KATHMANDU, Nov 3: It’s Kukur Tihar today. That day of the year when we Nepalis worship and celebrate dogs for their loyalty and service to humankind. The day is not just reserved for our beloved pets; stray dogs, too, are honored with garlands of flowers and nice treats on this ‘day of the dogs’. But many of us express our special love, care and affection to them only on this particular day.
However, for Sneha Shrestha, every day is like Kukur Tihar. The founder of Sneha’s Care, an animal shelter built on the banks of the Bagmati at Nakkhu in Lalitpur district, has rescued hundreds of helpless, injured and sick dogs from the streets of the Kathmandu Valley and given them a new, decent life since the shelter was established six years ago in 2015. At present, over 170 dogs have found shelter at Sneha’s Care.
Some of the dogs at the shelter are victims of accidents that have left them paralyzed. Some are blind. Some have a leg or two or an ear missing, while some have wounds all over their bodies. Some of them are even expensive breeds, bought from kennel clubs, but left abandoned by their owners after getting old or sick. Sneha and her team take care of all these innocent canines, feeding and providing shelter to them every day.
“Rather than the love the dogs here have for me, I get more satisfaction from the love I have for them,” she told Republica a few days before the festival of Tihar, “For those who really love dogs, every day is Kukur Tihar.”
From indifference to a dog savior
Sneha was not interested in dogs at all until six-seven years ago. She thought they were dirty and that they could transfer dangerous diseases like rabies. But now, besides treating them, she strokes, holds and plays with them affectionately. Even those dogs with scabies and wounds all over their bodies are not left out. She has become a savior for the sick and helpless community dogs today.
There is a story behind this transformation in Sneha. Six-seven years ago, her husband wanted to get a dog as a pet. She was opposed to the idea at first. But after a lot of insistence from her husband, the couple bought two foreign breed dogs. She kept them in her garage. Unfortunately, one of the dogs died 15 days later. Holding herself responsible for the dog’s death (she thought the dog might have died due to being left outside in the cold) she moved the other dog inside.
The dog would greet her every day at the gate when she came back home from her travel and tour office in Thamel. This continued for about eight months. Her love for her pet only grew.
Then one day, the dog did not come out to receive her. When she went inside, she found the dog lying in a pool of blood which it had vomited up. One of her neighbours had poisoned her dog ‘because it barked too much’. The critically injured dog was immediately rushed to a vet but could not be saved.
Her love and care and affection for dogs began after this heinous incident. “If a dog at someone’s home has to face such a fate, then what are the conditions like for the street dogs? This was the question I asked myself. And that question has made all the difference today,” she told Republica.
She then started rescuing injured, sick and helpless dogs from the streets and keeping them in a kennel club which would charge her Rs 250 per dog per day. Within a month the kennel club was full of such dogs. Then she thought about forming her own team and working for the welfare of dogs.
With the help of the team, she leased some land on the banks of Bagmati in Nakkhu, Lalitpur, and built the shelter there. “This is how Sneha’s Care was born,” she reminisces.
From blue-eyed Aishwarya to strong-legged Meera
Every dog at Sneha’s Care has its own story and name. And some of the names are quite interesting. For example, Doctor, one of the dogs at the shelter. “I named this dog as Doctor because it was hit by the car of a medical doctor - a heart specialist, to be more precise - who refused to bear the treatment cost though both hind legs of the dog were fractured by his speeding vehicle. This dog is a rude reminder that even a heart specialist can be a heartless person,” explains Sneha.
As naming every dog at the shelter as ‘Kaale’, ‘Gorey’ and ‘Khaire’ would not be possible, Sneha had to be a bit creative and give the dogs special names such as ‘Aishwarya’ and ‘Meera’. “The one with the blue eyes is named Aishwarya and the one which keeps running around the shelter as Meera,” says Sneha playfully.
The shelter also has dogs which are paralyzed and cannot walk on their own. But such dogs are equipped with wheelchairs which help them not only walk but also play and run around the shelter. “When we take these dogs out, the wheel-chaired ones run faster than many other dogs,” says Sneha.
There are also a few dogs at the shelter that are used as blood donors to save the lives of other injured dogs.
A decent life for dogs
The dogs at Sneha’s Care are fed a nutritious diet twice a day – in the morning and in the evening – that consists of rice, meat, soybean cake and green leafy vegetables. They also get biscuits and other snacks in the daytime. They are also taken out of the shelter from time to time.
The dogs at the shelter live in small rooms with beds and blankets and are monitored through CCTV cameras.
They are also made to listen to music so that they remain calm and do not bark that much. The shelter also has a professional team including vets to take care of the dogs there.
Need for awareness and stricter laws
During her time working for animal welfare, Sneha has come across many incidents of animal cruelty. “Here at the shelter, we have dogs that were hit and injured by speeding vehicles. But what is perhaps even more alarming is we have dogs that have been immersed in hot bitumen and dogs whose backbones were broken because they received nasty stick blows,” she said, “There are people who beat a dog just for fun. That is really very, very sad.”
Besides rescuing animals, Sneha’s Care has also been working to create awareness about animal rights and drawing the state’s attention toward ensuring the right laws for animal welfare. “The Supreme Court has already ordered the government to introduce a comprehensive Animal Welfare Act but such an act is yet to see the light of the day,” she laments, adding that, apart from awareness, there is a need for strong laws against those who throw their old, sick pets out onto the streets. “I think even the local government can take strong measures in this regard,” she says.
“We all know that dogs are the most loyal animals. Now, it’s perhaps time to pay them back and be loyal to them. Celebrating Kukur Tihar would be really meaningful if all of us, too, pay back the loyalty they show us with love and care,” says Sneha, signing off on a positive note.