SRI LANKA ANIMAL RELIEF OPERATION
During the good times we often pack
up bags and travel to far off lands in hopes of finding something.
Sometimes I know what I am looking for when I travel. Occasionally
I even find it. Other times I search for the unknown and end up
finding more than I could have ever dreamed. Sri Lanka was one of
those trips. Below are a few of many stories that taught, humbled
11, 2005 morning
It's 2:00 in the morning and I can't sleep. Last night while
walking the streets in Colombo I met a guy, Denesh, who was over
looking for a job. The hotel he worked at in Trinco was completely
destroyed. He was a cook there. On the morning of the tsunami, he
was not working - which may have saved his life. Many of the other
cooks, his friends and coworkers were killed. At the hotel a shocking
number of tourists were killed and 30 others are still being considered
missing. Denesh's family was safe and their home survived, but now,
left without a job, he has no way to support them. So he headed
for Colombo - along with what sounds like everyone else who lost
their job in the tsunami. He's frustrated going from restaurant
to restaurant searching. He showed me his recipes and told me about
all his experience as a cook. He has no money left, just two bus
tickets and a place to stay. Talking with Denesh was a quick awakening
as to the long term severity of this disaster. (Denesh, if by chance
you read this - I wish you the best. Please let me know how things
had stopped in a small village just north of Hikkaduwa. A temple
marked the center of what must have been a beautiful sea side village
just days earlier. As we pulled into a clearing we were immediately
greeted by a handful of adults brining their animals to receive
food and care. The love they felt for their animals shown as bright
as the sun. But something was missing. Where were the children?
As things slowed down I went for a walk down to the sea. As I neared,
the unmistakable smell of burning rubble filled the air.
Here I met the children of the village.
They had been down cleaning since the waves receded; combing the
ground for anything of value. Not value as many would define. A
purse full of rupees would do little good for mending the broken
spirits of this village. Instead the children searched for photo
albums, books, and family heirlooms.
seeing me, the children slowly started to come over. The older ones
first followed by their younger brothers and sisters. So we sat,
there on the corner of a destroyed cemetery, having an impromptu
session of show and tell. I'm shown small plastic photo albums with
pictures of people now "in sea". I see photos of how the
homes once looked. "Now our homes flat, every one." Indeed
they were. Not a single home stood within 400 meters of the sea.
It was the animals that brought me
to Sri Lanka, but somewhere between vaccinating and handing out
food, one amazing exchange after another took place. On this day,
as I sat with the village children, we had all become part of each
others lives. I listened to a language I could not understand, yet
didn't miss a single word. They spoke of sadness, hope, dreams,
and a longing for what once was. I told them how the world had stopped
and took notice of their country; raising money, prayers and giving
all they could to help people they will never meet. I too spoke
in words foreign to them; still they understood they were receiving
gifts of friendship and support from lands they may never visit.
January 12, 2005 morning
6:00 in the morning and I'm waiting to be picked up in Colombo.
Yesterday we left with two medic vans, four of us and a government
worker to do announcing around Kirinda. The first stops yesterday
were at Buddhist temples. We vaccinated the dogs living on the property
while announcements were made for everyone in the area with a pet
to bring them on a leash for vaccination. Long story short, by the
end of the day yesterday we had vaccinated over 600 animals in at
least 8 different locations - including grocery stores, a Montessori
school and government buildings. One of the highlights is as we
attempt to leave an area people come running (literally!) with their
pets to catch us. It never fails - sometimes as many as 20 people
stop us on the way out of a village. It's moments like this when
I know we are truly welcomed and making a difference.
January 13, 2005 morning
Last night we stayed out again - no electricity, but how can
I complain. At least the mosquito nets kept the buzzing away. Yesterday
we drove to very rural areas and had good luck reaching many animals
- especially in the afternoon. Most people had gone to work in the
morning so things started a bit slow. I used a tally sheet today
to show the breakdown of dogs, cats, males, females, percentage
with mange, etc. Frightening! It showed that almost 95% of the dogs
were males. After much pestering I finally got the answer I was
afraid of. Dogs are only allowed at a home if they are males, therefore
ensuring that their dog does not have pups. Any female puppies that
are born are either cast to the fields to die in a few days or dropped
at one of the temples; the thought being that they will be safe
at a Buddhist temple where all life is held sacred. Yet at every
temple we visit I'm reminded that neglect is a truly sad form of
animal cruelty. By far the worst dogs we see are the strays at the
temples. Mange so bad they only have a few random hairs on their
body. Skin stretched so tightly against bones that they look like
here I sit trying to make sense of a culture that could allow this
to happen to their dogs. I contrast it to America where we pick
up strays, put them in shelters, become faced with overcrowding,
and end up euthanizing millions of animals every year. I certainly
have no room to judge - only try to understand. The people of Sri
Lanka have found a way to control overpopulation. True, it is different
from what many places in the world would consider acceptable. Yet
in regions that have no affordable spay / neuter options at least
they recognize a problem and have created a solution. It is still
heartbreaking to see the abandon faces of the dogs living at the
14, 2005 evening
Sometimes it is hard to realize we are working in the aftermath
of one of the largest natural disasters recent history has ever
seen. I have so much fun being able to learn and share with everyone
I meet. At each stop I have incredible conversations. People who
want to learn, ask questions, listen - it's simply amazing. I find
myself talking a lot about how animals live in America. I show them
pictures, and tell stories about Emma. I talk about the problems
of overpopulation we face and how abuse and neglect are in every
community. I share information about pet nutrition, health care,
training - you name it, this is as real as humane education gets!
afternoon we stopped in the middle of a narrow street to get set
up for vaccinating. We were almost ready when a group of children
came from their home with a basket of kittens born in the days following
the December 26 tsunami. As these children go throughout their days
they face constant reminders of the death and destruction that washed
through their village. But the smiles on their faces tell a different
story. Their happiness comes from the kittens they now spend their
days caring for. They understand that life will continue and everyone
will grow stronger. Kittens will become cats, and children will
grow up to become leaders. Their village will be rebuilt and faith
will guide them through.
January 15, 2005 afternoon
We've stopped for a lunch of curry and rice. Sometimes it takes
us a while to find a place that has enough food to serve all 5 of
us. It just seems like food is a little harder to come by as we
get into some of these areas. At our last stop I spoke with a man
who had stories to share for the entire village. He greeted me with
a handshake; quickly remembering that his hand was completely busted
up. He went on to talk about breaking his hand, and all the other
cuts and wounds he received fighting the waves. He called himself
the "lifeguard" of the village and after hearing his stories
I can't think of a more deserving term. On first glance you would
notice a man who had lost everything - his home, business, family,
pets. But after listening to him for a while it's hard to say he
lost anything. He spoke 8 languages, ran a much needed fabric business,
and had a love for life stronger than any wave could destroy.
we talked he walked me around the village introducing me to everyone
and pointing out where he saved people. He pointed to a section
of rebar sticking out the top of a 20 foot high building. "I
hung on there" he said "and then when the surge would
go to sea I would ride it, catch a body, swim them back, hang on
tight." He repeated this for three waves, saving 6 tourists
and recovering "a few bodies not lucky."
He introduced me to the family of
one woman he had saved. They were putting the final boards on their
new home. It was a 10 foot by 7 foot box with a dirt floor, but
it had a roof and would keep their family of 5 shaded from the hot
sun. They invited me inside and I realized immediately that, yes,
this was a home. Inside was the love and compassion that takes a
pile of scrap wood and a piece of tin roof and makes it a home.
Inside was hope for a new beginning.
16, 2005 evening
There is a true lesson of compassion here watching dogs being brought
to us. They are all mixes so no one can make an excuse that some
are genetically inclined to be more aggressive than others. This
is an even playing field. The only variable that changes is how
the dogs are treated by their owners. So why? Why do some dogs walk
right up, take their shots, and give a look of thanks with their
eyes, while others fight, pull, bite and squirm. What is the Sri
Lankan training secret for a good, loving and compassionate dog?
You guessed it - kindness. The dogs that come in being dragged by
their owner and beaten atop their head are monsters. They are beaten,
kicked, hit with rocks; everything to punish them. The dog's response
- fear. Then there are the dogs that are carried in, nurtured and
spoken to in a gentle voice. They are loved and their response back
- to love their owner. The lesson is so obvious and simple. Why
then do the children hit their dogs and throw rocks at them. Perhaps
because it is all many of them see. Children do not know that their
dogs will be kind if treated with kindness, and be aggressive if
treated with aggression.
today I started a simple lesson. Of course being the tall white
guy, all the children are usually looking at me trying to figure
me out. So I already have their attention - at least half the battle
of teaching any lesson. Realizing this, every time a dog gets hit
and lets out a yelp, I look at the children with a sad face and
say "Ouch!" They all laugh, and the next time I do it
again. And again. And again.
At each stop, after making a fool
of myself for about ten minutes, it seems to sink in. Suddenly the
children get the same sad look on their face, say "ouch"
and rub their arm or back - wherever the dog was hit. Somehow I'd
like to think these children are learning to personalize the suffering
of another - to feel the pain and respond with changed behavior.
It's minor but maybe, just maybe, it helps to promote a little compassion
and encourage a touch of responsibility. Perhaps they will see there
is another way to treat animals.
17, 2005 evening
We are driving along coastal town after coastal town of total destruction.
Everything flat - buildings, trees, homes, temples - flat, flat,
flat. People just sitting around with nothing to do, hiding under
what little shade an umbrella will give. Sitting on the foundations
of what used to be homes. Every day the same thing. Today is a Muslim
holiday so no work or school - actually there is no school left
to go to. It seems that with all this time they could begin to rebuild
homes and get their lives started again. One quick look around clarifies
that. There's not a scrap of wood, tin or brick to build with. Everything
that was left after three fifty foot waves crashed down has been
cleared out by military operations driving huge earth movers. In
my head I wonder the same thing the people sitting here are left
to wonder - now what?
18, 2005 afternoon
Today we are stopping at some terribly destroyed villages north
of Gala. We are literally driving a few hundred meters, vaccinating
30 or 40 dogs, and repeating over and over. In a three kilometer
stretch we have vaccinated over 400 dogs and cats. At this rate
hopefully we can get the government support and stop the killing.
It's still being discussed in Arugam bay but due to logistics we
have yet to make it there.
lessons learned today about compassion and the importance of caring
for animals. I speak a lot to the vets about what one calls a western
relationship between pets and people. They are starting to see more
pets living inside homes in the major cities. People want to train
their dogs; they want to know about nutrition and owner responsibilities.
In addition to our many conversations, I've promised to send them
information, and hopefully, if I can raise the money, return to
do some training for the vets. It's going to be one small step at
a time but I can't let all this interest go to waste. It would be
so great if I could aid in getting this information passed down
to the temples and village leaders throughout the nation. Today
I realize the reason I'm here is not just for the now, but also
for the future.