CA­NINE CARE – By help­ing the dogs we are help­ing the peo­ple, says Yan­gon An­i­mal Shel­ter

By help­ing the dogs we are help­ing the peo­ple, says Yan­gon An­i­mal Shel­ter

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Joanne Ma

It is hard to avoid the stray dogs on Yan­gon’s streets. Typ­i­cally thin and flea rid­den, they scav­enge for food scraps amidst rub­bish and left­overs thrown on the road­sides.

“When I gave them clean wa­ter, they re­fused to drink it. They are used to drink­ing the sewage,” says Tun Min, a res­i­dent from Bo­tataung Township, Yan­gon. The predica­ment of the strays is de­press­ing to many dog lovers, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can teacher Ter­ryl Just. But Ms Just was adamant that she needed to do more for her furry friends. When she started out as a for­eign teacher in Yan­gon, she had no idea she would be­come the founder of Yan­gon An­i­mal Shel­ter that cur­rently holds more than 600 stray dogs on around two acres of land.

Ms Just’s com­pul­sion to do some­thing emerged from a heart­break over the loss of Lucy.Ms Just built a close re­la­tion­ship with a scrawny stray dog she called Lucy through daily en­coun­ters to and from work. She fed Lucy and her ca­nine fam­ily, got them vac­ci­nated and gave them the love she felt they de­served.

Then sud­denly they were gone and she re­al­ized they had been poi­soned. Since the es­tab­lish­ment of the shel­ter in 2012, Ms Just has worked to save as many Lucys as she can. To run the shel­ter, Just and her co-work­ers rely heav­ily on fund­ing and dona­tions, spend­ing about $7,000 to run the shel­ter each month. “I worry ev­ery month if we will have enough to con­tinue. We are do­ing the best we can, but we have huge fi­nan­cial is­sues,” she tells Mizzima. De­spite that, Just makes sure all the dogs in the shel­ter are well treated and pro­tected.

It is danger­ous for stray dogs on the streets of Yan­gon. They live in un­hy­gienic con­di­tions. They get hit by cars and mo­tor­cy­cles. And, as Just knows too well, they can be poi­soned. In the streets, the ca­dav­er­ous ca­nines are cov­ered with marked wounds, scars and stains of dirt. How­ever, peo­ple usu­ally choose to keep them out of sight. Car ac­ci­dents can eas­ily ruin their legs as they cross the bustling roads. They are the in­nu­mer­able, and yet the in­vis­i­ble at the same time.

“Since it is danger­ous out­side, we want them to spend their en­tire lives here,” says Lin Lin, a care­taker at Yan­gon An­i­mal Shel­ter. He men­tions that it is not usual for the dogs to live healthily and die nat­u­rally in the streets - they are ei­ther killed, poi­soned or they get hit by ve­hi­cles. Lin Lin calls ev­ery dog by their name and pets them of­ten. When asked about the rea­son of work­ing at the shel­ter, he smiles and says: “I have worked here for five years, sim­ply be­cause I re­ally love the dogs.”

“When I gave them clean wa­ter, they re­fused to drink it. They are used to drink­ing the sewage,” says Tun Min, a res­i­dent from Bo­tataung Township, Yan­gon.

Once vis­i­tors en­ter the shel­ter, im­me­di­ately they are wel­comed by barks from be­hind the gates. Even when sep­a­rated by the bars, all the dogs at­tempt to get closer to you, sniff­ing the strangers, with cu­rios­ity and wag­ging tails. At 9 a.m., it is break­fast time. The care­tak­ers open one gate at a time, di­vid­ing the dogs into dif­fer­ent ses­sions, so they don’t fight for their morn­ing meal. Whilst one group is en­joy­ing their oat­meal, oth­ers get im­pa­tient and de­cide to ac­com­pany their bud­dies’ morn­ing with an or­ches­tra of thun­der­ous yelps, goad­ing them to hurry up.

Ev­ery sin­gle dog is ster­ilised at the shel­ter. Dur­ing the Mizzima team’s visit, Zaw Ye Naing, the vet­eri­nar­ian of the shel­ter, who pre­vi­ously worked at Yan­gon Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­dens, per­forms an op­er­a­tion of spay­ing one of the new dogs. There is an in­jec­tion of anes­the­sia, then the dog passes out. Sim­i­lar to hu­man surg­eries, the vet­eri­nar­ian com­pletes his work with an as­sis­tant and a green med­i­cal cloth that cov­ers the body of the pa­tient. The whole process takes around 30 to 45 min­utes. The dog is ex­pected to re­cover around one week af­ter the op­er­a­tion. Zaw comes in twice a week. He, along with the shel­ter man­ager and vet­eri­nar­ian as­sis­tant, had the op­por­tu­nity to go to Phuket in Thai­land to re­ceive med­i­cal train­ing and shel­ter man­age­ment tech­niques, ac­cord­ing to Just. Zaw is re­spon­si­ble for vac­ci­nat­ing ev­ery dog an­nu­ally, ster­il­is­ing and car­ing for the sick and the in­jured. He also does in­jec­tions that clear out the dogs’ fleas and par­a­sites ev­ery month for ev­ery one of them.

The shel­ter looks af­ter dis­abled dogs as well. Ac­cord­ing to the staff, they were all res­cued from traf­fic ac­ci­dents. The crip­pled dogs live in a dis­tinct zone of the shel­ter. There, in­stead of hav­ing muddy ground, the floor is over­laid with a soft, thin plas­tic mat. Even the staff take off their shoes when they set foot in the area. Most of the dis­abled dogs can only use their front legs to move around.

The other spe­cial zone is for the pup­pies. Dif­fer­ent from the skinny, un­der­fed ones in the streets, the pup­pies here yap in all their en­thu­si­asm when a vis­i­tor ar­rives. In­stead of beg­ging for food with hunger­loaded eyes, they jump around and present you with friendly bites and lots of mis­chief. All of the pup­pies were saved from the streets, along with their fam­i­lies. Ac­cord­ing to Zaw, the most com­mon ill­ness found in the stray dogs in Yan­gon is ca­nine dis­tem­per. The virus is highly con­ta­gious and can be spread via the dogs’ blood, urine, saliva, or sim­ply, the air sur­round­ing them. The source of the virus re­mains uniden­ti­fi­able till this day. Dogs who are di­ag­nosed with this dis­ease usu­ally cough fre­quently and suf­fer from res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems. The se­ri­ous cases can lead to death. The shel­ter pro­vides treat­ment to cure these ca­nines, and also vac­cines to in­crease their re­sis­tance.

Even if by ac­ci­dent the ail­ing dogs who suf­fer from ca­nine dis­tem­per bite peo­ple, the ill­ness will not be passed to hu­man be­ings, ac­cord­ing to Zaw. Ca­nine dis­tem­per is only trans­fer­able among the dog com­mu­ni­ties.

Whilst the num­ber of ra­bies cases re­mains un­known in Yan­gon now, given the dread­ful ap­pear­ances of the stray dogs, most peo­ple im­me­di­ately re­late them to this life-threat­en­ing dis­ease when the an­i­mals ap­pear to be sick. This in turn im­poses a great fear among the pub­lic and in­ten­si­fies the dis­like of stray dogs.

Just re­sponds by say­ing, “I would say that this is why we need a spay/ neuter vac­cine cam­paign and we need the lo­cal peo­ple to get in­volved in any way they can. By help­ing the dogs we are help­ing the peo­ple.”

In Yan­gon, presently, the to­tal num­ber of stray dogs is un­clear. Ac­cord­ing to The Ir­rawaddy, there were ap­prox­i­mately 200,000 of them in 2016. To con­trol the rapid pop­u­la­tion growth of the dogs and to re­duce the health threats to­wards Yan­gon peo­ple, the Yan­gon City Developmen­t Com­mit­tee (YCDC) has been poi­son­ing the strays for decades, ac­cord­ing Guardian re­port.

The poi­son­ing pro­gramme had been sus­pended though, af­ter some con­sec­u­tive up­roars of protests against it by dog lovers in Yan­gon, ac­cord­ing to The Ir­rawaddy in July. “Fi­nan­cially at this point we can­not do any ex­pan­sion. Our hope is that the govern­ment will stop poi­son­ing [com­pletely],” says Just when asked about their fu­ture plans. She also men­tions that it will be ideal if they can co­or­di­nate with some of the in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions that are in­ter­ested to ini­ti­ate a spay/neuter vac­cine cam­paign in Yan­gon. “It is truly the only way to ad­dress such a large stray dog pop­u­la­tion,” she adds. Right out­side the shel­ter, stray dogs are seen ev­ery­where. Lit­tle do they know, those big, tall gates keep two worlds apart. But these dogs too de­serve to live in a safe place, to have a shel­ter. So they carry on to prowl and howl, hop­ing some­day they will be heard, and un­der­stood.

Vol­un­teers help an in­jured street dog. Photo: Thet Ko for Mizzima

Dogs re­ceive help. Pho­tos: Thet Ko for Mizzima

Dogs re­ceive help. Photo: Hong Sar for Mizzima

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