A Stark Contrast: Kathmandu, Nepal & Asheville, North Carolina (USA)
By Becca Rae Broughton
The rain poured down, pelting the tin roofs with each drop. The dogs scattered, rushing for shelter underneath wooden benches and some even attempting a sneaky getaway from the courtyard into the office, only to be quickly ushered out. I scooped up a lonesome puppy and wrapped it up in my sweater to take it back to its mother and litter. It was a normal Sunday afternoon at the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre, where I would volunteer every weekend.
Monsoon season was upon us and every morning the same ritual of taking advantage of any sunshine to dry the hessian sacks used as bedding for the dogs, was quickly ruined by the inevitable downpour. The in-house dogs had little fenced-in compounds that had shelter from the rain, but they were mostly open to the weather and often flooded. The dogs that were still receiving treatment or had only recently been picked up by KAT staff – like the puppy that was snuggled inside my hoodie- stayed in rows of concrete and tin-roofed cubicles that also provided little warmth.
The KAT Centre was the first of its kind in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was an animal shelter started by Jan Salter, a British woman who saw the desperate need for care for the tens of thousands of street dogs that littered the city. The KAT Centre picks up dogs and cats to spay/neuter, vaccinate, and treat them for any injuries. They also started education programs to teach local communities how to treat and care for the street dogs that lived near them and sometimes provided bags of food and bedding so that the communities wouldn’t bear the brunt of any costs.
Domesticated dogs and cats were not common in Kathmandu, and when families did adopt, they only wanted pedigree breeds. So adoption was very rare at the Center. Sometimes we would send posts to the US Embassy of any new litters of puppies or kittens in the hopes that someone would be willing to adopt from an ever-increasing population in need, rather than buy a pedigree dog from their home country just to ship it all the way to Nepal.
As the Center had limited space and resources, after spaying/neutering the animals, they were returned to the area of the city where they had been picked up a week or so earlier. The hope was that without the burden of puppies, with a clean bill of health and a reduced risk of TVT (transmissible venereal tumors), these street dogs would have a better quality of life and longevity than before.
I couldn’t help getting attached to the sweet animals that would come through, only to see them be turned out to the streets once they were recovered, but I knew there was nothing more that could be done as the numbers were so overwhelming. Often many of them had never experienced love and affection- some even arriving with burns and scars from being tormented by people that didn’t care for them- and they would still wag their tails and jump at the opportunity to be held or chased throughout the compound.
In 2012, I moved from Kathmandu to Asheville, North Carolina. I looked up the nearest shelter so that I could continue to volunteer my time with animals. Nothing could have prepared me for the stark contrast in the facilities and resources at this shelter. The dogs and cats had separate wings, each complete with hallways of mini rooms for them to live in. They were air conditioned and heated, depending on the weather, and some of the larger dog rooms even had an armchair for the dog to relax in. The cats had clean litter boxes and furry mice toys and the dogs would get peanut butter cones and large, fluffy dog beds.
The life of an unwanted dog or cat is never easy, and even in Asheville, the number of animals brought in far exceeds the number of families coming to adopt. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the conditions of the shelter and, for the ones that got adopted, the prospect of a wonderful life in a permanent home.
The shelter at one point expressed a need for more bedding so I held a bedding fundraiser at my high school. The quantities of towels and sheets and comforters, all in perfect condition, that piled up in the few boxes I had left lying in classrooms was unbelievable. Some of them still had tags on!
This quickly reminded me of the cold concrete that many of the dogs in Kathmandu were spending night after night on. It was a harsh reality check to see the difference in the resources that were available to shelters and adoption centers in high-income countries. We quickly amended the fundraiser to include a shipment of bedding to be sent to Kathmandu for the treatment center to use and distribute.
The level of care and respect that I witnessed that staff provided to the animals was the same across continents and the love that all volunteers and adoptive families have for furry creatures is universal. The only difference is the availability of donations and funds, especially in places where animal-related NGOs are scarce or relatively new.
It is hard to persuade people to donate to animal causes but so much harder when that money is designated for a shelter thousands of miles away. Do you know if the shelter really exists? Do you know that the money is being spent on care for the animals? AKI is certainly able to give donors peace of mind in that regard as Karen Menczer is visiting many of the shelters and following up on the way the funds are spent.
It is important for us all to remember, wherever we live, that donating time and money will create changes for those that need it even if we do not have chance to experience those changes firsthand. Choosing to donate some blankets to the KAT Center did not change anything about my daily life or the lives of my peers who took the time to contribute resources. However, that night I fell asleep thinking about that small puppy and thinking that maybe- somewhere, somehow- he would receive a soft blanket to cuddle in and hide away from the Kathmandu monsoon rain.