14th May 2000
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Here a woof woof, there a mew mew

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
There is love these strays at the Animal Transit Home in DehiwelaIt was breakfast time and the hunger of the inmates was apparent. Some were sitting in a corner whining, while others were more vociferous. There were those who were spoiling for a fight and as we walked in a quarrel broke out with the 'fighter' attacking the crippled one. Guessing what the problem was, the ladies whom I had accompanied quickly spoke to the two and calm reigned once again.

"They just need a little love and get jealous if we give one, some attention and not the other," said the President of the Animals' welfare and Protection Association, Hemantha Jayatilleke and the proof lay in the way they cavorted around us, licking, sniffing, wagging their tails and bumping into our legs.

Here before our eyes also lay raw evidence of the cruelty of man. Dumb and affectionate creatures taken into homes and then thrown out for one reason or another, but for no fault of their own. Covered by mange or sores, seriously wounded like the one, which had only three legs, they were there in their numbers, young and old. 

In a section separated by a mesh were the cats and kittens, more proof of man's inhumanity, in this country we call a dhammadipa, where we hold debates about vegtarianism and stress that we should not hurt living things, but don't think twice about throwing a dog or a cat on the street. In this religious country, we are reluctant to neuter cats or sterilize bitches, but without a qualm put kittens or pups into bags and unfeelingly drop them at busy junctions, near temples and churches or even throw them over the wall into some unsuspecting neighbour's garden. 

That day at the transit home, the head count was 90, including 13 cats. 

As I watch members of the voluntary association who run the Animal Transit Home at Kadawatha Road, Dehiwela, care and give affection to these strays, childhood memories come back. The memory of hearing, one day on our way to school, the hardly audible cry of an abandoned half-dead, scraggy kitten eyes pecked out by crows and one ear eaten by rats. We are only able to carry and hug it and watch this tiny creature die in our arms. A little girl's tears cannot bring it back to life.

Suddenly I'm jolted to the present, for breakfast has arrived - large trays filled with bread and milk. There is absolute silence for some moments as the doggies tuck in and ravenously lick up the last bit of milk-soaked crumbs.

Ms. Jayatilleke lists the menu for the day: seven pints of milk and 15 kilos of bread for breakfast, 10 to 15 kilos of rice and five or six kilos of chicken or fish and back to bread and milk for dinner. The monthly bill, including food, overheads and salaries of the staff who look after the dogs and cats comes to as much as Rs. 50,000. 

"Donations in any form including danes are always welcome," says Ms. Jayatilleke. They function on donations, bi-annual jumble sales, raffles and sheer willpower. This year the association plans to stage the play, 'Well Mudliyar' in july and hope animal lovers would support them by buying tickets.

The Association's priority is the 're-homing' programme under which they encourage people to 'pick a pet'. 

How do they acquire the animals? "In different ways," says Ms. Jayatilleke. Take the most recent incident. An association member had seen the Colombo Municipality's 'dog van' rounding up 13 strays near the Central Bank in Fort and immediately alerted the other members, who got cracking and managed to get the dogs released to the home.

"Have you seen the terrible suffering the dogs undergo when they are being gassed?" she asks me. "It's a painful death." 

Then what is the solution to the stray dog problem and the resultant rabies menace? "The best way to control the stray population would be to carry out a sterilisation campaign. The answer lies in birth control to eradicate rabies. I know the reluctance towards sterilisation in this religious country, but why is it that no one thinks of the consequences. We don't want to sterilise these animals, but at the same time don't worry too much about dumping them on the street, either to be taken by the dog van and destroyed or face other suffering," Ms. Jayatilleke says.

"We encourage people to let us know when cats or dogs are seen loitering near their homes," she says, adding that the irony is that some people throw unwanted animals over the wall of the home too sometimes.

Once re-homed, the association does not wash its hands off. Teams visit such homes to check on the welfare of the animals, stresses Mrs. Suranganie de Silva who is in charge of the programme. 

The association holds free sterilisation campaigns monthly, but cannot go to the outstations for lack of funds. So animal lovers here's your chance to help out.

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