About Chuchepati post-earthquake camp
Since the April 25th earthquake in 2015, I have been deeply connected with community dogs in Nepal. I still remember how beautiful the way I first met Snowy (a street dog) in Chuchepati post-earthquake camp.
The camp was set up since the earthquake right next to the five star hotel Hyatt Regency Kathmandu. A big department store Bhatbhateni is also sitting just across the road. The magnificent Himalayan snowy mountian ranges are hovering over the background of the camp. As a great contrast to all these features around, life in a camp without electricty and water supplies was another story. Our community dog project 2016 was interwoven with the daily lives of those who were living in the camp, and the closely knitted relationship between the locals and street dogs. I am still in awe of the resilience of the people who lived in the camp, coping the pouring downfall of rain in the monsoon and the bitterly cold weather in winter. The children were particularly phenomenal. The experience of ‘living’ in the camp could only made us more humble and grateful for what we have. At the same time, if without the involvement of the local community, the project would not be the same.
Had I have a team, a sound budget, an established local partnership, and a concrete plan before I headed off to Nepal? It was a big ‘No’. The foundation I had was the works for street dogs I accomplished on an individual capacity in 2015, focusing on rescue and treatment, and the on-going networking since then. However, I did have ideas what I would like to achieve for this trip. The main goal was moving from an individual efforts to collaborative intervention, and shifting from rescue and treatment to Catch-Neuter-Return (CNR) programme. I can’t be thankful enough to those volunteers, both local and overseas, who assisted the project at different points of time. Without their contributions, we wouldn’t be able to achieve what we have done below.
Rescue and Treatment
I was clear that the project would focus on CNR programme, however, it was almost impossible for me to walk away from an injured or sick street dog. The problem was there were too many of them. Is rescue and treatment the ultimate solution? I’m afraid not. It’s remedial and comes with a high price both in monetary term and the well-being of our furry friends.
We saw puppies born and died due to starvation, diseases, and car hit. We picked up dogs who were sick and injured due to mange, parvovirus, dehydration, different infections, and various issues everyday. By far, road accident was the most gut wrenching case to me. The trauma and pain the injured dogs endured was terrific, not to say the options of treatment for them were very limited in Nepal. I buried deceased dogs by myself many times and some as a result of road accients. I was in tears.
We tried to treat the dogs on the street including giving medicines daily for some cases. It sounded crazy as it’s like working in an open dog shelter without fencing. Was it ideal? Probably not, but it is what it is. It’s Nepal, not Australia or Hong Kong. It’s luxury to have all sick and injured dogs taken to shelters due to the sheer number of dogs in need of care and limited available capacity in shelters. That is exactly why I said rescue and treatement is not the ultimate solution. Every single shelter will be filled up quickly in stiuations like Nepal. In sayng that, we definitely still need rescue and treatment, and I really appreciae the works done by some dedicated local organisations.
In our project, for severe cases we couldn’t treat on the streets, we took them to local vet and tried our best to find a shelter to look after them such as Kopan Community Dog Welfare. We even ‘smuggled’ some puppies into our guesthouse to protect them from the freezing cold temperatue outside in their journey to recovery. We were delighted that all these puppies recovered at the end. In total, we managed to treat about 35 community dogs during our stay in Nepal. Not so many things can give you the same level of joy as seeing a sick or injured dog stood strongly on its four legs again, it’s pricelss. I will soon share the stories of some rescued cases in our blog, stay tuned.
As I wrote previously in another post, I believe the long term solution and the welfare of street dogs in Nepal utimately lie in the hands of local communities, and that’s one of the reasons why I use the term community dogs. Another reason is that they are truly part of the community. If you have been Nepal, you would know the co-existence between the locals and dogs. Upholding this belief, community pariticpation was our over-arching principle in the project. We would try to get the community involved in every opportuntities.
The post-earthquake camp was like our office/open shelter. We started working there from the morning till late evening everyday. We became part of the community and we grabbed every opportunity to deliver community education. For instance, we had discussions with the locals upon incidents of dog bite, why spaying programme was good to the community and so on. But the best way to deliver community education probably was to get them involved. There were families in the camp cooking food for dogs so that we could give medicines, and some families taking care of dogs after spaying surgery. We also transformed an empty plot of land in the camp into a ‘Dog Friendly Space’ for people and dogs to mingle, and for the locals to learn something about street dogs including spaying, rabies, and proper ways of interaction with dogs.
One of the highlights of our community intervention was the ‘Children Love Kukur’ programme. ‘Kukur’ means dog in Nepali language. We recruited 10 local children volunteers and few young people as leaders, provided them with training and got them involved in looking after community dogs in need. The children were brilliant carers and super ‘animal police’. They could take you to a dog you had been looking for, and they could tell you what had happened to the dogs on that day. However, the main objective of ‘Children Love Kukur’ programme was not focusing on the actual care works to the dogs, but planting a seed of love towards animals into the heart of each child volunteer.
As I mentioned, the direction of the project was focusing on CNR programme rather than rescue and treatment for this trip. Is CNR the ultimate solution? I’m afraid it’s still a ‘No’ because there are other problems to be fixed further upstream of the whole street dog issue. Also, there are mulitple factors contributing to the over-population of street dogs. CNR programme alone cannot fix the problem if without other interventions going hand in hand. In sayng that, CNR is still an effective and humane way to manage the growth of street dog population. It in turn prevents our furry friends from suffering due to starvation, diseases and road accidents. Ideally, a harmonious co-existence between the humans and dogs can be achieved.
In the project, we tried different approaches for carrying out CNR programme. For the first batch of street dogs we spayed, we transported them to a shelter (Sneha’s Care) for surgery and after care. We then tried using a local private vet clinic (Animal Medical Centre) to carry out the spaying. Finally, we ran a 5-day on-the-field CNR programme right in the middle of the camp. They all have upsides and downsides. I will share my experience later on. For now, I want to focus on the CNR programme on location as it was the highligt of the project and our preferrable method of running CNR programme in the future.
In January 2017, we teamed up with a local organisation Nepal Animal Welfare and Research Centre (NAWRC) to run a five-day CNR programme in Chuchepati post-earthquake camp. In that five-day programme, we desexed 51 dogs from the camp and surrounding streets. We were satisfied with the outcome in many ways. Organising a mobile CNR camp with minimal set up is challenging enough, not to say in a location without electricity and water supplies. It sounded crazy in terms of sterilisation standard for undergoing surgery. I wouldn’t be surprised this idea was confronting to some western vets with a very different standard. I’m not saying that the it is an acceptable standard in Nepal, they could absoultely do better than that. It was just what we could manage in that specific circumstances.
Although I’m not a veterinary professionals, organisation and problem solving skills are transferrable to different fields, and determination can always help us get through hurrdles. We also had NAWRC taking charge of the surgery part of the camp with their vet and staff. After consultation with NAWRC and the local community, we decided to convert a communal area in the camp to our surgery room for the programme. We used rickshaw to transport dogs in and out from spiralling small streets nearby. Local families and volunteers were involved in setting up the camp, picking up dogs they were familiar with, making tea for the programme workers, carrying water from public tap, sleeping on-site at night time to provide security and many other tasks. Our chidlren volunteers of course would not be left out. They were involved in various tasks including some post-surgery care as they are the very best friends of many dogs in the community. Together with other street dogs we handled before the CNR camp, 66 dogs were de-sexed in the project.
When I createad a small apeal on Facebook for de-sexing 20 dogs as the target, the response from friends, friends of friends and someone I even don’t know personally was far from my expectation. The support I received was three times more than I expected. As I have learnt from another rebuilding project I am invlovled in Nepal, funding is not the only resource to make a programme successful particularly for an overseas one. Without the trust and commitment from local organisations and veterinary professionals to work together, our good intention would be futile. Love towards our animal friends do not have boundary. It can overcome the challenges arising from physical distance, language barriers and cultural differences.
If you would like to support our future project for community dogs in Nepal, there are different ways you can do so: