A dedicated crusader of strays

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Published:
07 Jul 2017
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Sneha Shrestha, founder of Sneha’s Care Foundation, an animal welfare charity, takes care of around 110 stray dogs in Kathmandu

For a person who was totally apathetic towards dogs, Sneha Shrestha has undergone a major metamorphosis. Until about a decade ago, she was least bothered about the welfare of animals. Today, the 35-year-old is a dedicated crusader of strays, and takes care of around 110 stray dogs through her registered animal welfare charity--Sneha's Care Foundation.

In this interview with VMAG's Alok Thapa, Shrestha shares that until people are taught from an early age to view pets as sentient beings and to care for them like they would a family member, the issue of homeless animals will always be a pressing one.

You initially didn't like dogs. What's the reason for this transformation?
I don't want to blame anyone, but during my upbringing, I was fed the notion that dogs bite and that they can be nuisances. Looking back, I was very sceptical of dogs. I would wash with hot water the spot where a dog had sat--I was paranoid about dogs being carriers of illnesses. My husband, Abhisekh Subedi, however, belonged to the other end of the spectrum--he absolutely adored dogs. He once brought two puppies home, but I made sure they were kept outside in the garage. However, when one of them died due to negligence, I was consumed with grief. As a penance of sorts, I adopted a puppy and named it Zara. I may not have known it then, but that adoption would go on to change my life forever.

How did Zara change your life?
Every once in awhile, someone enters your life and changes everything; in my case, it was Zara the puppy. We shared an amazing bond. She would follow me everywhere, and would patiently wait for me when I was away for work. I really enjoyed going on morning walks with her. But just when things were starting to seem too good to be true, everything came crashing down--Zara was poisoned by one of my neighbours. I couldn't save her, but she still lives on in my memories. It was my love for her that made me want to devote myself to working for strays. She was more than just a dog for me; I even did the 13-day death ritual in her memory.

Tell us about your initial days working with stray dogs.
After Zara's death, I started noticing more than ever the plights of strays around me. Most of these dogs were hungry, and it broke my heart to see them limping around with mange and open wounds. I started to take these dogs off the streets, to a kennel club, where I used to pay Rs 250 per dog. I was taking these dogs to the kennel club at such a rate that the club soon ran out of space. That's when the idea of establishing a dog-care centre germinated. I leased a patch of land near Karyabinayak Temple and started Sneha's Care Foundation in 2014.

How are you managing the place?

Running a place like Sneha's Care Foundation taxes you emotionally as well as financially. I invest 80 per cent of the income from my business into the welfare of dogs, and I also receive the occasional donation. Currently, we have 110 dogs at our place--abandoned dogs, dogs with broken limbs, paralysis and other medical conditions. I must also take this opportunity to thank my husband for letting me do what I do. He has never questioned my intentions, and I truly appreciate his support.

What have you learned from your work?
The way you treat an animal says volumes about you, your family and your society. Before blaming stray animals, we need to keep in mind that we are responsible for their plight, and that we, collectively, have to deal with this problem in a humane way. One of the reasons that contributes to the high number of strays is the abandoning of dogs that are no longer wanted, or sick. The lack of spaying and neutering programmes for strays is another reason that we're facing this problem. I'm sure most of the individuals who have dealt with homeless dogs would agree that a good spay and neuter programme is an effective way to curb the increase in stray animals.

What do you do at Sneha's Care?
Everything in our power--from daily feeding to minor surgeries to wound care to sterilisation and vaccination. Although our team is not too big, we have considerable experience, and with each dog we rescue, we are getting better at what we do. We even have an ambulance that picks up strays every single day. At our place, every dog gets a chance. Also, I hate the idea of euthanasia. My father, who passed away recently, was paralysed for 17 years, but never did we even consider abandoning him. Similarly, I think we should fight for animal lives as hard as we fight for human lives.

What happens once they have been rehabilitated?
Many of the dogs suffer from severe mange. Many of them have hairless patches covered with open wounds and infected skin, which might look awful, but are in fact easy and affordable to treat. Other common cases include animals that have been hit by vehicles and require surgery or wound care. Malnourishment and abuse also leave dogs frail, weak and injured. After rehabilitation, some of the dogs are adopted, and those that call the street their home and their street pack their family, are reintegrated back into their families.
   
Does Sneha's Care assist any other animals in need of support?
Our major focus is on dogs as they make for by far the largest stray animal problem in Kathmandu. However, by no means are we limited to just dogs, and we have many a time treated other animals. Most recently, we have been looking after cows that sustained critical burn injuries after a fire tore through a cattle farm in Gokarneshwor Municipality in Kathmandu.

How has life changed for you?
I find immense peace in just knowing, deep within my heart, that I'm taking care of so many Zaras. In fact, working with stray animals has helped me see through the superficiality we live with. At one point, I was obsessed with appearances, buying branded goods and going to parties. But I'm a new person now; what's important is how I treat those around me, be they animals or humans.
 
What motivates you?
My goal is to save as many lives as I can.  Also, I'm big on raising awareness. Students from various schools serve as volunteers, and when I see the changes that volunteering brings in them, it fills me with so much hope.