The spreading branches of the huge tree she sees from her up-stair sitting room is symbolic to her. It was just a little potted nuga (Ficus benjamina) plant 25 years ago, presented to Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Nalinika Obeyesekere when she and two other not only like-minded colleagues but also friends, Dr. Janaki Collure and Dr. [...]


25 years ago three women joined hands to care for pets

Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Nalinika Obeyesekere looks back at Pet Vet’s journey that has been both enjoyable and tough

Puppy love: Pet Vet in action

The spreading branches of the huge tree she sees from her up-stair sitting room is symbolic to her.

It was just a little potted nuga (Ficus benjamina) plant 25 years ago, presented to Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Nalinika Obeyesekere when she and two other not only like-minded colleagues but also friends, Dr. Janaki Collure and Dr. Vipuli Kulasekera, launched ‘Pet Vet’ in a ground floor backroom of her home.

Those were the beginnings – a small entrepreneurship handled by all women – the three veterinarians and Nalinika’s domestic aide  who “loved” animals helping out. This was the first veterinary multi-doctor practice in Sri Lanka owned, managed and run by women.

Two score years and five later, Pet Vet has moved up a rung from a small to a medium sized business, like the tree that has branched out, becoming a strong player in the garden off Lauries Road to provide a haven to numerous squirrels and birds in the heart of Colombo 4.

“This tree is symbolic of our growth – multi-branched and blossoming into a significant business,” smiles Nalinika, for whom Pet Vet’s journey has been both “enjoyable” and “tough”.

Now 40 staff including a good management team Pet Vet has, having moved from the backroom to several places to finally find a home for its clinic and hospital off Kirula Road in Narahenpita.

Nalinika at the ‘symbolic’ tree. Pic by Eshan Fernando

While it looks for more international accreditation, just last year it received recognition as the first feline accredited practice in South Asia (meaning a cat-friendly clinic) by the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), an organization based in the United Kingdom set up by vets who love cats.

The 25th anniversary celebrations, meanwhile, have been meaningful – for Pet Vet has looked ‘Beyond’ its patients and owners.

“We don’t live in isolation but in an environment that is being battered by climate change and pollution,” says Nalinika.

This is why they decided as vets to go beyond their beloved cats and dogs but consider the diverse environmental issues caused by pollution and global warming and headed south to the Kosgoda beach to engage in a wilding programme as well as toil over backbreaking work and pick up 1,000 pounds of plastic, glass and non-degradable garbage that was strewn along a two-km beach stretch.

Nalinika says that in coordination with the Sheraton Hotel whose support they appreciate very much, they planted 50 trees native to the area in two batches (“as we could not close the clinic”), with the assurance that the hotel will nurture them and look after them. This will ensure sustainability.

“The beach clean-up was also an effort for all of us to look inward and be more conscious in our personal lives over the use of non-degradable stuff. We hope we would be able to look beyond our own parameters and frames and realize that each one of us needs to respect the environment which is vital for our well-being,” she says.

Looking back at the early days of Pet Vet, Nalinika recalls the numerous challenges that small entrepreneurs faced – there was no access to finance; no access to legal and administrative guidance of any kind; and no access to management skills.

“We need good managers as our knowledge as entrepreneurs is not so good. We have good ideas but not management skills. In the SME (small and medium enterprise) sector, we struggled to grow. Those days veterinary medicine was considered to be on the fringes. Our businesses were marginalized, small-scale clinics,” she says, adding that now, however, things are better.

Glad that they could push up professionalism, Nalinika says that in those early days they worked very hard to improve small animal medicine – not only through the university but also “a lot” on their own. Pet Vet’s focus from the start has been quality and also teaching to take the standards of vets, nurses and technicians to a higher level to give holistic care to their patients and good guidance to owners on how to bring up and care for their pets in the best possible way.

The “nicest” part for her and her team is seeing people’s pets from the time they are around six weeks. “We love them and develop a strong association and bond with them………something special starting from a very young age till they are about 10, 11 or 12 years, through to their old age, their whole life.”

Even though Nalinika has treated exotic pets she tries to discourage the rearing of such animals unless the owners have a strong special interest and because these pets require special care.

Pet Vet has now ventured into puppy-care – teaching puppies how to socialize because puppies learn best between six weeks and four months, when they are like a sponge, absorbing everything.

She says that if this period is handled well, the rest of their lives becomes thoroughly enjoyable, for the owner and the puppy. The handling of puppies also becomes stress-free. They will be easy to have at home and easy to take to places. When they are brought to the clinic, the vets can give quality care because they can be examined well without a problem.

“It’s a win-win-win situation for all three – pet, owner and vet,” says Nalinika whose passion has always been animal behaviour. Early in her life she had been discouraged to follow that pathway as many believed that it was not a field where someone could earn a living. Wildlife management and behaviour were a strong attraction and she loved whales and dolphins, but unlike today, there were no opportunities.

Zero regrets, she has though, about the line of work she has chosen but also for deciding to stay in wonderful Sri Lanka. The way forward for the country is providing high quality training and care for companion animals.

Personally, even though she still goes ga-ga over whales and dolphins, her personal favourites on terra firma are German Shepherds, even though they are not a healthy breed.

Meanwhile  her current pet, Ginger, very much a Sri Lankan breed who has not only given me a warm welcome but also attempted to place a wet kiss on my face when I arrived, is fast asleep on its own sofa downstairs with its legs up in the air in gay abandon as I leave.


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