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Canine Care in Kathmandu

Nepali children

Having become involved with Lhasa Apsos in the late 1970s, it took only a few years before I found myself in the Himalaya, anxious to learn more about the breed that had so captured my heart. Nepal is a small country bordering Tibet, and with the Chinese occupation of that land a great many Tibetan refugees have made their homes in Nepal and, with them, their dogs.

My interest in the area, its dogs and its culture has taken me there many times, but as the years have progressed I have seen things change dramatically, especially in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. The street dog population has grown out of all proportion so that now there are an estimated 25,000 stray dogs in the Kathmandu Valley alone. These dogs live in a pitiful state, suffering starvation, disease and maltreatment. Some of the dogs carry rabies and other diseases, putting the human population in grave danger. Children who play in the street are at very high risk, as are much-loved pet dogs that are not always restricted in their movements. Around 16,000 people are treated for dog bites each year, and about 200 die from rabies infection.

The Nepalese government is understandably aware that something needs to be done to control the problem, but the measures it has taken are extreme. Strychnine poison is scattered around the city’s streets in lumps of meat. This is eagerly taken by hungry dogs who die horrific, prolonged deaths. Besides the risk to children and pets, there is also great danger of contaminating water supplies.

This is an alarming ‘solution’, and one that in the long term is ineffective as dogs that survive simply repopulate the streets in no time at all. Nepal is one of the poorest countries on earth and so it needs outside help to control the situation in a way that is both safer and more humane. Thankfully a band of dedicated people have joined together to establish the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre, the overseas wing of which is called Kathmandu Animal Trust, familiarly known at ‘KAT’.

The Biologist, Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek, who spent many years of her childhood in Kathmandu, is Patron. Well known as a BBC Television Presenter, Charlotte is dedicated to the cause and I am glad to say that we have recently spent many a long hour on the telephone discussing the ways in which dog-folk could best be of help. Another lovely lady with a veritable heart of gold is Jan Salter, a British-born artist who has lived in Nepal for 35 years. Jan is an Advisor, as is my good friend, Jay Singh, President of the Nepal Kennel Club and a great Tibetan Mastiff and GSD enthusiast. Of course there are many other people involved, all of them with the Charity’s best interests at heart.

After two years of research and hard work, eighteen kennels were built and opened in May 2004, and so the scene was set to find an alternative solution to controlling Kathmandu’s canine population. The aim of KAT is to reduce the stray dog population in Kathmandu by 50% and to eliminate rabies from the streets within five years. To achieve this KAT is undertaking an animal birth control programme (ABC), vaccination of all dogs against rabies and a public education programme. Jack Reece from ‘Help and Suffering’ in India’s Jaipur, spent some time at the centre, for he had experience of having run a highly successful project dealing with a similar situation there. Jack trained up veterinary staff and the ABC programme is now operating along the United World Health Organisation guidelines for management of stray dogs.

Space will not of course permit me to go into great detail about the way KAT is working, but believe me it is already having a significant effect. The programme concentrates primarily on the spaying of bitches, because the number of reproducing females is always the limiting factor in population growth. One un-neutered male can impregnate many females, and the post-operative complications of castration are apparently more difficult to treat. Dogs are kept in the kennels for several days after their operations and are then released into the area in which they were caught. When under the care of KAT, they are also treated for any health problems and vaccinated against rabies. They are given an ear mark to indicate that they have been treated and an individual tattoo for future identification. Presently around 60 dogs can be treated each month and as funds grow it is hoped that this number will be increased.

On a personal note I cannot express deeply enough how difficult it is for we in the West to realise how bad conditions are in Kathmandu, not only for the dogs but for ordinary people too. The average daily income is still only around £1, so however much the Nepali people want to help, few of them have any funds to spare as feeding their own families has to take priority.

This is where we come in. I have promised to do my utmost to engender support in the UK, and hopefully this will also spread to other countries abroad. Already Linda Sherpa, who is in the happy position of having homes in both in Yorkshire and Nepal, has set up a team of fund-raisers in the Halifax region, and I am in the process of drawing together a team in other parts of the UK. However little people can give, it will mount up to sums that can be of enormous benefit. With the Nepalese Government already ‘listening’, hopefully it will not be too long before they will cease their programme of slaughter.

Membership of KAT costs only £5 per annum, or life membership is £50. Indeed a donation of only £4 will pay a large part of the cost of a spaying operation. The team of us who are now working together so well, plan to publish a newsletter to keep people informed of progress and anyone who feels they would like to help should please contact me at the address below. A small poster is now available from me. This has already proved successful in collecting small donations in veterinary surgeries, training clubs and such like. I can also email posters and membership forms to download, with full details of KAT if anyone who would like to learn more.

I hope that the photos I am able to show you here will give some indication of just what can be done. Jumli was a sad little puppy suffering from, amongst other things, a tapeworm measuring metres long. She is pictured here in adulthood enjoying love and attention from Charlotte.

Look, too, at the photographs of Mango. If I had not seen one of my own Lhasa Apsos suffering from Cushings Disease and therefore devoid of coat shortly before her death I, like you I suspect, would have found it difficult to believe that the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of Mango represent the same dog. I can assure you they do.

And before I close, I wonder if there are any of you out there who could help us to secure veterinary medicines that we could send to Nepal? Anything would be welcome, including treatments against internal and external parasites, especially mange.

Please, with your help we can turn the canine world into a kinder place, and can save so many lives. Unless you have one of the Tibetan or related breeds, this project is unlikely to concern you directly, but it is my sincere hope that by bringing the problem to light, some of you will care enough to do something to help, in however small a way.

I can be contacted at Humblebee House, West Felton, Oswestry, Shropshire, SY11 4EN, UK.

Tel: 01691 610906; E-mail and look forward to hearing from you.
Photos by Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek & Jan Salter

Dr Charlotte pictured with Jumli in adulthood