It is a chilly foggy morning in the outskirts of Kathmandu. Around a dozen dogs of different breeds bask in the warm November sun outside a makeshift house overlooking the Shivapuri hill.
A handful of them are wearing red collars. As a Tibetan Mastiff barks at a stranger at the door, a woman and few children are cosseting their canine friends.
But this is no ordinary house and the dogs are no ordinary house pets. Each of the dog has a story to tell at the one-of-its-kind charity dedicated to eliminating cruelty against animals in Kathmandu, home to around 20,000 ‘stray’ dogs.
“Take for example this dog here Snoopy,” says Alicja Izydorczyk, a volunteer veterinarian at the centre. “She has been with us for a few days now after being brought here by few local children. She has given birth to a litter of puppies,” she informs adding that Snoopy will soon be spayed after her reproductive organs recuperate from the pregnancy.
Snoopy like other community dogs that are brought to the centre from areas inside Kathmandu’s ring road are treated for any ailments they may have, vaccinated against rabies, sterilised and sent back to the community. They are no longer a threat to public health.
“KAT centre is not a shelter for dogs. We vaccinate dogs against rabies and provide treatment for any disease they may be carrying to send them back to their neighbourhood, a place where they belong,”says Izydorczyk.
Four days a week, KAT ‘dog catchers’ visit the Capital’s core areas to look for dogs that do not have their left ear notched -- a sign that they are sterilised. “Our aim is to stop cruelty against animals and stabilise the stray dog population in Kathmandu. As is it impossible to get all of the dogs, we want to spay at least 70 per cent of the canine population, especially females, in a given area.”
Dogs in the Valley have traditionally been seen as community guards. However, the locals, who feed them regularly, do not take them to the vet when they are ill nor vaccinate them. That’s where the centre, established eight years ago by British Artist Jan Salter, steps in. Not only does it vaccinate and treat stray dogs, it also works to spread awareness to stop cruelty against animals.
Since its inception in 2003, KAT centre, which got local officials to stop poisoning stray animals, has treated more than 12,000 dogs. “Municipality officials used to poison stray dogs en masse once in a year. The dogs would die slow and agonising deaths. But as the fertile population was still out on the street, the dog population would rise again in no time,” the vet explains.
“We see how the community and its dogs relate to one another when we return a vaccinated dog to its old alleys,” says Purna Prasad Dahal, a KAT dog catcher. “The local people thank us for returning the dog and welcome the animal with open arms.”
A charity, which solely relies on generous donations, KAT has always had a tough battle to fight on the financial front. With spiraling costs, the centre is finding it difficult to foot its monthly bills. To make matters worse, the road expansion drive in the Valley cost the centre its office building.
“We are basically doing the local government’s job. The only thing local officials are doing, or rather not doing, is that they have stopped poisoning the dogs. There is no other support that we are getting from the government,” shares Izydorczyk.
Outside every kennel at the centre, there is a board with a name. Most of them are clearly not Nepali names. The names are of KAT sponsors – animal lovers from around the world. KAT relies on donations, which mainly comes from abroad, to sustain itself. Organisations like the WSPA (World Society for Protection of Animals) have been helping out a lot.
“WSPA has said it will not be able to continue providing aid to KAT centre as they restructure their internal regulations,” the volunteer, who has been working at the centre for a year. Due to financial constraints, the charity has not been able to expand its operations outside the Ring Road, let alone outside the Valley. “More funds would help us expand our operations and reach out to more animals who are being subjected to cruelty.”
As KAT has foreign veterinarians working fulltime, private dog owners come to the centre to take benefit from their free service. But the centre does not cater to private dog owners. “If a family can afford to buy a German shepherd, they can afford to pay for its medication,” she states.
“As we celebrate Kukur Tihar this year, we call on the public to spare a thought for dogs. A dog is not another toy. Dogs, whether they are your pets or stray ones, are your responsibility. They deserve better treatment from humans.”
For more info on Kat Centre, please visit: http://www.katcentre.org.np