No Kill in Nepal
Thirteen years ago, while traveling with a human rights delegation in the Guatemalan highlands, I observed the neglect and abuse of dozens of dogs. My periodic efforts to ask for mercy for them fell on deaf ears. That experience led me to devote nearly all of my volunteer work and charitable donations to animal rights. I vowed never again to travel to another Third World country where I would feel helpless and raw with grief over the treatment of dogs.
Last month, I broke my vow in order to fulfill a lifelong dream to trek in Nepal’s Himalayas. Fortunately, the mountain dogs I encountered there were nearly all hardy working dogs in charge of flocks of sheep or goats. After our trek, my friend Karla and I visited Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, where 25,000 street dogs live. Only a handful of people have pet dogs and fewer still walk them on leashes.
The job of Kathmandu’s street dogs is to survive. They eat trash and leftovers tossed them. They sleep on sidewalks. Steps are their pillows. While we were there, they actively roamed in the cool of the night and slept during the day. They were so exhausted from vigilance that, when asleep, they appeared to be
These dogs do not seek affection from people. However, one afternoon while Karla and I were sightseeing in the nearby medieval city of Patan, an unusually skinny dog slowly approached me. Her brown eyes softened as she searched my eyes. I reached out my hand for her to smell it. She then stood on her frail back legs and extended her front legs onto one of my legs. I was moved that she still had a desire to
relate to people. She accompanied us down a street for a few minutes, and, while I was photographing a shrine, she wandered away.
I couldn’t get her out of my mind.
Before Karla and I embarked on the trek, during our first morning in Kathmandu, we had met an Australian veterinarian who was talking to people while sitting on the hood of a van parked in the street. Inside the van – marked “Animal Ambulance” – were puppies in cages. The veterinarian, a volunteer, explained that puppies are the only dogs local people adopt. She was also soliciting urgently needed cash donations for the non-profit to be able to continue to spay community dogs and return them to the streets in the van. To indicate that females have been spayed, the group notches their ears, as we do with feral cats in the U.S. The group’s lofty goal is to educate individuals in a neighborhood to watch over these dogs. I unhesitatingly handed the vet some cash that had been earmarked for gift-buying.
For two days after my encounter with the skinny stray, I enlisted nearly every Nepali I met to help me contact the animal group using the van, but it seemed to have a non-working phone number. Ultimately I learned of another group responsible for helping street dogs in an area that included Patan. I felt like all the pieces were falling into place after I was told over the phone that their veterinarian would come as soon as I located the dog.
The next day, Karla and I went to find our dog, but she was neither where we first saw her, nor where we last saw her. Dejected, I strolled back to the main town square with my friend, only to come across the object of our affection directly in front of us, curled up tightly on the top step next to a museum. I was pleased at how easily she accepted the collar I placed around her neck. She was surprisingly meek for a street dog. I called the vet.
A small crowd had gathered around us by the time the Nepali veterinarian and her assistant arrived, two hours after my call. The vet walked briskly toward us, looked at our charge, and said, “I know
this dog. We released her Sunday [the day I first saw her] after six weeks of care. She is fine.”
I debated with her over the dog’s well-being, yet she seemed pleased that the dog had gained considerable weight and had been treated successfully for a skin condition. She now had hair on most of her body. I was dumbfounded that the vet believed the dog to be in good enough shape to be on the streets again.
Not only was she the skinniest dog I’d seen in Nepal, but I began to believe that her ear was jagged not from a dog fight, but from a butchered “notch” given her after a spay.
I looked at Karla, who had tears in her eyes. I started to tear up, too. A Nepali woman across from us was also crying softly. A Nepali guide who had been hanging out with us started arguing with the vet in Nepali. He seemed to be on our side. When he noticed that Karla and I were upset, he said, “Don’t cry, Mammas. It will be okay.”
Finally, the guide convinced the vet to take the dog back to the shelter for care. Her assistant grabbed her roughly by the ruff, and she let out a loud squeal. I thought, “Why am I turning the dog over to these people?”
Karla whispered to me that maybe the woman who had been crying might take our dog. By now the pup was inside the ambulance, staring forlornly at us through its bars. I turned to the woman and asked if she would take the dog. She nodded through tears, yes.
Several days later Karla and I visited Gyanu, the adopter, at her invitation. We learned that she, her husband and two adult sons had had a much beloved dog named Lucy. Gyanu and her son Samir shared with us that they had cried when Lucy died suddenly of a disease at the age of three.
Gyanu showed us the paperwork from the veterinarian’s visit the day after she got her new dog, whom she had named Puppy. Puppy had received various immunizations and was prescribed a cream for her skin condition and antibiotics to eliminate worms. Gyanu was eager to give Puppy a bath, but the vet asked that she wait until it was warm enough to bathe her. Karla and I watched as Puppy was fed water buffalo and rice; no canned or dry dog food is sold in Nepal. Gyanu proudly showed us that she had already trained Puppy to shake hands and Puppy was learning how to put her paws together for “Namaste.” Also, after Puppy was healthier, Gyanu said she would sleep with her, as she had done with Lucy. I couldn’t have been happier. How many dogs in Nepal sleep with their people?
Karla and I have been communicating with our new Nepali friends, Gyanu and Samir, who just emailed us a series of photos documenting Puppy’s first bath.
Why is this experience an example of No Kill?
Puppy is probably one to two years old – no puppy! The groups that help street dogs in Nepal operate on the assumption that Nepalis only adopt very young puppies. Yet, because I was ultimately unhappy returning Puppy to one of these groups, and because a crowd had formed around us, Karla and I had inadvertently created our own successful adoptathon.
Barbara Millman, Lakewood, Colorado