Fur-Bound Adventure at the Animal Welfare and Protection Agency

Richard wants me to do an article on the stray dog situation here. I’m all fine with that. Let’s go, baby!

He gave me the names and phone numbers of a few people/organizations to talk to – animal protection organizations, people who actively help with the homeless stray animal situation, things like that. So for this article, I made arrangements to go to the AWPA.

This morning.

I had no idea where it was, so I got directions, and it turned out that it was about five minutes away from my acupuncture doc. If I’d known that, I would have arranged to see doc first and then continue on to AWPA. As it was, I could have gone after – on the way home – but I felt so slimed and smelly – from the dogs – that I elected to go straight home with no pit stops.

I mean, Mervyn the trishaw guy drove right past the clinic. It would have been so easy to go there.

But no. I felt icky.

Alas and alack.

So I went to the AWPA, not having a clue what to expect. I’ve been to the SPCA in Canada – more specifically, in Vancouver. That’s where I got Tellulah. And the SPCA is so clean, well maintained, well staffed, yada yada and so on and so forth.


Not so much.

I rang at the gate, and immediately, a swarm of dogs start barking at me. I wait for someone to let me in – someone who would also, by association, keep the dogs under control and me under his/her protection.

That was the hope.

As I was let into the AWPA – Animal Welfare and Protection Agency – compound, I was completely surrounded by dogs. Big ones, little ones, puppies, and old geezers, and absolutely everything in between. They jumped at me, trying to get my attention so I’d play with them – they were starving for affection. And they pawed their dirty little paws all over me. As I walked across the front yard into the office, they jumped and nipped at me in an ever changing circle of fur, making it almost impossible for me to actually get anywhere.

While I sat down to talk with Hemantha Jatatilake, the President of AWPA, puppies and dogs of all shapes and sizes completely surrounded me. A tiny little puppy sat at my feet while what I think is its brother or sister nibbled on my sandals and ankles and toes. Two more tried to get my attention, nuzzling me. Several more fight their way in and take over nuzzling. It resembles Brownian motion as they fluidically change places, all eager to sniff something new – me!

Hemantha and I talked for a while – 45 minutes, at a guess – and the whole time, the dogs barked, nipped, sniffed, grabbed, nibbled, and played. When she went to another room for a few minutes, one of them jumped on her chair and then on to the desk.

It was absolute bedlam!

And they grabbed at everything they could for a chew.

Later, I was shown into the back yard where the rest of the animals are kept. There was a large enclosure where there were another 75 or so dogs. Some standing on benches like a doggie line up, others lying down sunning themselves. The rest tried crowding around me – all of them at the same time – while I made my way to the cat enclosure.

As I look around at the cats, I understand why Animal Control at the airport when I arrived was so amazed at the size of my 15 pound cat. Most of these cats are small – perhaps 3 to 5 pounds on average, some way way smaller. Some of the cats stayed at the back of the enclosure, obviously shy of strangers. Given that some of these animals were likely abused, I don’t blame them. I’d be shy, too. Some of them crowded around my ankles, looking for attention. One cat in particular got my attention – she was missing an eye.

At the back of the cat enclosure, there’s this whole other area with other cats lounging around. They didn’t even come out for a sniff. Really shy. And likely were abused. No problem. I’m not offended.

But even though many of these animals are undersized compared to North American cats and dogs, they aren’t emaciated. They’re all healthy looking, active, happy, and obviously well taken care of. Unlike other animal facilities, they’re taken care of every day, including Poya days and other holidays.

The AWPA takes care of stray animals that have been turned over to them. Some people bring in the strays from their neighborhood. Others will simply dump the animals over the fence during the night. The morning that I interviewed Hemantha, they’d had one dog and two pups tossed over the wall. Hemantha tells me that some of these people feel it’s wrong to sterilize animals, but they have no problem dumping them.

The Animal Welfare and Protection Agency has been in operation since 1964 – the oldest animal welfare organization in the country.

The AWPA is a no-kill shelter. They do everything they can to re-home the animals entrusted into their care. In 2004, they’ve already re-homed 32 animals – mainly dogs, but some cats as well. They won’t re-home animals to just anybody – they check to make sure the new owner will care for the animals properly, and as a part of this service, they also educate the new owners about proper animal care.

After an animal is re-homed, one of the volunteers will do a follow-up visit to the animal’s new home. If the animal is mistreated, the AWPA will repossess the animal.

However, as a no-kill shelter, animals that can not be re-homed stay at the transit home. That means that some of their animals have been there for a very long time and are quite old.

Before an animal is re-homed, the animals are given all necessary shots to protect against such diseases as distemper, rabies, hepatitis, leprospirosis, and others. The males are always sterilized. The female animals are sterilized when they can be, but because it’s much more of an invasive operation, it isn’t always feasible to do it.

The Aninmal Welfare and Protection Agency currently has over 140 animals in residence at their transit home in Dehiwela – about 40 cats and over 100 dogs. When you consider that they only have capacity to shelter 40 cats and up to 20 dogs comfortably, you can understand why they’ve undertaken an expansion project – another transit home is, at the time this article is being written, being built in Kahathuduwa and is scheduled for completion in the middle of June. The Kahathuduwa transit home will have capacity to shelter 50 to 60 animals in comfort.

The additional transit home, however, is not a solution, but merely a band-aid. Re-homing is the priority.

The Animal Welfare Protection Agency offers other benefits to the community as well. One such program is their sterilization campaign each month. They offer sterilization for animals at no cost to low income groups and for stray animals. The AWPA also works closely with the Ministry of Health on rabies elimination programs, and they see sterilization of animals as one way to combat rabies. Now, as a result of the campaign, there is a much lower incidence of rabies than there used to be.

The Animal Welfare and Protection Agency also offers a program where they will go into the schools and educate students about proper animal care. They feel that, by educating children now about animal care, the problems of stray animals and mistreatment of animals will be reduced over time.

Currently, the AWPA spends about Rs. 75,000 each month on feeding, medication and medical procedures, salaries for staff, and their sterilization campaign. They don’t have an in-house vet, but they do get reduced rates for veterinary care. However, with all the immunizations, sterilizations, and other medical needs for these animals, funding is a problem.

Most of their funding comes through private donations. They have a feeding program, and as a result, they have about ten people who regularly donate either money or provisions – raw ingredients or cooked food for the animals to eat. Some people, when their pet dies, will give money to the AWPA in memory of their pets for a small period of time. One woman, a lawyer, generously donates about 100 kg of rice a week. They also have some foreigners who, when they come to Sri Lanka, bring medications with them.

In a typical day, the AWPA will go through six liters of milk, 12 loaves of bread, and 2 kg of rice for breakfast; 20 kg of rice and 8 kg fish or chicken for lunch; and leftover milk and rice for an evening snack. The animals also get treats of processed cat or dog food. The animals love those!

The AWPA needs volunteers. The staff do all they can, but there simply aren’t enough of them to go around. The animals need people to play with them, bathe them, and apply lotions or other medications. People are also needed to help with the monthly sterilization campaign.

The Animal Welfare and Protection Agency needs donations of medicines as well – amoxicillin, a broad spectrum antibiotic, for example, as well as betadyne to disinfect wounds, negasont so flies and maggots don’t settle in wounds, and surgical spirits.

Processed animal food is needed as a treat for the animals.

Funds are also needed, even with the donations of food and money. The existing building needs renovating after the second transit home is completed.

Author: LMAshton

2 thoughts on “Fur-Bound Adventure at the Animal Welfare and Protection Agency

  1. Very nice article, Thanks for th time and effort taken and you have gone well deep in to the matter. Can you send me contact details of this AWPA. I think I will be able to make some financial contribution.

    Thanks a lot

  2. I’m not sure if I still have contact information on them. I’ll take a look, see what I can find, and I’ll post back here with an update.

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