5,000 Stray Dogs Were Saved By One Incredible Couple
In 2006, Samantha Green was vacationing in Sri Lanka when she came across a young street dog that seemed minutes away from death. Lying lifeless on the chalky grounds of a village temple, the puppy was riddled with mange and mites and was severely emaciated. Samantha, a UK citizen working in the transport industry at the time, was taken aback by the sight of this creature, who was barely recognizable atop the torrid dirt piles.
Unable to walk away from this wounded pup, Samantha quickly got to work, contacting vets and animal experts, and paying for the puppy to receive the medical attention it needed.
But the problem was far worse than Samantha ever could have imagined. At every street crossing, every corner, and outside every shopfront was a roaming street dog. Most often, they were riddled with mange, a parasitic skin disease, and starved beyond belief. Thousands upon thousands of dogs were in urgent need of medical attention, scattered across the worn streets of Sri Lanka, and nobody was helping them.
The Sri Lankan government's reputation for street dog maintenance was shameful, alternating between poisoning or shooting dogs and relocating them (or, dumping them in rural areas).
Standing with the wasted puppy in her arms, in a politically volatile and foreign country, Samantha had just, unbeknownst to her, committed to the biggest project of her life. Having no veterinary experience, limited knowledge of Sri Lanka, and no contacts whatsoever in the country, Samantha did the only thing she could. She saved the dog's life. Then, she uplifted her entire life and moved to Sri Lanka.
The birth of Dogstar Foundation
Ten years on, Samantha lives in Negombo, a fishing village on the west coast of Sri Lanka, roughly 35 kilometers (approx. 22 miles) north of the country's capital. There, with her husband Mark, she runs the Dogstar Foundation, which is now one of the leading animal welfare charities in Sri Lanka. Giving up their illustrious careers in the transport industry in both the UK and Australia, Samantha and Mark work without salaries, providing much needed care to Sri Lanka's forgotten street animals.
In 2006, the streets of Sri Lanka were filled with death and despair. But now, streets are not plagued with the same lifelessness. The dogs now all fashion little green stripes on their heads. These green markers were painted by Dogstar Foundation, and it signifies that the dog has been vaccinated and recorded. But it signifies much more. It means that these dogs are no longer forgotten. It means that there are two people out there fighting every single day to save their lives. They have been fighting for almost ten years now, and it is not over yet, and maybe, it never will be. The streets of Sri Lanka are still overcome with sick and dying street dogs. Abuse, neglect and disease are still prevalent. But Sam and Mark, alongside their dedicated team, have touched the lives of thousands upon thousands of dogs. And for those dogs, life is a lot better. There is hope on the streets now. Tails are wagging, children are more aware of the issue, and locals rush out of their homes when they see the painted Dogstar Foundation van, knowing that these people will help. Knowing, that Dogstar Foundation represents the future for animal welfare in Sri Lanka.
A day in the life
Sam and Mark have employed a team of dedicated staff and volunteers, mobilized community members, built an animal medical centre, and launched a highly successful mobile veterinary service. Their major focus is a sterilization program, to stem the flow of breeding street dogs and overpopulation.
The energetic couple are up every morning at 4 a.m., and don't stop until midnight.
In two weeks, the Dogstar team, consisting of roughly ten people, and pioneered by Sam and Mark, vaccinated over 5,000 dogs against rabies. That's not to mention the steady flow of dogs and cats that they continue to sterilize and provide medical treatment to, on a daily basis.
The two week vaccination campaign took place in Negombo, Sri Lanka and had been carefully mapped, planned and calculated. It was wildly ambitious and encompassed many miles of territory with a single mission: vaccinate as many street dogs as possible and record their data.
Two teams of roughly six people took to the streets to find and catch every dog within a carefully mapped town. This included both stray dogs and owned dogs. The mission was to provide a free rabies vaccine to the many dogs of Sri Lanka as well as educational materials to any owners.The teams spent their days chasing down dogs, jumping fences, scaling walls, climbing through barbed wire, running along beaches and driving down tiny alleys in pursuit of dogs. Once they caught them, they would net them, record them (and their health condition) into a GPS tracker, vaccinate them, paint their little heads (to keep track of dogs that have been treated) and set them free again.
Community members, including the elderly and young children followed them down the streets, blessing them and cheering and laughing as the team pursued the dogs.
Vaccinating dogs and recording data about their location and health condition are crucial components of the work that Dogstar Foundation undertakes, but, the dogs don't make it easy. Once they see the Dogstar Bus rumbling down the various alleys and streets that they call home, many of them bolt for cover. Some dogs even sound the canine alarm throughout the neighborhood to let their furry friends know that the Dogstar bus is in the area.
Samantha and Mark have just returned from Nepal, where they worked alongside various charities to provide the many animals affected by the earthquake with urgent medical attention. Wherever there is an animal in need, you can be sure to find this dedicated duo there.