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The ‘kill shelter’ of Wennappuwa 

2 years ago

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By Ravini Perera    Animal shelters in Sri Lanka are established and operated by various organisations (both public and private), with the support of well-wishers, intending to safeguard lost, abandoned, surrendered, stray, and unwell animals. Projects focused on re-homing, rehabilitating, and housing these animals have taken something of a backseat as of late with many activists in favour of focusing on sterilisation programmes to put an end to the uncontrollable stray populations.  The sterilisation (spaying or neutering) of stray cats and dogs is considered the most humane method of controlling the growth of their population. Hence, an effectively carried out programme may yield results of zero stray population within a few years.  Shelters, while a respite for homeless animals, come with many of their own challenges, and despite the efforts of certain animal rights activists to discourage shelters, these establishments continue, often without adhering to due standards and humane practices. One such shelter that has drawn significant attention recently is the dog care centre located in Wennappuwa.  Many claims have emerged blaming this animal shelter of promoting animal cruelty where uncountable innocent lives are allegedly lost daily due to negligence. Moreover, numerous campaigns have been carried out on social media to expose the malpractices of this shelter. Brunch spoke with a few of the individuals advocating for the betterment of the lives of stray animals for their views on the issue at hand.    [caption id="attachment_145750" align="alignright" width="601"] The opening ceremony of the ‘Sunaka Sewana’ dog care facility PHOTO©️ AROSH PERERA[/caption] Paving the way for chaos  While initiated with good intentions, this project was foreseen to run into trouble in the future by many animal welfare organisations, who offered assistance in managing the situation temporarily while steps were to be taken to close down the shelter. Kandy Association for Community Protection through Animal Welfare (KACPAW) Secretary Champa Fernando was one such party who participated in continuous discussions with the Chairman in order to close down the site. However, the project continues to date. Speaking to Brunch, Fernando shared that on 4 February 2021, Wennappuwa Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman Susantha Perera opened the dog care facility named “Sunaka Sewana” in Dummaladeniya, Wennappuwa, in a location also used for garbage disposal. He, according to Fernando, allegedly invited people from all parts of the island to drop off any unwanted animals at this shelter.   “On 17 February 2021, representatives of three animal welfare organisations met with the Chairman and pointed out the short and long-term negative impacts this would have on the community and the abuse these animals may be put through,” Fernando said. Fernando and other advocates initially found 300 cats and dogs at the shelter that were underfed and dehydrated. In addition to their deteriorating health conditions and flea infections, these animals were creating a major nuisance in the neighbourhood.  Though a school of thought exists among the community that supplying food is the most important element for the survival of animals, experts state otherwise. “Food can also be a killer. People do not understand the harm being caused to these innocent creatures. One cannot operate a shelter in a rubbish dump. Hygiene, constant veterinary care, and nutrition are among the most desired factors for the wellbeing of an animal,” she added.    A disease-spreading centre? Activists and numerous visitors of the shelter have come forth to rehome most of the animals, but very few of these rehomed animals have survived due to being infected with various viruses from the dump yard. Fernando of KACPAW, as well as another concerned resident, both reported that the lack of proper health standards at the premises is causing epidemics among these animals. Unclean surroundings often attract stray animals. “No rubbish yard should be a home for an animal. This place should operate as a regular garbage dump. Thereafter, a sustainable project must be launched to care for these animals where none will be faced with an unfortunate death,” noted Fernando.  Water, electricity, buildings, enclosed areas, grounds, workers, cleaners, cooks, feeders, guards, veterinarians, and money, among many other things, are essential to lead a successful shelter. Hence, a sustainable plan about the future of these animals needs to be contemplated.  A representative of Marilyn’s Ark, a shelter for paralysed cats, spoke with us on their experience at the Sunaka Sewana dog care facility, explaining that, based on their observations, every animal who enters the facility and is thereafter taken out contracts various viruses leading to their death. This is particularly dangerous for other animals who come into contact with the stray animals found in the Sunaka Sewana facility. Approximately 230 animals rescued from the facility and placed at Marilyn’s Ark died within days while infecting many others sheltered at the Ark.  “The good intention of the Chairman has led him and many others down a terrible path. Hence, this facility needs to shut down immediately. One must understand that a junkyard cannot be transformed into a shelter for animals. The lack of experience and facilities has directed the animals to find resources from the nearby villages, angering its residents,” said the representative.  Taking into consideration the danger of the situation, many letters have been addressed to the Chairman by KACPAW Secretary Fernando for the due closure, though no action has been taken. Being one of the only people to offer direct help to the Chairman, Fernando states that it is the Chairman who has to initiate the closure. Else, one might have to resort to extreme measures such as fining people to stop them from dropping off unwanted animals.  Requests and proposals were also made to utilise the resources of the council to instead carry out sterilisations within the village, for which much help was offered. However, Fernando said the Chairman instead sought the help of activists who had ulterior motives to take over the project, an action that Fernando believes was taken out of determination to keep the project running. Furthermore, Fernando shared that the Chairman agreed to a programme of sterilisation undertaken by volunteers. One hundred sterilisations were carried out with the private funds of the volunteers and a further 200 were planned prior to the travel restrictions imposed to control the third wave of Covid-19 in the country. As of present, third-party influences have derailed the sterilisation programme, halting its continuation.  “No person has taken action nor made any formal complaints against the site or the Chairman. One can simply state that they are feeding stray animals that come to the dump yard in order to avoid legal repercussions. We are waiting for the new act to be passed which will recognise shelters such as these to be illegal enabling them to be taken before court.”   
[caption id="attachment_145748" align="alignleft" width="365"] PHOTO©️ DIVYANJALI PREMASINGHE[/caption] ‘A lot needs to be developed and I am open to any suggestions and aid’ Brunch spoke to the initiator of the facility, Pradeshiya Sabha of Wennappuwa Chairman Susantha Perera, for his perspective on the situation.  “The land was ruined with many people dumping garbage and waste. Hence, it was my idea to put this idling land to better use. I have witnessed many people dumping unwanted animals on the side of the road. Therefore, I obtained this land to build a shelter for these animals. But no person imagined that this would attract such numbers,” said Perera. Though resources such as water and labour are obtained from the Pradeshiya Sabha of the area, it is a voluntary programme done under the name of the Chairman with his money. “Despite the shortcomings, the people of the area and volunteers have helped develop the site to its status at present,” he added.  When inquired about his response to the statements made by many on his public invitation to drop off animals at Sunaka Sewana, Perera explained that people learned about this shelter on social media and came to dump animals at the location. Animals of all ages, various conditions, and lactating mothers with their litter are dumped here heartlessly, he said. Perera claimed that many activists who have met him with the pretended intention to help these animals and to develop the shelter have done so planning to make a fortune. While some fight for the continuation of operations, others have encouraged for the concept to be terminated. It is a constant battle between the welfarists, he said.  Explaining further, Perera said: “I am not a quitter, thus I do not plan on taking a step back from this project. A lot needs to be developed and I am open to any suggestions and aid, especially from the naysayers. However, it is natural to receive negative feedback from the community when one attempts a good deed. While I appreciate the constructive criticism, I will stand up against any false accusations.”  Many animals who have caused immense trouble to the residents of the area have been accepted at the facility, with the intention of ending the inconveniences faced by them. Moreover, regardless of the aforementioned statement, the Chairman expressed his willingness to cease operations if it shall be the wish of the community. “We provide all three meals to these animals and they are seen to be happy. However, even if the animal care facility is shut down, the garbage dump will operate as usual, attracting animals to seek refuge at the site, which is beyond my control,” he said. 
The good Samaritans  Ranjani Fernando and Divyanjali Premasinghe, a mother-daughter duo who are residents of the area and daily visitors of the shelter, feed and care for the animals with their own funds. A habitual visit once a week for many years to feed stray animals on the street stopped with the establishment of this shelter, giving them hope that these animals would now be guaranteed a safe haven.  The shelter turned out to be even more dangerous with more than 1,000 animals dying during the month of May alone, they alleged. “The experience was similar to that of a butcher house. Animals die daily due to negligence, lack of protection, care, and by being run over by vehicles. The decomposing bodies are seen dumped to the side of the road without proper disposal. I have crossed swords with the employees who work there daily to act more responsibly,” said Ranjani Fernando.  The employment of many have been terminated fearing that true information of the operations of the facility will be leaked to the public, she said. Many rumours have been circulating within society that the animals are either killed and thrown into the river or used for meat and poisoned for being nuisances and for the diseases they spread. “Once on our feeding rounds, we found the entire facility to be cleaned up with no animals as far as the eye could see. Even to date, no information of the whereabouts of those animals have been revealed to us despite our inquiries,” she said.  Speaking on animals being dropped off at the shelter, Ranjani Fernando said that monks from temples and officers of the Police are often seen dropping animals at this location, allegedly being encouraged to do so by the Chairman. “Though I have requested the closure of the facility, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. It is hard to understand the motive of the responsible parties who keep this place open, but it is positively not for the welfare of these innocent animals,” she said.  Ranjani Fernando further stated that if this project is to continue, it should be undertaken by a knowledgeable and able-bodied person. “A building must be built according to proper standards ensuring security. Furthermore, healthy food should be provided. We have witnessed the animals being fed inedible rice infested with insects. Hence, if the food is inadequate the animals will consume polythene and garbage dumped at the site killing them within days.”  These animals also face adverse weather conditions without proper shelter. “They brave the rain that causes pneumonia and get burnt in the sun. They should be treated better,” said Ranjani Fernando.  [caption id="attachment_145749" align="alignright" width="274"] PHOTO©️ AROSH PERERA[/caption] Residents who visit the shelter frequently to feed the animals shared that a total of three employees are seen to constantly work at the facility since recent times. From 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., two employees clean and feed the animals and thereafter, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. another employee takes over the operations. However, many residents claimed that the employees consume alcohol while on duty, neglecting the animals and misusing the resources.  No information can be gathered of the activities that take place within the premises beyond 10 p.m., with a lack of security cameras and a lack of guards. This has prompted many to bring animals after nightfall and steal the animals at the shelter.  Speaking to Brunch, another resident, who did not wish to be named, also alleged that countless deaths take place daily, and said that it can be avoided if one takes due care.  “Rubbish-filled lands that no human would consider calling home should not be open to home animals. No facilities for the workers nor the animals are provided. The volunteers have shouldered the burden of feeding the animals and nursing them back to health. Lack of food, water, and shelter and mismanagement are some of the many faults. Hence, it is inhumane to treat animals thus,” the resident added.  “Though animals were found at the location a long time ago, it was made an official dump yard with the installation of the ‘Sunaka Sewana’ board by the Chairman. Then the rate of cruelty towards animals in the area skyrocketed. The Chairman needs to walk the talk,” the resident opined.  The resident further shared that many people have taken steps to inform authorities, including other members of the Pradeshiya Sabha, however, no one has initiated action to discontinue this project. According to the resident, the Chairman is considered to be a highly influential figure within the area. Thus many people fear to stand up to him, perhaps thinking of the consequences it may entail. The source further stated: “We have also requested for boards to be put up to lessen animals getting run over by vehicles on the street. But no action has been taken. Everyone is sensitive to this issue and the only solution we see is to close the shelter for good.”   The proposed solutions  Animal welfarists have discouraged the expansion and continuation of the shelter and suggested for the following action to be implemented.  Firstly, to remove the sign board of “Sunaka Sewana” and to publicise the discontinuation of the shelter. Simultaneously, to take measures to secure the premises and avoid dumping of animals in the future.  Secondly, divert the resources to conduct sterilisation programmes hand in hand with volunteers and activists and to establish a Pradeshiya Sabha fund inviting people to donate.  Cruelty against animals in shelters such as these must be exposed in order for wrongdoers to be punished. Hence, proper laws must be implemented to assist animal lovers in their battles to protect animal rights in society without any fear of persecution.

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