I have been very busy since writing
my last column here and have lots of experiences to share.
Firstly, Rama our first rescue dog
from Thailand is still going strong (see
previous column). She is now 10 years old and her
black nose has turned grey. However, she remains fit and active,
still enjoying her long walks in Epping Forest and embracing every
day of life with joy and gratitude. Peggy, the other Thai dog from
Bangkok is also well and healthy and as mischievous as ever.
I now have 7 dogs living with me
in London. My latest additions are an elderly almost toothless apricot
poodle called Tinky, whose elderly owners sadly died of cancer within
months of one another. Poor Tinky was sent to the re-homing block
in the kennels where I quarantine my rescue dogs. He was pining
for his owners and barely eating. He was just a bag of bones really.
When he came racing over to me and I heard his story, I took him
home with me. Tinky soon regained the will to live when he met my
6 female dogs and has fallen in love with Lavinia our rescued stray
from Sri Lanka. So much so, I had to take him to the vets for possible
castration. Because of his low body weight and slow heart beat this
was deemed too risky, so instead he has had some injections to reduce
his testerone levels. He has now gained weight and is the character
of the household.
Lavinia is the first dog I have rescued from Sri Lanka. Her plight
prompted my subsequent animal welfare work there, although I still
visit Thailand and recently brought 4 strays back to the UK with
me. Lavinia entered my life around 3 years ago. Whilst feeding the
strays near the famous Mount Lavinia Hotel near Colombo, I noticed
a small grey dog race out of nowhere and grab some food. This dog
was in the most appalling state I have ever seen. She had a massive
cauliflower type tumour on her private parts that was raw and bleeding.
She vomited up her food and was passing blood from her back passage.
She was so emaciated every bone in her body was protruding through
her coat which was mangy and covered in ticks and fleas. The suffering
of the strays never ceases to break my heart, their suffering continues
until they die.
The next day I took the dog I called Lavinia, to the best equipped
vets in Colombo and against the odds and after intensive treatment,
she survived. I had to leave her at the vets for 3 months. She underwent
2 operations including being sterilised and surgery to reconstruct
her vulva. During Lavinia's sterilisation the vet found she was
in the early stages of pregnancy. Lavinia never would have survived
the birth due to her weakened state and the large tumour caused
by TVT (transmissible veneral tumor) She would have died in agony.
Lavinia received chemotherapy for this and also treatment for a
tropical disease she was suffering from. I had to leave her in Colombo
but was reunited with her months later in a quarantine kennels in
Lavinia - before treatment
I also saved a dear little puppy
called Lily who was living in an awful dogs homes in Sri Lanka.
Her leg was snapped in half and she could not compete with the other
dogs to get to the bowl of food in time. She had given up the will
to live and was curled up in a ball awaiting death. She spent her
6 month quarantine period with Lavinia and when she was out, I arranged
to have her leg operated on. The vet fees were tremendous, but when
you see this happy little dog racing around with her new owner,
it makes all financial hardship and sacrifice worthwhile. Lavinia
is now a white little fun loving dog that is unrecognizable to that
sad little grey creature so near to death on that dusty street in
Sri Lanka. Of all the dogs I have rescued, she remains the happiest
little soul. Dogs never forget what they have endured in the past
and will always love those who offer them love and compassion. Lavinia's
tail, which was hacked off by a local (for fun) is a reminder of
the huge challenge faced by those involved in hands-on work with
the strays and how education and changing a culture that is inherently
cruel to animals is the Everest of endeavours. Lavinia's pain and
suffering is typical of the plight of all the strays in this world
and it is why neutering and sterilisation programmes are so important.
Sadly in most countries cruel and quick fix methods are used to
control the strays and Sri Lanka is no exception.
Lily and Lavinia ... home and happy
Sadly my dream to open
a clinic for the strays in Bangkok never materialised. A national
newspaper were prepared to help me raise some funds for the clinic
(The Mail on Sunday) but only if the large international welfare
organisation who are supposedly 'active' in Thailand would help
with some of the costs of the spay and neuter scheme. This organisation
openly advertises for funds using images of dogs being electrocuted
and tortured, stating they believe in neutering not killing. However,
they informed me at the time that their policy had changed and that
humane slaughter of the strays would be better. This was the beginning
of my negative experiences with some of the large animal welfare
organisations and the deceit that betrays those who make their coffers
flow and pay their fat-cat salaries. The animals are always the
losers and after travelling extensively around the globe and witnessed
animal suffering first hand, I feel that some of the large animal
welfare groups have a lot to answer for. They simply could have
achieved more with the funds they have available.
Those doing hands on work with the animals with no hidden agendas
always have my full support. There is a small group of western women
who live in Bangkok, Thailand who have founded a small organisation
called Soi Dog Rescue. They work tirelessly to spay/neuter and vaccinate
the strays in Bangkok and have recently had to abandon their work
due to lack of funds. Those who are actively involved in hands on
animal welfare work are in my mind, making the greatest contribution
to animal welfare in this world. This group have recently run out
of resources and desperately need financial support to continue
their excellent work with the strays in Bangkok. Their website details
Since the rescue
of Lavinia my wonderful friend Morag Longmuir and I have been visiting
Sri Lanka at least twice a year to work with the strays. Without
any outside funding we spay/neuter/worm, and provide veterinary
treatment to many dogs that have no chance of help or compassion
from humans. We also bring animals back to the UK at great expense
because it is difficult to find good homes for them in Sri Lanka.
We know that the dogs that come over will live long and happy lives.
Few dogs in Sri Lanka have long and happy lives. The odds are against
that. Despite the population of Sri Lanka being Sinhala Buddhist
who believe an animal has the same right to live as humans themselves,
thousands of strays are destroyed every year by the most barbaric
ways. Strychnine poisoning is rife in the suburbs. Men jump out
of vans and chase the strays with a long stick at the end of which
is a needle carrying the poison. The dogs are stabbed and die an
agonising death writhing in pain and howling. In towns like Colombo,
the dogs are placed into gas chambers, huddled together in fear.
The larger and more robust strays sometimes survive the cyanide
gassing and are beaten to death when they emerge from the chamber.
The Colombo Municipal Council are probably the most barbaric, and
it is in this area where we concentrate our work. Pet dogs are also
collected in vans to be gassed, even when sitting outside their
homes. It is a scenario we hear about time and time again. Some
locals are also particularly cruel to the strays. They scold, stone
and throw fuel over the dogs on a daily basis.
Lavinia and another dog I saved near the Mount Lavinia (a dog called
Sooby) had their tails hacked off. This abuse is common in Sri Lanka.
Some pet owners in Sri Lanka would never dream of taking their animal
to the vets, if they do they are usually at deaths door. Yes people
are poor there, and this is why we assist some poor families. But,
some wealthy Sri Lankan's will not take the trouble to save their
pets. The Sri Lankans are obsessed with pedigree breeds like German
Shepherds. These long haired breeds are not suited to the climate
there and without any tick treatments, often succumb to tick fever
(Canine Babesiosis) I always remember the sight of a dying husky
dog being completely shaved at the vets. The dog's skin was covered
with ticks and was dying from tick fever. The owners who were not
poor and had only bought the dog to the vet when it was literally
at deaths door. General ignorance and indifference to animal welfare
and suffering beggars belief.
The Thai's are generally kinder and
more considerate to the strays-they often provide food and embrace
the compassionate teachings of Buddhism more openly than the Sri
Lankans. To address the ignorance that prevails, our work in Sri
Lanka also entails educating the locals about animal welfare. It
is common for locals to give their pets sharp bones to eat. Time
and time again we hear about dogs dying a painful death from these
bones being stuck in their gullets. We provide dog food/cat food
to poor families, tick/ flea/worm treatments and have their pets
blood tested for tropical diseases caused by ticks and mosquitos.
These diseases are rife in many countries of the world and are yet
another challenge these poor animals have to contend with as well
as abuse by their greatest foe... man.
Up to the present date, and including
Lily and Lavinia, 12 Sri Lankan strays have been brought over to
the UK for a new life as well as 8 stray dogs from Thailand. Each
dog costs around £2000-£2500 each which covers all the quarantine/vet
and airfares. This Easter (2006) our latest batch of rescued dogs
are leaving the quarantine kennels for a wonderful new life in the
UK. In a few days, more arrive from Sri Lanka including a poor dog
called Sid, rescued on the last day of our trip in November. Sid
staggered over to us when we came out of our hotel and collapsed
in a heap at our feet. He was covered in mange and had bowed legs
(which turned out that he had been beaten and his legs were fractured)
and was obviously unwell. He is a big boned dog, although emaciated
like most of the strays, and trying to lift him almost gave us hernia's.
We just had time to take him to the vets and remove some of the
ticks in his ears. We had his blood tested for blood parasites and
discovered he had Dirofilaria (heartworm) as well as the usual skin
ailments and malnutrition. We left him at the vets and I never thought
we would see that dog again. But, when given the chance of life,
these dogs regain the will to survive.
We will be reunited with Sid this week (April 2006) when he arrives
in the UK to start his quarantine. It will be a truly emotional
moment and one that makes all our hard work and financial sacrifice
Morag and I have to work full time to help fund our animal welfare
work, therefore we have to juggle our busy lives and do our animal
rescue work abroad during our holidays. Returning back to work in
a busy Social Services department after working relentlessly in
Sri Lanka during my holiday is draining, but without funding for
our animal welfare work we have no choice but to continue doing
what we can. Our plight is typical of those doing the hands on work
in countries where animal welfare is abysmal. The renowned international
charities get all the funding. Few people know about the selfless
efforts made by individuals who make the greatest sacrifices and
the greatest difference to animal welfare in this cruel world.
Due to my experiences in Thailand
and Sri Lanka, I became aware that dogs with tropical diseases are
entering this country without any screening whatsoever. Quarantine
is strictly around rabies control, not tropical diseases. With the
Pet Passport Scheme, many more dogs are entering this country without
blood parasite screening. I became concerned about this subject
when Rama was in quarantine in 1998. She had heartworm, which fortunately
for her was diagnosed by a vigilant vet in Bangkok. We purchased
the treatment for this in Thailand because the drugs are not licensed
in the UK. We were informed by kennel staff that some dogs had died
in quarantine of heartworm because the vet failed to diagnose the
symptoms and was previously treating the dogs for pneumonia. Coughing
and heavy breathing are classic signs of heartworm infection in
dogs. The dogs were only diagnosed when an exploratory operation
took place. A simple blood test should have been conducted. It is
hard to believe that any animal in quarantine or indeed any animal
imported into the country from a place where these diseases are
rife, are not routinely tested for blood parasites if they display
symptoms of infection. It is evidence that tropical diseases are
not fully understood here in the UK, simply because animals are
not exposed to them here. However, with the Pet Passport Scheme
and the quarantine system purely focusing on rabies, animals are
entering the UK on a regular basis without adequate screening, and
with no easy access to drugs if they become ill, because the drugs
are not licensed in this country. After hearing about more pets
dying needlessly after entering the UK with these treatable diseases,
I felt compelled to write to the Veterinary Times and they published
an article based on my concerns on 27/6/05. DEFRA are burying their
heads in the sand about this issue and are placing the emphasis
on the owners having a knowledge about these diseases prior to travel.
Sadly many people are not knowledgeable about these diseases including
the quarantine vet who was caring for Rama. Sadly, pets are paying
the ultimate price. I would like to alert anyone who is considering
taking their pets abroad to speak to their vets about the risks
they may be exposing their pets to. Leishmaniasis, Ehrlichiosis,
Babesiosis, Dirofilariasis (heartworm)-parasitic diseases caused
by tick, mosquito and sandfly bites are now prevalent in the Mediterranean
and other countries world-wide. The majority of the dogs I have
rescued have tested positive for one or other of these diseases.
A cheap blood test prior to importing pets to the UK could save
their lives because these diseases will ultimately kill the animal
if they are infected and left untreated. I have witnessed many animals
dying of these diseases in Sri Lanka and it is a terrible and needless
death especially when the animals have owners and the blood test
is so cheap and quick. My sister recently saved a dog from Italy-this
dog has Leishmaniasis, which is rife in Mediterranean countries.
It is a common dilemma but not commonly acknowledged as one by DEFRA.
Without a greater knowledge about these parasitic diseases on all
levels, pets will continue to die needlessly.
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