets of Sri Lankans. The supposed lack of prestige and social class in boarding a Sri Lankan Hound is sickening. The vanity of wanting to purchase a pedigree dog while paying no heed to the innocent packs of local street dogs is resound. It’s so disturbing that it has created a divide within the animal welfare community that has fallen into the trap of shaming those who own pedigree animals. A rabbit hole that unfortunately leads to disliking pedigree animals altogether.
Having survived this rabbit hole, it’s a difficult process to regain your unbiased adoration for all animals alike. In understanding that pedigree is a flawed class system that was essentially created to capitalize from animal commercialization and unethical breeding practices, realization coaxes that this is no fault of the innocent animals whose very lives are at stake.
It is, however, incredibly heartbreaking to witness our local pups being adopted to serve the sole purpose of being a guard dog, while pedigree dogs lead a luxurious and adored life indoors, typically for the sake of their owner’s vanity and pride. Of course, this is a mass generalization, in acknowledging that the horrors faced by pedigree animals are all too real. But that’s an entirely different article altogether.
This overwhelming admiration for pedigree dogs has vastly contributed to the growing population of stray Sri Lankan Hounds, by casting them to the streets over the lack of preference. The core issue being, Sri Lanka’s incessant need to deem pets as accessories, rather than registering them as a part of their family. The abrupt calls for rehoming pedigree dogs over their adoptive homes having difficulties only confirms this. If pets were truly considered family, as you wouldn’t rehome your children, you wouldn’t rehome your pet, be it financial issues or moving houses. A crude analogy to make, but reality nonetheless. And as far as accessories are concerned, pedigree animals are in the lead with Sri Lankan Hounds exhaustedly panting after them from miles away. As for cats, the case isn’t that much different.
Save A Paw, run by Shivanthi Sansoni, is an organization with a primary focus in rescue work. They have three shelters in Ja-ela, Padduka and Horana, which are brimming with loving dogs and pups. Along with doing rescues, they also specialize in rehoming, rehabilitation, and fighting abuse cases in the court of law. And on top of that, they do daily feeding rounds to a mass of grateful stray dogs.
To provide some context on Shivanthi, she does incredible work in rescuing injured dogs who’ve suffered from critical accidents, and ensures a full recovery of the majority of the cases. The bills for the care of the rescues are astounding to say the least, but that doesn’t stop her from giving it her all. She’s extremely passionate in her work to better animal welfare in Sri Lanka, and it shows. She’s strong, she’s bold and she’s an icon. Following are the excerpts:
Q. What are your thoughts on the 'Sri Lankan Hound' and the overall recognition of the local pedigree? Do you believe the latter contributes to the stray population?
Firstly, the Sri Lanka Hounds are our very own national dog. They lead long lives and are healthy, strong and unique. Unfortunately, Sri Lankans do not value them as they do not carry a pedigree certificate. If they had such a certificate, their destiny would have been tremendously different today. Needless to say, our national dog shouldn’t need a certificate to be valued or adopted. That being said, the two most significant contributions to the stray population are the lack of sterilizations (which is gradually improving) and the refusal to adopt our own dogs.
Q. Why do you think pedigree dogs are being preferred over our local dogs? Have you faced any situations where people chose to adopt pedigree dogs over local dogs at your shelter?
I would like to highlight that most people adopt pedigree dogs for stature, without so much as knowing the extent of care and grooming they require. We have come across so many pets who have been neglected, abused and harassed by their very owners. In this context, pedigree dogs and our national dogs suffer indifferently.
We’ve come across many situations where pedigree animals were preferred over Sri Lankan Hounds. If we put up a post for a pedigree dog, there are generally hundreds of comments, whereas our Sri Lankan Hounds have almost no one to adopt them. It’s the mentality of Sri Lankans; this is what we’re trying to change, towards locals better receiving our own national dogs. We’ve intercepted individuals who’ve wanted to adopt pedigree dogs on many occasions, and attempted to change their mind by explaining why exactly they should provide a home to a Sri Lankan Hound instead.
Q. What would you say to homes looking for a pet?
We have so many dogs residing at our shelters, actively looking for homes. As we always say, adopt a dog whom we have given a second chance at life to, after all the horrors they have gone through. Their stories are so very sad, and we want them to finally get the happy ending they deserve. Furthermore, once one is adopted, it opens up a spot for us to help another animal in need.
Save A Paw relies solely on donations and volunteer work. To further their cause, you can donate funds, dry rations, medication, good condition bedding, mats and chairs, or sponsor vet bills or a worker, or volunteer at their petting farm at “Charlie's Home”. Make sure to support them by following them on their social media pages where they actively share updates on their passionate and impactful work.