Editorial Note: This is part of a series highlighting recipients of Lady Freethinker’s new Urgent Needs grant program, created to help rescuers with lifesaving veterinary expenses.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the already poverty-stricken streets of Nepal, more than 100 stray dogs in the Bhaktapur district faced an even more dire situation.

Although the district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed for its well-preserved palace courtyards, temples, and artworks, an estimated 130 stray dogs daily scourge the streets to stave off starvation, snapping up scraps from kind restaurant and hotel staff.

But those staff could no longer feed the strays due to financial repercussions from COVID-19, said Ishwari Bahadur Thapa, the chairman of animal welfare group Voice of Animal-Nepal.

Meanwhile, the small staff and volunteers continued to notice animals, injured and overpopulating, suffering in the streets.

“We often see many street animals lying dead and injured, wounded and sick on the road,” the nonprofit wrote on its website. “Their lives could have been saved if we treated them at the proper time.”

Established in 2015 and based in Kathmandu, Voice of Animal-Nepal has been feeding, vaccinating, and sterilizing Nepal’s street dogs for years to improve animals’ quality of life. They also provide spay and neuter programs and vaccination clinics to low-income residents in the area.

The nonprofit was one of two organizations granted a full award of $10,000 through the first cycle of Lady Freethinker’s Critical Care grant program, a part of the Urgent Needs grant program that we rolled out in Winter 2020, to construct a temporary shelter with medical facilities for the injured, wounded, and sick animals they help every day. 

We wanted to spotlight our awardees so LFT readers can see exactly what kind of phenomenal work for animals they are supporting! We’ll highlight the other award winners as well in upcoming stories. 

The following interview combines Thapa’s grant application, interview with Lady Freethinker, and information from the nonprofit’s website. Responses have been lightly edited for grammar and length.

If you’d like to further support Voice of Animal-Nepal, you can do so here.

Voice of Animal-Nepal

(Photo Courtesy of Voice of Animal-Nepal)

A Q&A With Ishwari Bahadur Thapa (Chairman of Voice of Animal-Nepal)

When did your connection to animals start? Why did you choose to fight for them in Nepal?

All the members of  my family are animal lovers. My love for animals was genetic. Because of that, I was very fond of street animals, especially street dogs. Since my childhood, I used to treat them medically whenever I would see wounded and sick street dogs on the road. I have a special bonding with the dogs.  

Kathmandu valley is a very vulnerable place for animals. Gadimai Mela [Festival] is one of the worst festivals for animals in Nepal, where thousands of animals are sacrificed brutally in the name of God. We are forcing the Government of Nepal and the organizer of the festival to ban this brutality. However, the government is not paying any heed to this issue.

It is estimated that there are 30,000 to 35,000 street dogs on the roads of Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur districts). Most of these dogs live in miserable conditions, and most of them do not die a natural death. Most dogs and other stray animals are left to die on the streets by their owners. When they feel that their utilization is finished, they dump their pets on the road to die. 

Recently a street dog, Khaire, was beaten to death with an iron rod while tied around an electricity pole by the local community in the Kavrepalanchowk District. Khaire’s only mistake was to make a small scratch on the leg of the killer’s son. There are many instances of torture and abuse to street dogs in Nepal. 

In a nutshell, Nepal is not a peace zone for street dogs. We have to make people aware about the rights of the animals and raise our voices against cruelty to them. Animals are also a part of human society. We are interdependent on each other. We have to save our animals to save our environment.

Tell us about 2020.

In Nepal, we are facing a nationwide lockdown, and restrictions are having a severe impact on our ability to help starved animals. Nepal has extended its lockdown period for the second time. Because all of the restaurants and hotels are closed, many street and stray dogs are facing starvation and hunger. We have been feeding these starving street dogs since the lockdown began in Nepal in March 2020.

If street dogs remain hungry for a prolonged period, there are high chances of them resorting to entering people’s homes to find food and hurting smaller livestock, even chickens. By keeping them well-fed, those feeding dogs are averting such scenarios from unfolding, and the communities need to understand that.

Voice of Animal-Nepal

(Photo Courtesy of Voice of Animal-Nepal)

What main challenges do you face in helping dogs in Nepal?

Social activities are not easy to do in developing countries like Nepal. Creation of hurdles is common while delivering a social service. Take the instance of our ongoing project “feeding to street dogs,” which has been held in Suryavinayak Municipality of Bhaktapur District since the lockdown began. Not everyone is happy with people feeding stray dogs. Some locals say the food left out for dogs is attracting more strays and inviting nuisance, while others fear dogs could transmit COVID-19 (however, this claim has no scientific evidence yet). Some of them threaten us not to feed them in their areas. Some have made complaints in the Ward office. They say that the number of stray dogs has gone up in their neighborhood; they complain that the dogs are creating a nuisance.

But our mission was not stoppable. We continued. Feeding strays is an act of compassion at such a trying time, especially considering that the crisis is more severe for these dogs who solely depend on humans for their food.

The biggest challenge for us is the pandemic. The restriction of movement and the virus spreading are creating big challenges for us. Despite continuous requests from family members not to go outside during this pandemic, we have been continuing our program so that these dogs won’t be left starving.

How did you decide to invest the grant money?

We have been providing veterinary services to wounded and sick animals on call. We are desperately in need of our own treatment center with a veterinary ambulance; now we use our motorbike and cab for the service. 

We are working very hard to construct a medical treatment center for abandoned and stray animals where all the animal treatments are free of cost. We have been looking for 2,545 square meters of land to lease (purchase of land costs more). Due to the high chance of hurdles and objection from local communities, human-populated areas are not appropriate for the treatment center. So we are looking for the project site in remote areas, approximately 10 to 12 km away from the main city of  Kathmandu where we can operate the project at least for 10 to 15 years continuously. 

Voice of Animal-Nepal

(Photo Courtesy of Voice of Animal-Nepal)

What’s a “typical” day like for you?

I wake up early in the morning and go on a morning walk and do some physical exercises and yoga to keep me fit the whole day long. Every day I return home between 4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. to feed the street dogs, leaving my office work pending. I have to make arrangements from distributing our team to cooking food. I take a leave from my office when we have projects like spay and neutering or anti-rabies vaccinations. I also arrange vets for onsite medical treatment, the awareness and education program on rabies and animal rights and protection, and others as required. Since the lockdown is continuing, now we have hired a vehicle to distribute foods in more and more areas.Otherwise, we use a motorbike in distributing food when we have no budget.

What keeps you going on a bad day?

Frankly speaking, my inner confidence has motivated me to do something for these speechless animals. As I have already said, my relatives have requested me not to go outside during this time [of COVID-19]. I have declined their request only because of sympathy to these voiceless animals. I can’t see them suffering and in despair.

Is there anything you’d like LFT supporters to know about their support or your nonprofit?

All animals on the planet are part of society, and hence we need to realize their importance in our everyday life. It would mean so much to the dogs to have regular nutritious meals, human companionship, and protection. Your donation could make the difference between life and death for them. 

We have limited resources to implement our project. We rely on generous support from individuals and organizations. During the last five years, we have done lots of projects, like our dog population management program, anti- rabies program, awareness and education on rabies and its impact, and mobile treatment to street animals. At present we are urgently in need of a Veterinary Ambulance for quick services. If any organization would like to help us please contact at [email protected]. We are looking for a patron who can support us in our objectives.

Voice of Animal-Nepal

(Photo Courtesy of Voice of Animal-Nepal)