HELPING A FRIEND: Ram Nagarkoti joined Kathmandu Animal Treatment Center nine years ago as a part-time kennel builder. Today, he is both the ambulance driver and operating room assistant at the center.
The phone calls start early morning. They are strikingly similar. “There is an injured dog on the street. Can you take care of it?”
Ram Nagarkoti, the 31-year-old ambulance driver at the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre (KAT Centre) often spends his days zigzagging through traffic, waving at police officers as he edges across intersections and squeezes into labyrinthian alleyways to find his patient — one of 20,000 stray dogs in Kathmandu.
In flip-flops, baggy pants and a well-worn white T-shirt, Ram looks more like a wandering hippie than an animal ambulance attendant. This morning, the injured dog is a mutt of medium build with thick black hair who lives with seven other strays at a Hindu temple. A shopkeeper made the call when she noticed the dog could no longer walk and refused food handouts.
Ram knelt down, caressing the dog as he tried to figure out what was wrong. Before moving the mutt, he also did a quick health survey of the temple’s other canine residents. As the shopkeepers began hovering around him, he slipped into an impromptu talk on animal health and the need for birth control.
“A healthy dog means a healthy community, and these dogs all need to be vaccinated and fixed,” Ram told the gathering crowd, explaining to a curious lady how females are spayed. He then turned to one of the temple beggars and to the man’s surprise taught him how to carry the dog to the ambulance. The beggar was grinning from ear-to-ear and asked to pet the dog after setting him down.
It is easy to lump the stray dogs of Kathmandu into one large category: destitute, miserably hungry, unloved, unhappy and most critically, unvaccinated and unneutered. Yet, some Nepalis keep dogs as indoor pets or as guard dogs, chained outside their houses. Many others contribute to the care of ‘community dogs’.
These strays roam across a few blocks of streets. They drink from drainage ditches, politely beg from shops and fill the night with their baying, howling, snarling, yelping and ululating barks. In winter, cold kills the weak. In the dry, hot months, thirst kills. Puppies have a particularly high death rate. Wounds from nighttime fights fester. Many dogs suffer from starvation, infected open sores and mange.
The KAT Centre is one of three nonprofits that divide up the city and its stray dogs, vaccinating, doctoring and conducting neighborhood awareness programs. Based in a house with a large yard, the center has eight employees, including two vets, a flow of local and international volunteers, and about 50 stray dogs and a few cats in its compound on an average day. The operating room is open five days a week.
KAT’s goal is to humanely reduce the number of stray dogs by creating a healthier, rabies-free street dog population. Founded in 2004 by Jan Salter, a painter who has lived in Katmandu for almost 40 years, KAT conducts on-the-street rabies vaccination (950 dogs in one neighborhood this autumn), as well as spaying and neutering campaigns. By contrast, a couple of decades ago, the government conducted dog-poisoning campaigns, once killing 10,000 in one go. New packs of strays moved in to fill the void.
Injured animals are treated at the center, then vaccinated and neutered or spayed before being released. About five to seven dogs a month, usually puppies, are adopted. A constant struggle for donations has meant discontinuing distemper and parovirus shots.
Vets Bidur Piya and Dr Banga treat an injured dog.
Dogs are everywhere in the KAT Centre. They sleep in the driveway or curled up in baskets, in stairwells, in the room with the overfull, chugging washing machine. Or they may be recovering from sterilisation in kennels. Some, like a blond short-haired male who lost a leg in a car accident, are too weak to return to street life and become permanent residents.
There are visible signs that KAT has made inroads. More Nepalis are adopting dogs — and making emergency calls about dogs in distress.
After the temple pick-up, Ram is called to fetch another dog with leg injuries. Everyone at KAT multitasks. Ram joined the center nine years ago as a part-time kennel builder. Since then, he has learned English and is also operating room assistant. When Ram is not driving, he assists Bidur Piya, a 32-year-old vet, in the triage room.
They muzzle the injured dog and Piya strokes him as Ram shaves the fur around the leg wound. Once the patient is anesthetised, Piya cuts out the damaged tissue, disinfects the wound with honey and bandages it up. The dog will be neutered and then should be back on the street in another month.
Reprinted with permission from
Watch KAT Centre’s video:
Giving rabies a shot, Buddha Basnyet
The dog mother, Trishna Rana
A dog’s best friend, Michael Cox
Dog’s best friend?, Salil Subedi
Kathmandu’s dog afternoons, Jiggy Gaton
K9-Friendly, Subeksha Poudel