The plight of stray dogs in Colombo and surrounding areas, and the Western Province is one we often hear about. However, this doesn’t mean that the strays are better or worse off in other areas of the country.
On a recent visit to Jaffna, The Morning Brunch noticed a surprising number of stray dogs in the area and reached out to Vidya, an animal welfarist, to learn more about how the population and treatment of stray dogs is handled in northern Sri Lanka.
Vidya, who was formerly involved with the Facebook community Animal Lovers of Jaffna, explained that part of the problem with the stray population in Jaffna is a lack of animal welfare organisations and groups. While there are two dog shelters in Jaffna, one in Ariyalai (run by the Thiyahie Charitable Trust), and one in Iyakachchi, Kilinochchi (run by a charity called Sivapoomi), there is nevertheless a lot of reliance on the Government for support with curbing the stray dog population, which comes with its own challenges.
An attitude that greatly hinders the curbing of stray dog populations, and one that is not exclusive to the North, is that of sterilisation being a sin. This, combined with a lack of resources, creates a problem with more and more puppies being born each year and abandoned in markets or outside the homes of animal welfarists.
In the North, people tend to adopt male dogs as guards, and when dogs prove to be too playful, this can also lead to them being abandoned elsewhere. The preference for male dogs also leaves many female dogs homeless, which also leads to more puppies being born into the stray population each year.
The initiatives to curb stray dog populations
Vidya shared that because of the lack of formal animal welfare organisations, much reliance is on the Government, which faces its own challenges when taking steps to control stray dog populations.
One of the challenges the Government faces is the lack of catchers to assist in rabies prevention and sterilisation programmes in the North. The lack of access to dog catchers means that many of the dogs that are treated and sterilised are owned by families who lack the resources to care for their pets on their own, and this, while a positive step, doesn’t always translate to a major impact in controlling stray dog populations.
Sterilisation programmes have also changed hands in recent years; initially under the purview of the Department of Animal Health, it was taken back over by the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medicine, and this switch also sometimes creates gaps in the effectiveness of programmes.
The Ministry of Health also outsources rabies prevention and sterilisation to independent private organisations, and while this is commendable, private organisations are only able to conduct programmes infrequently and as their own resources dictate, and this also impacts efficiency in the long term.
This is also where the lack of regional animal welfare organisations comes into play, Vidya commented. In the South, there are organisations and they are able to do more on a regional level to curb populations.
Stray dogs and the community
Most people tend to attack stray dogs, Vidya explained, or throw sticks and stones to discourage them, and strays are also underfed which sometimes prompts them to attack.
The dog shelters are also overwhelmed, as are the local animal welfarists, who often find themselves inundated with puppies left outside their doors during puppy season.
On a community level, Vidya explained that there is a great need for more awareness programmes in schools and villages, as well as a need for affordable veterinary services.
Government and other sterilisation programmes take place once a year or so, but this doesn’t solve the problem, because many people are often unable to bring their pets in on the specified date, and often can’t afford veterinary services unless it is government-supported.
A more tolerant view towards stray populations is needed, along with the resources to be able to effectively control new populations.
PHOTOS Saman Abesiriwardana