In l995, after a long search, assisted by local resident, Dr. G.S. Yonzone, Christine Townend met Mr. Donald Karthak, who offered to sell to the trust at a minimal price, one acre of land, on a beautiful terraced hillside of rice paddy, with views north to Sikkim and the Relly River Valley. The land, at Salimbong, Bong Busty, on the outskirts of Kalimpong town, in the foothills of the Himalayas, about two hours’ drive from Darjeeling, had no road access, nor were there any electric connections in this outlying area. A lovely mountain path about two kilometres in length winding through the rice paddies, patches of forest, and small houses built of bamboo and mud, led to the shelter site. However, there was rumour that a road would be built. in the near future, so the land was gratefully purchased from Mr. Karthak.
Christine and Jeremy had noted that the dogs in Kalimpong were in very bad condition. Many had almost no hair due to mange which had spread through the dog population. Many also had infected, swollen and cancerous genitalia, again an infectious disease spread by contact. Others were wounded or limping, some clearly having had boiling water thrown on them, having been injured on the roads, or struck by the kukuri. Additionally, the municipality was conducting regular strychnine poisoning of the dogs.
Christine and Jeremy found one dying dog in the gutter of the main street. They were staying at the Himalayan Hotel, and the owner, Mrs Neelam MacDonald, kindly allowed them to euthanase and bury the dog in the grounds of the hotel. Mrs. Neelam MacDonald was to become one of the founding trustees.
Architect, Mr. Ashok Pradhan designed the shelter together with input from Christine, and construction began after the site had been levelled (the existing terraces were too narrow for construction). Due to small creeks and massive downpours of rain during the monsoon, the construction of walls and efficient drains was necessary. A water storage tank of 22,000 litres was built on the site, and the trust purchased a spring by means of an agreement with the nearby village. A pipe was constructed to carry the water 0.8 km to the shelter site.
Gradually the shelter took shape. As there was no electricity, solar panels were installed for purposes of lighting. A sewage seepage system was designed so that no effluent from the kennels would leach into the local water courses.
Many trees were planted and a beautiful garden began to flourish, tended by the gardener, Hem Saker.
In l995 the chairman of the municipality, Mr. Kumai, signed and aggreement that no more dogs would be poisoned by the municipality so long as the Kalimpong Animal Shelter conducted a successful ABC programme. An advertising programme was devised to inform people of the project, and leaflets were circulated explaining the benefits of spaying.
However, although the ABC programme was planned to be based on the successfully operating project at HIS in Jaipur , it was soon found that conditions were very different and many adaptations needed to be made to suit the different geography, culture and the prevailing attitudes.
Because there was no road to the shelter, the government veterinary clinic had agreed to allow the shelter to use some space at the clinic. A rotunda was provided, fencing for which was supplied and erected by the shelter. The ABC programme began, with the visit of two volunteer vets, Anna Usher from Australia and Joy Pritchard from England. Although it was not necessary for the KAS staff to catch dogs with a sack, because the dogs were much more socialised than those in Jaipur, and although the staff were able to pick up the dogs in their arms, confusion arose because of this very factor: it was hard to identify which were ‘stray’ dogs and which were owned dogs.
It was time-consuming, but the only long-term solution to dealing with this problem was for the staff to conduct an education campaign, personally speaking with people, and trying to locate owners of dogs, or those that fed the street dogs. The staff then explained to the owner the benefits of spaying and vaccination., distributing a leaflet written in Nepali.
Over the years so many dogs have been spayed and vaccinated that, not only has the health of the community dog population greatly increased, but the population of puppies has been greatly reduced. These days there are so few puppies available in Kalimpong town, that Darjeeling Animal Shelter sends surplus pups from Darjeeling to KAS for adoption.
In addition to the ABC programme, the staff at KAS conducted many camps in far-lying villages only accessible by walking. This is an important factor in the control of rabies because wild animals living in the surrounding forest, particularly foxes and jackals, can spread rabies through attacking village livestock such as cattle and sheep, or even through fighting with the village dogs.
The first volunteer vet to work at KAS was Aldona Skeratyte. She lived in a small room at a nearby guest house, with kennels outside where rescued dogs were kept until the shelter was completed and she could move in to the vet’s house
Half-Yearly Brief From Kalimpong Animal Shelter ( KAS)
16th October 2009
Dog ABC programme- KAS has been carrying on the dog ABC programme on the guidelines mentioned in the HIS-ABC manual, the difference being, effortless dog catching method in Kalimpong, where dogs are friendly and are community dogs unlike Jaipur where they are more like stray dogs. Here dogs are lured with biscuits and then held under arms and gently put in the ambulance. More than often the local people do this task of catching. Every dog gets personal care while being at KAS. The number of dogs under our ABC programme from April 2007 to Sept 2007 is 284. KAS has developed expertise in conducting ABC camps in villages where operations are done in the villages. Pic a shows ABC surgery in a remote village in Hills. Pic b shows a dog and a cat being kept warm post operatively in field surgery.
Impact of dog ABC- The much talked sights of puppies running behind lactating bitches, puppies dying around, road accidents of dogs and poor general health of dogs in the streets have become a matter of the past here in Kalimpong. It is so conspicuous that few tourists did make an enquiry in the town to know if some ABC programme was going on and later visited shelter. Pic c shows visitors in shelter.
Anti rabies vaccination ( ARV)- Unlike Jaipur, where male dogs are caught and brought to HIS for ARV and ear notching, KAS vaccinates male dogs on the streets only but we don’t ear notch them for identification. This is possible here again because dogs are friendlier and the community is more involved. In the first six months 1163 dogs have been vaccinated against rabies. Pic d shows kids bringing their community dogs for ARV.
Impact of ARV- For the consecutive fifth year there has not been an incidence of rabies outbreak in humans in our ABC zone. This has helped building a mutually respectable relationship between the dogs and humans.
Adoptions- As mentioned above, there are not many free roaming puppies around here. We have been able to get very good homes for all the puppies we ever come across. 16 dogs and 4 cats were re-homed since April this year. All the puppies are vaccinated against rabies, distemper, parvo virus and then spayed before putting for adoptions. We have people waiting for puppies. A record is maintained of people in waiting.
Village camps – Village camps differ here from HIS in the sense that we cover a series of villages once we leave shelter for camps. Such camps are held for a period of 7 to 10 days. During such camps the ambulance is parked at one village and then the team (one vet and three staff) marches on foot walking village to village and door to door, for a week or more, in the difficult terrain where there are neither jeepable roads nor electricity. Such villages are cut off from any modern flair and people sustain on bare minimum. Every domestic animal is examined, animal husbandry practices are monitored and people are explained about the mistakes in their rearing. Sometimes villagers have been observed following a practice which does not conform to the welfare of the animals but it is our observation that people do such things out of ignorance only and they are ready for change. Apart from the domestic animals all available dogs are vaccinated and the female dogs are spayed. Such camps give good platform for awareness education. Pic e shows the mighty Kanchenjungha mountains in the back while walking up and pic f shows the team walking a tough terrain. Pic g and pic h show the night life during camps. Pic i shows the team interacting with the villagers. Pic j shows the economic feature of the area.
Dispensary – KAS runs a dispensary/clinic for animals same as Jaipur. But it grossly differs in the number and timing of people bringing their animals. In Jaipur, people follow the timing displayed outside dispensary and the cases are concentrated during those hours only. Here at KAS, people bring their animals when “they” are free or have finished with their routine farming activities (our shelter is set up in village area) which is generally beyond normal working hours. Again, people can bring only pets to our dispensary, not their domestic animals, as a sick large animal cannot be made to walk up and down the hill. In such cases, the vet and staff walk through the paddy fields and attend cases even at night. Pic k shows the morning dispensary in shelter.
A total of 2538 animals (pets and domestic animals) were treated in the last six months.
Cat ABC programme- We come across very beautiful cats around here in Kalimpong. They breed very fast. Majority of the kitten used to die of starvation. The remaining used to suffer in the hands of kids who used them as toys and sometimes squeezed them to death. There was a huge need of cat ABC programme in hills, one of its kinds in India as cat ABC is yet not a popular concept in India. Last year, we were fortunate to get fund from the the Marchig Trust, UK, to build a cattery, good enough to hold 10-12 cats. During my recent visit to Austin Humane Society, Texas, I was involved in Feral Cat ABC programme and benefited a lot. After return, I came to know that Animal Protection Network, Sweden is willing to sponsor a cat ABC programme for our shelter. We prepared bilingual awareness leaflets about need and effects of spay/neuter for cats. The local people were informed through leaflets, posters, local cable TV and newspapers and our first cat ABC started in the third week of June 2007. Response of people has been overwhelming so far. Our approach briefly is – we distribute suitable baskets to a section of community/volunteers on Thursday evening and collect the cats on Friday morning in baskets. Each cat is examined and operated and vaccinated on Friday. Upon recovery they are returned to the people to take care at home or kept at the shelter overnight, if needed. In the last three months 102 cats have been operated. Pic l shows cat collection in secured and safe basket and pic m shows cat ABC in progress. Pic n shows a cat recovering in the cattery.
Darjeeling infrastructure development- A new animal shelter is being built in LeBong, 10 kilometers from Darjeeling. We are involved as volunteer from HIS for the Darjeeling Goodwill Animal Shelter to ensure building the most feasible and best possible working infrastructure in one of the most difficult, both politically and geographically, part of India. One staff is stationed there to monitor and report the building process. Pic o and pic p show the building in progress at LeBong, Darjeeling.
Human Resource Management at Kalimpong- Please note, that everyone working at Kalimpong is happy and content with their respective remuneration in turn of their services for the shelter. This was revealed during a formal meeting two weeks back at the shelter. In the meeting were present Christine, Nirmalji, Chawlaji and all the employees of KAS. The staff expressed their gratitude and promised undivided loyalty and commitment to shelter’s work for animal welfare. Their dignified gesture touched Chawlaji, Nirmalji and Christine. Chawlaji was prompt in expressing his delight over the general cleanliness of the shelter and the staff. He avidly acknowledged that everything looked very orderly and professional. He proposed that there should be an exchange programme of the staff between Jaipur and Kalimpong. There exists a very healthy working ambiance at KAS. Our office manager, Arpan, is working hard and keeps pace with the increasing number of projects, thus expenses and subsequently more entries in accounts books. We have a cordial relationship with the Kalimpong Municipality, Gram Panchayats and local clubs. Rotary Club, Kalimpong collaborates with us in some of the village camps. The local print and electronic media is more than willing to cover our activities. Pic q shows staff smiling with dignity while at work.
Beautiful temptation- I cannot restrain myself from sending pic r and pic s just to illustrate that we, at Kalimpong Animal Shelter, are privileged to be working in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. The two snaps are taken from a distance which is less than ten minutes from the shelter during evening walks along the ridge.
Dr Naveen Pandey
Kalimpong Animal Shelter