Jessika Ava is currently in Kathmandu, volunteering with Street Dog Care. Today, we are honored to publish her second article in a series of three exploring the world of street dogs. (Don’t miss her first installment.)
Street Dog Care of Kathmandu, Nepal
In Kathmandu, over 25,000 stray dogs wander the streets, many of them living in miserable states, suffering from malnourishment, disease, and ill treatment. But for the dogs in one tiny Buddhist region of the city, a special gift has been offered (some would say it is their Karma).
Founded in 2009 by the unwavering compassion of one courageous woman, Andrea Bringmann, Street Dog Care (SDC) gives vet care to street dogs who are injured or ill. Since its founding, SDC has helped over 4,500 dogs. Most make a full recovery and return to their lives on the street.
It takes time, an open mind, and dedication to truly understand what SDC is and who the street dogs are. However, that understanding, once gained, can truly change your heart and your life.
I know, because it has changed mine.
When I first encountered SDC, it consisted of nothing other than a tiny Nepali mud house with a mosquito net over the bed, a bucket for a shower, an outdoor squat toilet, and many healing street dogs. Living amongst these dogs, day in, day out, they accepted me as the leader of their pack, and only then did I begin to truly know the street dog. And only then could I begin to truly understand the role and impact of SDC.
Our practices are based on a foundation of Buddhist philosophy, making our mission unique among street dog NGOs (let alone American dog shelters). Rather than mass sterilization and population control, SDC’s mission is to end the suffering that is occurring in the present moment. We focus on treating mange, tumors, screw worm maggots, and injuries. Furthermore, we aim to simply make a better life for these dogs – we give water, food, blankets, sweaters, baths, hugs, love, and names.
In addition to vet care, we also facilitate international adoptions, and Nepali dogs are now living in cities across the globe. However, pet guardianship is a fairly novel concept in Nepal, and adopting out all the dogs is simply not a reality. Local adoption, although on the rise, is still limited because local communities entrenched in a caste culture often stigmatize low caste street dogs in preference for high caste bred dogs.
And so SDC exists to care for the dogs who continue to live on the street. We are, in essence, a no-kill shelter. Even for seemingly life-threatening cases, we do not euthanize. This is based on the principle that it is not up to humanity to decide who should live, and who should die, or when, or how. The impermanence of all circumstances means that all suffering ceases, either through healing or nature’s parting. When death comes, we let it come on its own terms. For dying dogs, we offer pain management, a peaceful space to spend their final days, and a burial in the Nepali jungle.
And sometimes we are surprised. The strength of these dogs mirrors miracles, and recovery happens when least expected: maggot-filled wounds can heal; venereal tumors can be overcome; broken backs and paralyzed legs can walk again. Every day we strive for healing, although every day we must also embrace nature’s outcome.
Although our work is to care for these dogs, SDC – and other street dog NGOs – are also having an impact in changing public perceptions. Sadly, at some point in human history, street dogs began to be perceived as a danger. And in what can only be perceived as a betrayal to our species’ best friend, this attitude has perpetuated through generations – at times, to the extent that street dog populations are unabashedly “eradicated.” (Dare I call it a genocide?) But through the work of those who care for street dogs, attitudes of fear and repugnance are being replaced by acceptance and benevolence. Villagers who once threw rocks at dogs are now leaving food at night; children who used to run in terror are now playing with puppies. Essentially, SDC’s work is transforming street dogs into the community’s dogs.
Some people aim for a day where there are no dogs on the street; they aim for a day when all dogs are living in human homes.
The streets are these dogs’ home. Why would I desire to displace this society from their home? I don’t aim for the day where there is no street dog. I aim for the day when the street dog is not ostracized by humanity, but accepted. I aim for the day when pet and stray are no longer the only two categories. I aim for the day when the street dog is a healthy, happy community dog.
For all that SDC has given to the dogs, the dogs have paid us so much in return. Street dogs have taught everyone at SDC acceptance, patience, gratitude, and the impermanence of all things.
And one street dog in particular, Luna, who adopted me and came with me from Kathmandu to the United States, has taught me how to love and nurture more than any other being.
My work for animals is the price I (graciously) pay for being human. And, in return, my work with street dogs has shown me the joy that resides within my heart and within the heart of all beings.
If you would like to become involved with SDC, please inquire at jessika.ava [at] StreetDogCare [dot] org
Jessika Ava is the author of the policy paper, Beyond the Pail: The Emergence of Industrialized Dairy Systems in Asia, published by Brighter Green. She has been working for animal rights in various capacities for over 10 years, from elephant conservation and primate behavior to food policy and vegan advocacy. In fall 2014 she will begin her PhD in Biostatistics.