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KAT and the street dogs of Kathmandu

I first heard of the work being done to improve the welfare of Nepal’s street dogs several years ago and recently was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see for myself how a small organisation in Kathmandu is making a huge difference to the lives of the city’s dogs.

Like many countries around the world, Nepal is no stranger to the problems associated with street dogs. Every year in Nepal around 16,000 people are treated for dog bites and approximately 200 people die of rabies.

Despite the constant influx of tourists and trekkers passing through Nepal to experience the beauty and grandeur of the Himalayas, the country itself is incredibly poor with 30% of the population living below the poverty line and where daily rolling power outages are a way of life. Addressing street dog issues is invariably way down the list of priorities.

In 2004 the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre (KAT) opened and began trying to confront some of the problems affecting both the welfare of city’s dogs and the people and communities who live along side them. Operating across Kathmandu, KAT’s activities have had a profound impact on the city’s dogs over the past eight years.

Kathmandu is Nepal’s capital city, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains on every side. It sits 1,400 meters above sea level and on a clear day the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas are visible to the North. Kathmandu Valley is comprised of three districts, a population of almost 3 million people and an estimated dog population of 35,000.

Operating out of a Centre in Budanilkantha, KAT runs three main work programmes:

  • A CNVR (Collect Neuter Vaccinate and Return) programme where dogs are collected from the street by specially trained KAT dog catchers, brought to the Centre, neutered by a team of vets, vaccinated against rabies, treated for conditions like mange and then returned to same location they were collected from three days later. Over 12,000 of Kathmandu’s street dogs have gone through the CNVR programme since it began.

  • A Rescue and Treatment programme where dogs  that require emergency rescue or treatment are collected and treated at the Centre. This could be anything from traffic accident injuries to cases of severe mange. Once these dogs have fully recovered they are again returned to the location they were collected from. Over 5,000 dogs have received treatment through this programme so far.

  • A public education programme which encourages people to take a more active and positive role in the care of the street dogs. A survey conducted in 2010 showed that in the parts of Kathmandu where KAT has been running this programme, people were kinder and more understanding towards street dogs than in the areas KAT had not yet reached.

In addition, KAT, along with partner organisations, has vaccinated an additional 25,000 of Nepal’s street dogs against rabies.

Before KAT was founded, the city government received more than 150 calls every month from people complaining about the street dogs and they routinely used strychnine to kill about 10,000 dogs each year. When KAT began its work, the government agreed to cease killing and as a result of KAT’s programmes, the number of calls has dropped to only four to five each month. The numbers of dogs has decreased as a result of their CNVR programme, and the welfare of the dogs has been vastly improved since KAT began its work. For example, in areas where KAT doesn’t operate 82% of dogs suffer with skin conditions, where KAT runs its programmes that figure is down to 19%!

KAT also runs an adoption programme where it finds new homes for some of Kathmandu’s dogs and cats. On walking into the Centre, I was greeted by the wagging tails and excited yelps of some of the dogs looking for new homes. Each one exemplifying why a dog born on the streets of Kathmandu is as wonderful and adoptable a dog as any I have seen.

While I was there I saw a young fox faced bitch nursing six pups. She looked far too small a dog to have such robust and bear-cub looking puppies, all clambering over each other to suckle. On the street these puppies would have had limited chances of survival, at KAT Centre they are assured the best possible start.

My time in Kathmandu and at the KAT Centre was hugely revealing about the complexities of working in such a demanding environment. To see an organisation run by dedicated staff and volunteers having such a real and positive impact on the lives of the city’s street dogs and people was incredibly inspirational.

On 13th November the festival of Kukur Tihar takes place. This is a day when dogs are worshipped and the special relationship between humans and dogs is acknowledged. Across Nepal people will celebrate this by feeding street dogs and hanging yellow marigold flower garlands around their necks. With the help of organisations like KAT, perhaps this special relationship with dogs has a chance of being acknowledged every day in the future.

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