by Thulasi Muttulingam
For the fourth time within the last month, animal rights activists staged a protest demanding to know where the dogs they are feeding are disappearing.
Ever since 2010, canines have been disappearing off the roads of Colombo according to the activists. They have been campaigning since then to get the dogs back.
“These animals were not a threat. They were well looked after and cared for. They had been sterilized, vaccinated and had people feeding them regularly. Yet they have been abducted. All we want to know is where they are and what is happening to them,” says Sharmini Ratnayake, one of the activist protestors.
A number of animal welfare organizations such as the Sri Lanka Animal Protection Association, Animal Welfare Trust, Adopt a Dog and the Pooch Foundation took part in the protest on Saturday.
“Are they drowned or shot?”, “Develop the City in a Humane Way!”, “They have a right to live too” were some of the messages seen on the placards carried by the protestors. According to them, whenever they tried to investigate, all leads finally pointed to the Colombo Beautification Program. And so they have been trying without success to engage with the Defence Secretary, Gothabaya Rajapaksa on the issue.
“We have tried calling as well as writing letters to him several times but he has thus far ignored all our overtures. We’ll continue to protest until we some light,” says Visakha Tillekeratne, of the Animal Welfare Trust.
The activists, numbering around 50, grouped themselves by the Lipton Circle in Colombo 07, last Saturday carrying placards demanding to know the fate of the dogs. Passers-by, both vehicles and pedestrians gave curious glances, indulgent smiles or just went on past on their busy schedules without noticing. Some policemen stopped by to see what was happening, asked that certain specific placards be removed but otherwise didn’t stop the protests.
The protestors, who say that all their efforts to talk to the authorities have gone nowhere, are determined to carry though with the protests until they know what is happening to the dogs. The first dogs to disappear were from Galle Face in 2010. The activist / animal lover who fed them saw them being bundled into a van and has been campaigning for their release ever since.
Since then, activists claim, many other dogs have been abducted off the streets of Colombo in various suburbs, often in broad daylight.
Since the dogs that are being abducted are sterilized, vaccinated and well looked after, the activists say there is no rationale for it.
“These secretive abductions are not acceptable on any basis. It is not acceptable on the basis of the ‘No Kill’ policy officially adopted by the government, not acceptable on the basis of ecology and certainly not acceptable on the basis of compassion and humanity,” says Tillekeratne.
Culling of dogs was stopped by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006. In early 2012, when Minister of Health, Maithripala Sirisena announced that the ‘No Kill’ policy didn’t seem to be working, there was a huge public outcry on what was perceived to be a backtracking on the government on its position. The minister was hasty to clarify that he had been misquoted and that the government was still committed to the ‘No Kill’ policy.
Figures the Minister quoted however said that 2000 people are bitten in Sri Lanka every day and so the chances of rabies are extremely high.
Sharmini Ratnayake however refutes this. “Most of the bites are owner related; i.e. it is house pets who bite the owners for various reasons. Stray dogs are dependent on the community and are usually very mild mannered. Unless they are really pushed into it or attacked, they hardly ever get aggressive. That’s something everyone knows.”
A vet who asked not to be named reiterated Sharmini’s statement: “Most of these dogs are well looked after, sterilized and vaccinated. They were not really ‘stray’ dogs but community dogs in that sense. Most dog bite cases are owner related. That too has a story as dogs are not generally in the habit of biting their owners. When we did some research, we found that the affected pet owners did some really stupid things like putting their hands into the dogs’ mouths or pulling out thorns from their paws by hand.
There just might be one or two cases of aggressive stray dogs being a neighbourhood threat but I personally haven’t come across them. Most of these dogs are non aggressive and not a threat to anybody.”
And so, the saga of the disappearing dogs of Colombo continues. The activists say they are determined to see it through, until they get an answer from the authorities on what exactly is happening. Colombo’s beauty to them is marred by the lack of dogs.
The Ceylon Today was unable to reach anyone at the Ministry of Defence, under whose purview the Colombo Beautification Program lies, to give a comment Courtesy: Ceylon Today