A Health Ministry plan to provide shelter and veterinary care for hundreds of stray dogs in Anuradhapura has run into controversy with a Rs. 6 million shelter packed with sick, dying and dead animals on the verge of closure. The shelter was set up in mid-2013 at Nellikulama, a village 13km from Anuradhapura, as a [...]



Mishandled dream of caring for sacred city strays turns to nightmare

‘There were dogs eaten by maggots, puppies dead in pools of blood’

A Health Ministry plan to provide shelter and veterinary care for hundreds of stray dogs in Anuradhapura has run into controversy with a Rs. 6 million shelter packed with sick, dying and dead animals on the verge of closure.

The shelter was set up in mid-2013 at Nellikulama, a village 13km from Anuradhapura, as a treatment centre for weak and sick strays but it turned became a neglected dumping ground harbouring more than 400 dogs.

Haven or hell hole? Pix by Athula Bandara

The shelter, which has one caretaker and currently accommodates some 100 dogs, is on verge of closure following complaints from villagers, animal rights groups and veterinarians with the threat of rabies from the animals.

An animal rights activist who wished to stay unnamed said more than 400 dogs had perished before services stepped in a few weeks ago and found another 150-200 dogs mange-ridden and weak.

“Extremely weak and sick dogs were immediately transferred to animal care centres. There were dogs eaten by maggots, puppies dead in pools of blood; there were severe wounds that had not been treated.

“There are plans to move some from Anuradhapura to Ahangama, Kandy as the dogs are in need of immediate veterinary care. Now there are about 80-100 dogs at the shelter being treated,” she said.

She said Rs. 6 million had been spent on this shelter, which had been established as a medical treatment centre for strays from Anuradhapura and surrounding areas. A further allocation of Rs. 3 million was in the pipeline.

The project was initially under the Health Ministry, then handed over to the Provincial Department of Health of the North Central Province and then to the Anuradhapura Municipal Council.

“It is not an easy task to take care of about 300-400 strays. Shelters for strays are not recommended. They should be treated, vaccinated, sterilised and released. A dumping ground makes things worse,” the animal rights activist said.

Veterinary officers in Anuradhapura estimate that there are about 8,000-10,000 stray dogs in the Anuradhapura municipal area.
Anuradhapura Municipal Council Commissioner SampathDharmadasa said the rabies programme in Anuradhapura was a failure and that the number of dog bites in the area had increased.

“This was not meant to be a dog orphanage but a medical centre. But with an uncontrollable amount of dogs in the area people used to bring and dump them in this shelter. This has led villagers constantly complaining of night howling, barks, maggot infestation and diseases,” he said.

He said the shelter, built in on 4.5 acres, would be forced to close due to public pressure.

“The millions spent on this could have been utilised better with support from authorities. Not only in the holy area but in schools, hospitals and public places there are gatherings of about 50 or more strays. We don’t know whether they are vaccinated,” he said.
Last year, a group of 11 students from Anuradhapura Central College was bitten by a rabid dog.

Veterinary surgeons allege that the shelter had been initiated by a doctor in the Health Ministry and that there had been no consultation with veterinarians.

Veterinarians and Department of Animal Production and Health also accuse the Health Ministry for the lack of co-ordination that has led to rabies being a menace and more difficult to eradicate by 2016.

“Although vaccines against rabies are available in Colombo and its suburbs, unfortunately Post Exposure Prophylaxix (PEP) (medical treatment after being exposed to the virus) is not readily available in rural areas. The Health Ministry is spending huge amounts on importing vaccines annually and is not enthusiastic about getting the assistance of veterinarians and to recruit extra manpower to conduct veterinary clinics,” said Sri Lanka Veterinary Association (SLVA) Secretary Dr. Athula Mahagamage.

There is a patchwork of anti-rabies programmes involving different agencies and little co-ordination between them.

The Director-General of Department of Animal Production and Health, Dr. Kumar de Silva, said that despite a Cabinet paper on the spread of rabies in 2012 that outlined an action calling on the services of agencies such as the Ministry of Livestock and Rural Community Development, which includes his department, his role had been minimal.

“The Health Ministry is yet to give us specific responsibility. We have about 400 veterinary surgeons and are ready to provide technical assistance. There have been no working committees set up. The Health Ministry is handling all the vaccination procurement, contracts and tenders. The collaborative partners are yet to know what measures have been and are to be taken to carry out this programme,” he said.

He said the Department of Animal Production and Health (DAPH) launched an anti- rabies campaign with the Sri Lanka Veterinary Association (SLVA) following 300,000 doses of rabies vaccines from the World Animal Health Organisation vaccine bank.

One heavily-funded eradication project, the National Anti-Rabies Programme, receives local and foreign funding. The Health Ministry allocates about Rs. 1 billion for the project annually. That programme also receives funding as well as vaccines from organisations such as the World Health Organisation.

The country records about 40 human deaths annually from rabies and about 2000 dog bites daily. Out of 2.5 million canine population 60 per cent are strays and another 20 per cent are ownerless domestic dogs.

Dr. P.A.L. Harischandra, Director of Health Ministry’s Public Health Veterinary Services which handled the National Anti-Rabies Programme, said the Health Ministry last year spent about Rs. 500m on treating rabies victims, Rs. 125m on the surgical sterilisation/neutering of dogs, Rs. 30m on dog vaccination and Rs. 1.97m on chemical sterilisation.

“The Health Ministry is conducting its programme while other institutions too also conducting their rabies control programmes,” he said and did not comment on the joint Cabinet Paper.

CHOGM dogs dumped far away from Colombo

Animal rights activists charge authorities with having dumped the stray dogs rounded up in Colombo prior to Commonwealth Summit in unfamiliar terrain in Madampe, Puttalam and Ahangama.

“We are still unaware of the locations of all dogs that were captured and taken from Colombo city. We have found 15 of them in Madampe and continue feeding them. Another six are in a safe location in Ahangama,” said the Secretary of the Animal Protection Trust, Sharmini Ratnayake.

She said that another 22 strays taken from Battaramulla had been let loose in Ahangama.

“During CHOGM period, stray dogs in the city had to go through harrowing experiences, and now have ended up in places they are not used to,” she said.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.