Animal Welfare Activists protest at Mayor’s arbitrary action on removing Community Dogs From the Park

Anusha David, an Animal Welfare Activist for the last 40 years, while out feeding the dogs at the Vihara Maha Devi Park noticed a significant decrease in their numbers; in fact a decrease of almost 99%. On inquiring as to why this was so from the park officials, she was told that they had been taken away by the CMC. On inquiring as to the purpose of the dogs being taken , they replied saying they did not know. Ms David then proceeded to do 4 rounds of the park and much to her dismay discovered that only 3 adult dogs and 3 pups were left. A minimum of eight to ten adult dogs whom she was familiar with were no longer there. She then immediately contacted a senior official at the CMC [ whose name could be divulged if required ] who told her that the Mayor had ordered that the dogs be taken. As to the purpose, he was not aware of this. Ms David then contacted Prasanga who also feeds the Park dogs. Prasanga too contacted a CMC official who also said this had been done at the Mayors request. She went on to say that they at the CMC disliked incarcerating innocent animals , but had no choice but to comply with orders.

Ms David then proceeded to send the Mayor a wtsap message pertaining to this on a wtsap group that both the Mayor and Ms David were on, pleading with her as to why this had been done and why when Ms Senanayake the Mayor is very well acquainted with both herself and Ms Otara Goonewardene, they had not been consulted by her or the Mayors office in this regard. In fact venerable Sobitha Thero too tried contacting the Mayor with no response. When there was no response, Ms David contacted Ms Lakshika De Silva who is a close friend of the Mayors and asked her to inquire as to why this had taken place. The Mayor had then told Ms Lakshika De Silva who in turn conveyed her message to Ms David, that yes the dogs had been taken to the dog pound and were well taken care of and that Thisakya Senanayake was personally supervising the feeding rounds for the pound.

Otara Goonewardene stated that upon contacting the Mayor on the night of the 29th May, the Mayor had blatantly denied issuing the order, and had claimed that the police had taken the dogs to the pound on their own accord. Otara expressed her skepticism, as the police had actively supported the animal welfare activists during curfew and had assisted in swiftly gaining curfew passes to continue the feeding rounds. She further declared that Rosy had known about the dogs being rounded up, and had revealed intentions of the implementation to be spread to other locations.

The Mayor resorted to delaying her statement until the situation came to light. Late morning / early afternoon of May 30th, she addressed the claims:

“This statement is a response to the various False allegations being made on social media that all stray dogs including all those in and around the Vihara Maha Devi Park are being rounded up by the CMC and will be put down.
Let us explain what the actual situation is. During the curfew time due to the non availability of food, many stray dogs were congregating at around the Vihara Maha Devi Park and were being fed by the CMC and the Mayor herself. Due to the lack of food during those times there was a large congregation of dogs at the park in addition to the dogs which were resident around that area from before.
There have been mounting complaints to the park administration from park users, the general public and from the park workers themselves that some of these dogs are aggressive and have chased after both walkers, cyclists and even children. Also 8 ducks who were resident in the park have also been attacked and killed by dogs.
Due to this the Veterinary department took measures to identify the more aggressive dogs resident at the park and relocate them temporarily until a more permanent solution can be found. As a matter of information 2 dogs were removed, as they were identified as being aggressive. All other dogs remain in the area. Therefore the stories floating around that all dogs from Vihara Maha Devi Park have been removed, and to be eventually put down is false and that orders have gone out to remove all street dogs is also false. Anyone who care to visit the park today or even did so yesterday would have observed that there still are dogs in and around the park.
For your further information there are presently 4 dogs in the CMC facilities, of which 3 are for sterilization, 4 for observation as they have bitten people on the street and 1 extremely aggressive dog which cannot be released due its nature. Also the CMC has not put down any stray dogs in the last few years and will not be doing so in the future. This is a fact well known by all animal welfare groups.
What we hope to do is develop our halfway house facilities which will be a holding place for stray dogs until foster homes can be found for them. We have invited animal welfare activists to discuss steps we like to take in this regard and also obtain their valuable input and assitance to better manage these facilities.
We trust that this has shed light on what has actually happened and will put things in perspective.
The Mayor will also be making a inspection visit of the facilities presently housing the dogs today and will give the necessary instructions to upgrade the facilities if required.
Thanking you,
Office of the Mayor of Colombo 30th May 2020”

“Due to the lack of food during those times there was a large congregation of dogs at the park in addition to the dogs which were resident around that area from before” Mayors office.

From time immemorial there have been dogs at the Park whom animal Welfare Activists have fed, sterilized and rehomed. As of today 98% of these dogs are missing ince since 29th May. Anusha David .

“There have been mounting complaints to the park administration from park users, the general public and from the park workers themselves that some of these dogs are aggressive and have chased after both walkers, cyclists and even children. Also 8 ducks who were resident in the park have also been attacked and killed by dogs”. Mayor’s office.
These dogs are so timid that they will not even eat the food I put down for them until we have moved well away by which time, the crows have eaten most of it. Yes they do bark but even my dogs at home bark when they see me and run after me. As for the dogs eating the ducks, I’m afraid that anyone with any sense will not rear ducks in a public place where they are prey to humans, dogs and other animals. As for aggression in my 30 + years of feeding dogs at the park I have not witnessed this. Aggression is the last resort people stoop to when they have nothing else to say. If a dog is aggressive it is mainly due to fear and this aspect can be dealt with by those with the experience to do so. Carting them off to the Dog Pound is not the solution. In fact Dog Pounds are OBSOLETE, but then Sri Lanka does not even have an Animal Welfare Bill ! Anusha David .

“What we hope to do is develop our halfway house facilities which will be a holding place for stray dogs until foster homes can be found for them. We have invited animal welfare activists to discuss steps we like to take in this regard and also obtain their valuable input and assistance to better manage these facilities” – Mayor’s office.

Otara and Shilpa Samaratunge revealed that a meeting was held between the Mayor and several activists regarding the welfare of Sri Lanka’s Community Animals last year. Here, a proposal for sterilization programs to be executed by the government was suggested. Furthermore, the meeting adjourned on the agreement that if any problems arose in relation to stray dogs in Colombo, a few of the activists that were present would be informed. Ultimately, the proposal was not followed up and the agreement amounted to nothing as none of the activists were notified despite the Mayor’s assurances. Shilpa denies that the activists in the community group had been invited to assist with the halfway houses and fostering program, or even informed prior to the incident.
Otara proceeded to reveal Rosy’s sudden urgency to relocate the dogs and find them foster homes, despite proper solutions being proposed during the meeting last year. Panchali Panapitiya stated that CNVR programs are the only humane solutions to regaining control over the population of stray dogs, and that it is, in fact, the agreed upon method between the government and animal welfare organizations. Otara announced that drastic actions such as this are hurtful to the animals and that as a compassionate nation, this act opposes the expectations of Sri Lanka’s concerned citizens.
The issuing of this order has caused citizens to recall the 2018 incident involving Rosy calling for dog catchers. Shilpa stated that Rosy had also claimed that she’ll be visiting the pound in 2018, only to go back on her word.
“A week after she took office Mrs.Ira de Silva, Lalani de Silva, Lorraine Bible and myself went to meet her in order to appraise her of the Community Animals in Colombo. She wanted us to give a proposal to humanely manage them. She also appointed one person from her team to liaise with us. The second meeting included Otara Goonewardene, Shiona and Iromi from AWPA, Dr. Dharmwardane and his team from the CMC. At the meeting Dr. Dharmwardane assured us that all the un-sterilezed dogs in Colombo will be systematically operated and that he does not need any help from the Animal Welfare Community for this purpose. We offered our support. After a few months we realized that the situation was not getting any better because of the numerous calls all of us were getting about abandoned mums and puppies. We informed the Mayoress and another meeting was called this time with the Council members as well. Some of the complaints were about the park in Crows Island and another in Mutwal. Otara and myself made an appointment and went with Dr. Dharmwardane to check out the actual situation in both places. The dogs in Crows Island were very few, there were a pack of about 8 dogs with the security who were vaccinated and sterilized and very friendly but they told us that they turned guards after the park was vacated at night and the neighborhood around the park also informed us that they bark and were very active around 0100 – 0300am. They and the residents bordering the park seemed to think that there were nefarious activities such as drug pedaling going on and having the dogs there acted as a deterrent to such activities. In fact they informed us that with the dogs around they felt safe. However Otara organized and sterilized over 30 dogs in and around the park. Our next visit was the children’s park in the Mutwal area. When the security guards realized we had come to check on the dogs they actually became hostile and informed us that they had 4 dogs that were vaccinated and sterilized and that they are no problem to any one and guard the park after 10pm once it’s closed from druggies who would jump in. We assured them that we had no intention of taking them anywhere, and when we walked around, we saw the dogs being fed by visitors too. All this happened in 2018 when the dialogue basically broke down as we saw nothing was happening on the part of the Mayors office and the CMC and we continued to do our best to keep the population under control and ensure that the animals were fed and safe” – Sharmini Ratnayake.

Last afternoon, 30th May 2020, activists and citizens gathered before Town Hall to protest for the release of the dogs. Proper health instructions were followed by all protesters who diligently wore masks and gloves, and responsibly practiced social distancing.

“Madam Mayor, What are you doing about the real problems that beset this country such as 1. filthy municipal markets including Manning Market which is abominable. 2. lack of street lighting – despite being a woman and street lighting being so important what are you doing to make women safer especially when travelling at night. 3. Bad roads 4. Open cess pits 5. Blocked storm drains 6. Lack of proper street cleaning except in Colombo 7 . 8 Corrupt officials .
Why are you targeting innocent animals? Have you been to the dog pound? Do you know the meaning of a pound? Have you any knowledge what we welfarists have faced in this pound? Where were you then? Do you know the trauma that these animals go through when they are being caught?
Who were the posh damsels who were walking and then asked you to remove these innocent beings?
Please be accountable for suffering .Please release these dogs immediately”Visakha Tillekeratne.

“At the time of writing this article 12.30 pm on Sunday 31st May 98% of the Park dogs are still missing despite claims that they have been brought back. I know each and everyone of these dogs and can easily identify them” Anusha David .

Anusha has also contacted Manekha Gandhi, the world renowned Animal Welfare Activist as well as Dr Chinny Krishna, founder of the Blue Cross organization in India which has Animal shelters across India and who until recently was a board member of WSPCA and one of India’s most respected and renowned Animal Welfare Activists, to assist in this matter.

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