Past half way

The new manager is here! Hooray! And I have finally had a day off, yay!

Things have been relatively quiet recently. We have still had dogs coming in regularly, although thankfully not huge litters of puppies or anything.

Talking of puppies, Tiger mum, a dog we rescued from the village that was at risk of being hanged by villagers, has had her puppies. 3 girls and a boy. All are big strapping pups, and she is doing very well being a mum. Also Simon, the puppy I am hand rearing, is doing great. He has been started on solid food, he loves a good adventurise around the office. He’ll be all grown up soon and won’t need his adoptive mummy.  The squirrel I am hand rearing is also doing well. Her eyes have opened and she is getting very brave, climbing up and down my arm when I am trying to feed her.  She won’t be on solid food for another week or so, despite being about a week older than Simon. I have been doing lots of Googling and I’m hoping I can full rear her. She is certainly doing a lot better than we expected when she first was found.

We had a dog brought to us about 2 weeks ago. I had received a phone call about a street dog with ‘worms crawling out his ears’. Turns out that meant a massive maggot infestation. Not only that but his ear was grossly swollen, as were his lymph nodes. He also had hair loss and was incredibly underweight. Despite probably being in massive amounts of pain, he sat very patiently while the vet and nurse pulled out 100+ maggots from his ear.  Stray dogs amaze me. It’s as if they know we are helping them. The often just sit patiently during treatment and just accept it knowing it will make them feel better. I named him Snarf and he has improved quite a lot on a short space of time. He still has a fair amount of recovering to do, but he is certainly in less discomfort. Sadly a lot of the tissue inside his ear was necrotic and was removed. He may need some surgery in the future but at the moment he is just concentrating on recovering.

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Snarf

I am now officially past the half-way point of my time here in Sri Lanka. Today is day 109 of 187. To be honest the time has flown past. In some respects it feels like I have been here forever, but so much has happened, and months keep just rolling round that I can’t believe we are in July! It’s been strange this year because I haven’t had the normal markers – Easter, summer holidays, family members birthdays, bank holidays etc – to see the year rolling past, so I am going to go home in September and it will still feel like March to me!

So not only is it less than 3 months until *I* go home, but it is also less than 3 months til I get to take a dog home to live with me. You didn’t honestly think I would come out here, work with 500+ dogs and not fall in love with one?

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Isnt she classy?

Her name is Penny and she was brought in not long before I got here. She was found on the beach with a litter of 6 puppies. She was housed, with her puppies, in a room behind my office and she would stand up on a ledge looking out and wanting attention. So I would go outside and chat to her. I didn’t know her name, so I started calling her Mummy Dog (turns out her registered name here is Amber – I have renamed her Penny as that’s the name she’ll have back home) and would just give her pats and chat to her. Once her puppies were big enough, she would come out for a while during the day and she would always come find me and want to get into the office with me. Well she is now a permanent feature in the office, and if I am not in the office she is clamped to my ankle following me around. She has even figured out how to open doors so she can find me if I am in the clinic. She even once managed to get the front door to my flat opened!

Her puppies have all grown up and have either been rehomed or are out in the pack here. Penny doesn’t fit very well into the pack here and is incredibly submissive with some dogs, and terrified of others. She has a wee crew round the back of the building, where she sleeps at night. It is mainly made up of her, her boyfriend Clooney and a bunch of 4 -6 month old puppies that she can boss around.

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Sharing a romantic meal with Clooney

I felt that she really would be a good pet. She’s got a lovely temperament, she’s a good size and she doesn’t fit in here, she’s very much a people dog. So I had to work on my parents a little, but eventually they agreed I could bring her back (my mum, who took the most convincing, is now beside herself with excitement. She has even gone shopping for a dog walking jacket!). I had to get a sample of her blood sent back to the UK to be tested to make sure she has antibodies against rabies (all the dogs here are vaccinated against rabies) which she does, so we have her certificate. That means she won’t need to go in to quarantine when we land, she can come straight home with me. All that is left to do is get her a crate built, and get her on the plane home! After her blood test, I have to wait 3 months before she can fly. That would be the end of August, and I fly home in September anyway so that’s when she will fly too. I am hoping to get her on the same flights as me, if not then at least flights on the same day.

I am super tres excited about having a dog at home, although she may not appreciate the cold Scottish weather. I’ll buy her a wee jacket and booties to keep her cosy.

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I think she is excited too!

Its hard work being a hero.

Well a lot has happened since my last entry, which is why there has been such a gap. Mind you, a lot always happens!

The 2nd manager decided to leave, and flew back to the UK on June 3rd. That means I have been running both sites myself, and have not had a day off since May 29th! Thankfully a new manager is arriving on Thursday, June 20th, but it will still be another week or so before I can take a day off and leave her in charge.

So not only have I been working 7 day weeks, but I have been dealing with sleep deprivation as I have been handrearing a baby puppy! We had a very sick dog come in on the 9th of June, Pinky. She had a 5 day old puppy, but she was so sick she wasn’t producing any milk, so we had to start bottle feeding the puppy, who I named Simon. While Simon has gone from strength to strength, sadly Pinky died. The vet believes she has a liver tumour, as there was a big mass in her abdomen. Sadly due to the lack of equipment we have here, the vet cannot be 100% certain. However due to the size of the mass, and the poorly state of Pinky, surgery was never an option and all we could do was make her comfortable in her last days.

Simon is 15 days old, and getting bigger and stronger every day. His eyes have opened, and he is almost able to stand. He will need bottle feeding for another couple of weeks, at which time he will go on to solid food. The owners of him and Pinky want him back, but I am reluctant to give him until he is much older, around 3 or 4 months as undoubtabley he will not get a good diet or care and if he goes home at the ‘normal’ 6-8 weeks, he will just waste away.  So I am determined for him to be as big and strong as possible, Sadly we cannot confiscate the puppy, despite the fact that the owners left Pinky to get in a terrible state, and basically neglected her for goodness knows how long. There are very few animal welfare laws in Sri Lanka, and if I was to refuse to give Simon back I could actually be arrested for theft. So all I can do is give him the best start in life.

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Simon

The day after Pinky and Simon arrived a member of staff found a baby Jungle squirrel under a coconut tree.  We assume it was blown out of its nest, as it has been quite windy here (thanks to monsoon season). Anyway I call her Humbug because she looks like a mint humbug. She was so small at first that we had to feed her from a pipette, now she is a little bigger she can feed from our smallest bottle. However she only drinks about 1ml of milk at a time. She seems to be doing well, she has taken to the puppy milk of and hasn’t show any signs of sickness. However what we are going to do with her once she is fully grown, I don’t know. She cant be released, as she will have no jungle smarts and wont know how to find food etc.

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Humbug

We also have another older dog in just now called Rocky. He was struck by a vehicle and his back and both back legs have been broken. As we don’t have an xray machine, we haven’t been able to determine the full extent of his injuries.  As a small charity we sadly do not have the funds for such an expensive piece of equipment. At times we don’t even have the funds for anything! We had been trying to get enough money together to take Rocky to Colombo to get xrays done there. Thankfully someone kindly donated money to cover the cost of transport and xrays, but unfortunately Rocky has deteriorated and wasn’t strong enough to deal with the journey to and from Colombo (around 3 hours each way). So we are just having to manage his pain and see if he picks up.

This morning one of the staff here came and told me there had been puppies dumped outside her house….10 in total! So she brought them in and we are looking after them now. The amount of puppies we have just now is ridiculous. From tiny ones like Simon, to big ones that had been rehomed but we have had to bring back as the owners weren’t caring for them. We are completely over run and full to capacity….and this very second, I just got a text asking if we can take 3 more!

There is never a dull moment, and never a quiet day. Always doggies somewhere needing a hero to rescue them!

Atten-SHUN!

This past week has been fairly busy with the usual new arrivals etc. Myself and the volunteer vet, Sally were told by a staff member that a litter of puppies had been dumped down the road.  We went off to find them, and found 5 skinny little pups about 4 weeks old. They were most likely from a pet dog, and have been dumped as the owners dont want to deal with them. That’s sadly how most street dogs come to be, dumped litters. Anyway they are back at the sanctuary, being fed up and loved. There are 2 boys named Pepper and Radish and 3 girls called Satsuma, Melon and Plum.

We also had a pet dog brought to us one afternoon. A labrador cross who was clearly a cared for pet. He had collapsed and was breathing heavily and the owners brought him to us. Sadly it became apparent that the dog had been poisoned and there was nothing that we could do other than make him comfortable. He passed away through the night having never regained consciousness. The owner was fairly sure it was a neighbour who set down poison as the dog could be aggressive (which is what everyone wants here, an aggressive guard dog) and the neighbours didn’t like him. Its such a shame to know someone actively wanted to kill this dog. The owner was quite upset.

Over the weekend myself, our resident vet and 3 staff members went to an army Commando training camp in order to do an outreach programme. The camp base had around 300 stray dogs living in and around it who continually breed. We had been asked to help spay and castrate as many dogs as we could over the weekend. In total we only managed 25, but considering the camp was 400 acres and we had to find, and then catch the dogs before operating, I think we did quite well! We will hopefully go back again in a few months to do some more. The army were very accomodating and were really pleased for our help. The camp Commander even thanked me personally for organising a team and bringing them to the camp and he gave me a wooden carved elephant as a token of thanks. Myself, the vet and the vet nurse also got to plant commemorative trees which will have a plaque with our names on them, so a bit of me will always be in Sri Lanka!

ImageMe and my tree

As well as operating on the dogs, we were on the look out for any sick or injured dogs that would need to come back to the sanctuary. We ended up bringing back 2 pups that were quite sickly and weak, who have been named Sergent and Major. Sergent has Babesia, as well as being thin, and Major is just needing some TLC. We also brought back a pregnant girl who has a TVT (a form of cancerous tumor that forms in the genitals. It is 100% curable with treatment with something called Vincristine). She has been named Army Mum for the time being. We have delayed her treatment for the TVT until after she has her pups as the tumour isn’t too advanced and she is a fair way through her pregnancy.

There were also some quite exciting, non work related, highlights of the weekend. Firstly, my accommodation was amazing! It was a little bedroom/bathroom jungle cave type thing that was right next to a beautiful river.

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Jungle cave

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River

I also got to see some wildlife. I saw a star tortoise, a lizard, some birds and most exciting of all…..

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HEFALUUUUUUMPS!

Not safari park or zoo elephants, but proper wild elephants. I was so happy.

It was a brilliant weekend, and not something I would ever have expected to experience while I was out here, but I am so glad I got too, and hopefully I’ll get to do other exciting things!

 

Recap

Ok, so I have attempted to gather together as much of the interesting things that have happened while I have been here. In all honestly, I just cant remember half the stuff thats gone on. However a brief overview of my time here so far goes a little like this:

On March 21st, while in Heathrow airport terminal 5 I saw Jeremy Clarkson. That was quite cool.

On April 3rd, while on a trip to Colombo with my boss Kim, I helped bring back 3 dogs and a cat. 2 dogs were disabled – Gertie and Nadeeka. Both have sadly passed away (Gertie had an advanced respitory infection and Nadeeka from Babesia), there was a puppy named Timothy who was suffering from mange. He has now recovered. And the cat was named Zsa Zsa, who is also disabled and is living in my flat with me, the other manager and Betty the kitten. I believe Zsa Zsa had been hit by a vehicle and had then been abandoned at the vet by his owner (yes he’s a boy. We named him before we thought to check his sex, and Zsa Zsa just stuck, dahling.)

On the 4th of April I dealt with my first case of rabies. It was sad, as there is no cure for rabies, and as a result the puppy had to be put to sleep. This is the only option once a dog, or any animal, has developed rabies. It is a slow, painful and stressful death otherwise. I hope that is the only case of rabies I ever see. We vaccinate all our dogs at the sanctuary against rabies, as well as any dog we deal with at outreach, and all the staff have rabies vaccinations annually. Its just not something to mess about with.

On April 11th I rescued Campbell (see previous post). He is now out of his enclosure and living freely with the pack in the hospital acre. He is so happy in life and its lovely to see his tail wagging everyday and a bright sparkle in his eyes.

22nd of April saw me go out to sea in an attempt to see some whales. 7 hours later and we gave up. The whales were hiding 😦

On April 24th my older sister text me to say that the local news paper from the town in which I grew up wanted to run an article on me and what I was doing out here. The article was published on May 1st. So I’m a little bit famous 🙂 It was over two pages and explained what I am doing out here and had some pictures. It was pretty cool. Unfortunately there have been no paparazzi…

There was the loudest and biggest thunder storm I have ever witnessed on May 4th. I was sitting in the kitchen having lunch, and looking out over the trees in the jungle when suddenly there was this long BANG of thunder and then a crackle in the air. Betty, the kitten in the flat, jumped about 4 feet into the air and skittered under the sofa, where she stayed for the rest of the day. The rain out here is amazing too. We are just coming in to monsoon season so the sun will be splitting the sky one minute, then the heaviest rain you ever saw the next, and there is lightening every night.

2 days after the storm, on May 6th, Gloria (previous post) got her blood transfusion. I don’t have alot of experience with veterinary medicine or seeing procedures etc, so I like to try and be in or around when anything interesting is happening. But Gloria’s transfusion really upset me. She had just lost the will to live. And I sat with her, trying to make her feel happy and talking to her and to make sure she had company. It was really quite upsetting when she passed away.

On May 12th we had a disabled dog come in. It was a 5 month old puppy who had been injured 3 months previously. She had a spinal fracture, and fractures to both back legs that had fused, meaning she is very unlikely to ever walk again. However she is beautiful and adorable and has been named Sarah, after my younger sister. She still acts like a puppy, and irritates all the other disabled dogs she is living with (6 grumpy old girls, who I love very much). She loves a good chin scratch and goes into a wee trance if you get just the right spot. She puts a smile on my face every day.

The 13th of May was a miserable day for me. I fell ill with Jungle Plague….which is flu, basically, but dramatized as I am in the jungle. There is nothing worse than being ill away from home. But what is worse is being ill at your work! I live in a flat directly above the clinic and kennels for sick dogs, so even though I spent 4 days in bed with my plague, I could hear everything going on at work. And for the first time ever actually felt guilty about taking time off sick!

May 23rd was a very exciting day for me for 2 reasons. First of all I should explain that when I go home in September, I am taking one of the dogs with me. A girl who has come to be known as Mummy Dog. When I arrived here in March, she was in an enclosure behind my office, with a litter of 6 puppies. She would stand at the front of her enclosure looking out, just wanting someone to talk to her. SO, since i didnt know her name, I would go up and pat her and say ‘Hello, mummy dog’ and give her some attention. Once her puppies were bigger and she could come out for some alone time away from them, she would come to me for attention. Now she is my shadow, sitting in the office with me. If she cant find me she will properly go looking for me. She has figured out how to open doors and will open the door to the clinic, if i am not in there she will come up to the flat front door and try to get in. Shes a character and a half, and was clearly born to be a pet. She doesnt get on with most of the other dogs here (except her boyfriend Clooney) and becomes very submissive and scared around them (which is why I started letting her into the office) so I feel she will truly be happy as a pet dog. I couldn’t leave her behind when I leave, I think it would be traumatic for both of us. So in order for her to come back to the UK, a sample of her blood needs to be tested to ensure she is protected against rabies. On May 23rd Mummy Dogs blood sample was sent off, and I am waiting for the results.I hope that it comes back ok. She has had her vaccination, so it should be fine, but you never know! (FYI, her registered name here is Amber, but I dont think it suits her, so she is being renamed Penny. However I think Mummy Dog is going to stick)

The final very exciting thing that happened on the 23rd was to do with one of the disabled dogs – Estelle. She had been paralysed after being struck by a vehicle and cant use her back legs. We give the disabled dogs physio and hydrotherapy (in the ocean!!). Some of them will never walk again, but the physio and hydro is just nice for them to do. However with Estelle, I was sure she would be able to walk again, so I have made it my mission. Well just 5 days ago Estelle stood unaided and weight bared for about 30 seconds!!! Then i helped her up again and she took a step! I almost cried I was so happy. We are getting there and I have every confidence that she will walk. She is another incredibly sweet, loving dog that I just want to have a wonderful happy life.

Anyway there are about a billion other things that have happened while I have been here. From here on in I will try to do a post once or twice a week, letting you get to know some of the brilliant dogs that are here, and the new stories as they come in.

Explain yourself!

So I suppose I should offer some sort of explanation as to what exactly I am doing out in Sri Lanka. As much as I would like to say it’s lying on the beach, or cuddling puppies, it most definitely is not. Infact in the month and a half I have been here, I have only managed to spend 1 day on the beach with my Kindle and no distractions (I did get awful sun burn so….lesson learnt!)

My job out here is to manage a sanctuary for stray dogs, street dogs and sick or injured pet dogs that are abandoned. The sanctuary is a UK registered charity called Animal SOS Sri Lanka (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Animal-SOS-Sri-Lanka/165576613502654?fref=ts). It is a small charity that was founded in 2007 by a woman named Kim Cooling. Our aim is to reduce the suffering of strays and street dogs, and to help prevent future strays by offering outreach programmes in the local villages where we sterilise pet dogs that are brought to us by their owners. Many of the stray dogs we deal with are from litters from pet dogs that get dumped. By sterilising pet dogs we should, eventually, see a reduction in the number of strays on the streets of Sri Lanka. Thats the aim, anyway.

We also provide a safe environment for the dogs we care for. We currently have about 500 dogs (from weeny little puppies to big old boys) and about 30 cats. The sanctuary is split into 2 sites. The main site is 3 acres and is home to the majority of the dogs. These ones are all healthy, happy and free roaming. They still receive veterinary care if required (as even healthy dogs get ill) but in general they are all A-OK. The second site is 1 acre and is home to all the puppies, disabled dogs, sick or injured dogs, any new arrivals, and some of the older dogs that are better out of the main pack, and are getting some peace and quiet in their twilight years.

Since I arrived in March I couldn’t even hazard a guess at how many animals have been brought to us. Almost every other day we either have a dog brought to us, a member of staff finds a dog needing help, or a litter of puppies or kittens is dumped outside. I personally have only rescued 2 dogs so far. The first was a poor looking character that myself and Kim found on our way back from the supermarket. We had to chase him, and finally managed to get a lead on him on a set of train tracks. He was brought to the sanctuary and found to be suffering from sarcoptic mange, Babesia (a very common, but lethal, tick born disease) and general malnutrition. He was named Campbell and was started on treatment straight away. Thankfully he made it through the night and has gone from strength to strength ever since. He is now looking much healthier, and is much happier than he was. He now wags his tail instead of cowering away and looks for human attention instead of avoiding it.

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Campbell when he first arrived.

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Campbell now.

The second dog was a girl we named Gloria. I found her just last week while we were out on our outreach programme. She was sitting at the side of the road, half bald and heaving for breath. It started raining and she disappeared up a driveway and so I asked one of our local staff to go find out if she was a pet or not, and if so could we take her in for treatment. It turns out she was a pet dog and the owners wanted her back once she was healthy. I agreed, only because I knew it would take some months to get her healthy again and there is every chance the owners would lose interest by then.

Once we got her back to the sanctuary, she was immediately blood tested and was positive for Babesia. One of the late stage symptoms of the disease is heavy breathing, as it causes anaemia which in turn results in poor oxygenation of the blood resulting in the heaving for breath. The following day it was decided she would receive a blood transfusion. She was too late in the development of the disease to have any hope of a good and quick reaction to the medication and this was her final hope. A donation of blood was taken from a dog named Vincent (who previously has saved 4 other lives through blood donations) and I sat with Gloria while she received the transfusion. Once it was complete, I stepped out of the clinic for just a few moments, and when I returned I found the vet pumping her chest, trying to revive her. Sadly she had been too sick when we found her, and her body gave up. The transfusion was too late. The only good that came of this is that she didn’t die alone on the street, being neglected by her owners who let her get so sick she was offered help only 1 day from death. She was comfortable, warm, fed and loved when she passed.

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Gloria

Thankfully there have been more happy endings than sad since I have been here, but unfortunately every story has to start sad for the dogs to end up here, we are just trying our hardest to make all the endings happy.

Off into the unknown

In February of this year I had a job interview in London. Being from Glasgow, that’s quite exciting. What made it more exciting was that the job was to be the manager of a dog sanctuary in Sri Lanka.

I tried my hardest at the interview in the hope that I could stand a chance of getting the job, my dream job. At the time I had been working for a bank for 4 years, dealing with mortgage applications. Not exactly the way I saw my life going when I studied Animal Care at college some 6 years previously. The animal care industry is notoriously hard to get into. Most people who get a job working with animals are in it for life and when a job opening comes up, so many super qualified people apply. So up until this point, other than a few months in a pet shop before college, and a temporary contract in a country park 8 years ago, my animal care career was pretty minimal. To be honest, I was surprised I had even been selected for an interview for the manager job. Not only had I very little animal care experience, but I had zero managerial experience.

After the interview, I fought my way through Londons public transport system and flew home. As my plane was taxi-ing to the runway I saw a Sri Lankan Air plane being taxied to the terminal. I thought that was probably a good sign.

My interviewer, and founder of the charity – Kim, told me at the interview I would hear the following day whether I got the job or not. I did not let my mobile phone out of my sight, and didn’t leave the house for fear of missing a call while driving. Finally at about 8pm my phone rang. I answered it and heard ‘Congratulations, we would like to offer you the manager’s position.’ I actually couldn’t believe my ears. I guess I must have done something right at the interview! Que much ‘Oh my God’-ing and lots of ‘Thank you!!’s.  It was to be an initial trial period of 6 months. Pffft, 6 months is no time.

After I found out I had the job, and Kim had confirmed the date I was flying out, I had about 7 weeks to get organised. That meant stocking up on vests and shorts, insect spray and sun cream. Plus packing away my whole life at home (one entire suitcase was just for shoes!) and handing in my notice at the bank (possibly the best day of my life). I had to say good bye to extended family and friends over the few days before I left, which was not as hard as I expected. However I was a blubbering wreck at the airport, hugging my close family goodbye. That was when it hit me. March 21st 2013. I really was off into the unknown. I had never been to Sri Lanka. I had never travelled that far on my own. I had never lived away from home, unable to see my family every day. What on earth was I doing?!?! 6 months? 6 months was a life time!! But there was no backing out now. So off I went. Hello unknown, here I come!

I flew from Edinburgh to London Heathrow, London Heathrow to Dubai, and then Dubai to Sri Lanka. I landed on Friday 22nd March and walked out the airport to a wall of heat and a waiting taxi. Having travelled a fair bit in my life, I wasn’t completely shocked when I travelled through the country from the capital Colombo down to the south west where the sanctuary is based (about a 3.5 hour journey). What I did notice was how tropical the place was. Coconut palms, banana trees, cinnamon plantations, rice paddys.  I caught an occasional glimpse of the beautiful turquoise sea crashing against the golden beaches. The sun was splitting the sky and what I had seen so far of the local people, they seemed friendly and cheerful.

I arrived at the sanctuary at about 6pm local time and was greeted by, what felt like, a wall of dogs and people. Looking back it was 5 people, and maybe 15 dogs. Kim was there, Jay the second manager (who only arrived 10 days before me), Eve a volunteer vet nurse and a couple of other volunteers were there. This was it, the adventure begins!

At time of writing I have been here 53 days. On one hand the time has flown past and on the other I feel like I have been here forever. So much has happened since I have been here that there is no way I can remember it all. My intention in writing this is to try and keep track of everything that goes on here, because there is no way my brain can hold onto all the information itself! Plus I thought some people may find it interesting….well it was my mum’s idea, actually. So the next couple of posts I will try and recap as much as possible of what has happened so far, and from there on in I will attempt to do a post every few days recapping what has gone on.