PET PROJECT

JANEY LOWES GAVE UP HER LIFE IN THE WEST TO CARE FOR SICK AND IN­JURED STREET DOGS IN SRI LANKA. AND THE BRI­TISH-BORN VET HAS NO RE­GRETS, HAV­ING FOUND HER ‘PLACE ON THE PLANET’.

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Twiglet, Lucky, Woody, Dob­bie and even Bum-hole Bart are lol­lop­ing about with dopey grins on their faces – as dogs do the world over when they’re healthy, happy and well-loved.

But these five are es­pe­cially for­tu­nate. They’re among the 7000 street dogs – out of an es­ti­mated three mil­lion in Sri Lanka – that have been sub­ject to the ex­pert at­ten­tion of the Wecare an­i­mal hospital in the south coast vil­lage of Talalla.

While wait­ing there for adop­tion they are neutered, vac­ci­nated, de-wormed and patched up for the thou­sand and one shocks their flesh is heir to on the is­land’s roads and al­ley­ways.

Some of them have been to hell and back, says the hospital’s founder, Bri­tish vet­eri­nary surgeon Janey Lowes.

There are an es­ti­mated 26,000 traf­fic ac­ci­dents a year in­volv­ing dogs, leav­ing many in­jured and in pain, but they can have ev­ery­thing from ra­bies to mag­got wounds, dis­tem­per, bro­ken limbs, skin dis­eases, wounds from wild boar at­tacks and vene­real tu­mours.

Janey and her team stitch them up, get them func­tion­ing again and, more of­ten than not, re­turn them to their patch of street where they are, she says, very happy.

“They love their life: they are free and pretty much ev­ery dog has a food source – which is one of the joys of liv­ing in a

Bud­dhist coun­try,” she says. “The peo­ple are so gen­er­ous. They will give food to all the dogs at the end of the day.”

Their sta­ple diet is the same as the hu­man pop­u­la­tion’s – rice and curry: they turn their noses up at com­mer­cial pet food, Janey says.

It’s the do­mes­ti­cated dogs she feels sorry for.

“The street dogs have free­dom com­pared to ‘owned’ dogs here that peo­ple buy and keep chained up or caged for much of the day,” she says. “They have zero quality of life. If I were a dog I’d much rather be a street dog. The only thing that’s miss­ing is some­one to take re­spon­si­bil­ity when they’re sick or in­jured.”

The state of the an­i­mals is no re­flec­tion on lo­cal cul­ture, Janey says. Sri Lankans are not cruel or neg­li­gent, but they face their own struggle to sur­vive.

And in re­cent months they have had other things to worry about, she says.

“The Easter Sun­day at­tacks left the whole coun­try feel­ing a mul­ti­tude of emo­tions but mostly we are all just over­whelm­ingly sad, plus a lit­tle dazed and con­fused,” she says.

“It would be wrong of us to worry about how it af­fects us at Wecare, as so many fam­i­lies have lost their loved ones. So our fo­cus is on con­tin­u­ing to be a part of the com­mu­nity in Sri Lanka and en­sur­ing that we do our bit for any­one, hu­man or an­i­mal, that needs sup­port.”

Janey, now 30, ar­rived for a surfing hol­i­day at the nearby Talalla Re­treat five years ago and was shocked at the state of some of the an­i­mals. She felt the urge to do some­thing, re­turned home, asked for a sab­bat­i­cal from her coun­try prac­tice and made plans to be in

Sri Lanka for a year, to neuter and vac­ci­nate as many dogs as pos­si­ble.

“The plan was to ad­dress the big­ger pic­ture, of pop­u­la­tion con­trol,” she says. “But then my duty of care kicked in, be­cause I hadn’t re­alised quite how many dogs were sick and in­jured and quite how hor­rific this stuff was.

“I got this property be­cause I had 13 dogs in my house and was op­er­at­ing on them at home. The hospital build­ing was re­ally cheap, and the only place that had four walls.”

Af­ter a video of her work went vi­ral she got some more fund­ing.

“Now, while this looks re­ally ba­sic, it’s one of the best-equipped an­i­mal hos­pi­tals on the is­land, which is a scary thought,” she says.

Janey spent her early child­hood on a beef and sheep farm and worked as a vet in New­cas­tle for three years be­fore com­ing to Sri Lanka, where “it was like start­ing all over again”.

“It’s been har­row­ing at times,” she says. “You have the cra­zi­est ups and downs. It’s trau­matic. Some of the things we see are just hideous. But we can’t judge things by our Western ideas of what ‘cared for’ looks like.

“The ex­tent of the cases is not some­thing you’d ever see in the UK, where you get quite comfy, and feel com­pe­tent and con­fi­dent in your de­ci­sions. Here it’s a different story.”

Her pro­fes­sional evo­lu­tion has meant life-and-death de­ci­sions have be­come less hasty.

“I’m more ready to see what’s pos­si­ble when you give things a shot,” she says. “I re­alise that dogs are a lot more re­silient than we give them credit for.

“Here I’m re­ally in­clined to give them a sec­ond chance. They’re such lit­tle fighters.

It’s tough on the street some­times and if they have got to this point, who am I to say it’s their time?”

Al­though the hospital al­ways needs money to keep go­ing, para­dox­i­cally, she is more free to make clinical de­ci­sions than in the UK. An op­er­a­tion in the West could cost thou­sands, and the own­ers might baulk at the expense. But in the Sri Lanka hospital all that is needed is anaes­thetic and su­ture ma­te­rial – the surgeon’s time comes free.

“Here it’s re­ally just about what is in the dog’s in­ter­ests. It’s quite free­ing, re­ally,” Janey says. “It’s not a case of saving ev­ery dog but of be­ing able to pro­vide some quality of life for them ... It’s not that we have to think of putting them to sleep, but of re-hom­ing, with

Lucy (above) and Char­lie (top) in their ban­dages. a fam­ily, or even keep­ing them here and un­der spon­sor­ship – which we don’t do very of­ten.”

Wecare World­wide has 17 staff, one in the UK and sev­eral work­ing full-time at Talalla, some of whom have given up high-pay­ing jobs in the West to work for Sri Lankan salaries. Sev­eral lo­cal peo­ple are be­ing trained, and a Sri Lankan vet pro­vides good sup­port.

The hospital re­ceives spon­sor­ship in the form of equip­ment from vet­eri­nary com­pa­nies and from many Sri Lankans “be­cause peo­ple love what we do”, but most do­na­tions come from hol­i­day­mak­ers who have vis­ited and seen what they do first-hand.

The nearby Talalla Re­treat is owned by By­ron Bay busi­ness­man Lau­rie Rose, who was an early trus­tee of the Wecare char­ity. The re­sort and its well-be­ing and yoga af­fil­i­ates con­tinue to sup­port the hospital with a per­cent­age of their income, and by sug­gest­ing guests visit and see what they do.

“The staff at Talalla are just in­cred­i­ble. They’re gold,” Janey says. “They get that peo­ple can have a hol­i­day and give back to the com­mu­nity as well.”

She wakes up con­tent ev­ery day, “very much know­ing that this is my place on the planet”, but also aware that there’s al­ways more to do. On challengin­g days she surfs, to burn off the stress.

For in­for­ma­tion about do­nat­ing to Wecare, visit www.we­care­world­wide.org.uk/do­nate.

“HERE I’M RE­ALLY IN­CLINED TO GIVE THEM A SEC­OND CHANCE. THEY’RE SUCH LIT­TLE FIGHTERS. IT’S TOUGH ON THE STREET SOME­TIMES AND IF THEY HAVE GOT TO THIS POINT, WHO AM I TO SAY IT’S THEIR TIME?”

PUPPY CUD­DLES: Bri­tish vet­eri­nary surgeon Janey Lowes cares for sick dogs in south­ern Sri Lanka.

Back from left, Mr Sisira (com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer) and Su­mudu (cleaner); front left, Janey (founder and head vet­eri­nary surgeon), Lisa (mar­ket­ing and PR), Emily (vet nurse), Jo (clinic man­ager) and Ka­sun (an­i­mal care as­sis­tant) with Dot, Seal, Lily, Lucky and Bon­nie.

Woody, who had tick fever and worms, was treated and re-homed. He is pic­tured, at right, with his new fam­ily.

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