ONE VET, THREE MILLION STREET DOGS
UK vet Dr Janey Lowes was backpacking around Sri Lanka in May 2014 when she noticed the plight of the local street dogs. There are approximately three million street dogs on the island, and while the dogs themselves aren’t an issue – they often have a human guardian who feeds them – the fact that they don’t have access to veterinary care is.
Every year, there are an estimated 26,000 road traffic accidents involving street dogs. Thousands also fall ill from other causes – many as a result of dogs not having access to basic preventative care such as neutering and vaccination. Without help, many of these would potentially die slow, painful – and totally needless – deaths.
As a vet, Janey felt frustrated being far from home with no equipment or supplies, unable to help. She contacted local vets but it was difficult to find someone who had the facilities to treat some of the more severe issues. Determined to make a change, she went home and looked into what was the best way to make an impactful change to the street dogs in Sri Lanka.
She went to seek advice from her boss in the UK, Nick Myerscough. Expecting her ideas to be laughed off as a crazy idea, instead Westway Veterinary Group donated £10,000 to aid Janey with moving to Sri Lanka and setting up the charity. They shared the belief that we have a responsibility as vets to ensure that every animal, regardless of borders or geographical location, deserves access to high standard veterinary care.
WECare Worldwide was born.
Janey moved to Sri Lanka in October 2014 on a one year sabbatical (woops!) with the intention of neutering and vaccinating as many dogs as possible as she saw this as the only way to address the bigger picture. What she didn’t predict however was the sheer number and severity of illnesses and injuries she was going to witness in a population that didn’t really have access to veterinary care.
So instead of just carrying out CNVR (catch-neuter-vaccinate-release) programmes as first intended, Janey decided that she must fulfill her duty of care as a vet and somehow find a way to treat the sick animals too.
Janey then met her lifelines- Malaka, Chaminda and Dr. Nuwan. As a team of four, they worked really hard to not only treat any animals in need but also spread the word about WECare and ensure we were well received into the communities in which we were working (and living).
Initially, dogs were treated at Janey’s home in Talalla, or on the side of the road in a needs-must situation. However, by January 2016, Janey’s house was full to bursting, and she realised she needed a different base. She rented on old primary school in a nearby village, that had a secure garden that recovering dogs could play in.
As well as this, Janey was working alongside some great Sri Lankan vets to carry out multiple neutering and vaccination programmes in the community. 735 dogs were neutered in the first year, as well as 956 dogs vaccinated and 202 treated for other ailments.
With the help of a growing team of local and UK volunteers and the support of lots of friends, family and kind sponsors, WECare treated thousands of dogs in 2016 and got by for another year but money was extremely tight.
Sadly, come January 2017, there was no money left. Just as Janey was at the point of giving up, WECare was featured in a BBC documentary. Donations surged, allowing her to slowly build the clinic she and her team of local and international staff work from today. It’s currently one of the best equipped vet hospitals on the island but we are still in need of a few vital pieces of equipment and help with running costs. Help us finish our WECare Hospital.
Our hospital is absolutely vital as we are one of only two veterinary hospitals outside of Colombo and we cannot thank all of our supporters enough for making this dream a reality. It is amazing to know that the streets dogs now have access to high standard veterinary care but now the issue is keeping it going! We are still a tiny charity and every penny can literally be the difference between life and death.
For now, we need to complete Phase 2 of our hospital build and get our education programme up and running without any glitches. But in terms of the bigger picture, we aim to expand to other countries across Asia and Africa whose street dogs are in need of veterinary care as we dream that one day, no street dog will be without a vet. Big dreams we know, but nothing worth doing is ever easy.