Every day is Dog Day

Kathmandu’s community canines already seem to sense that their special day is coming soon on 14 November, Kukur Tihar. That is when they are ritually garlanded  and offered treats as the messengers of Yamaraj, the god of death.

But for Rashmi Tuladhar, every day is dog day.

Ever since she was a child, she took care of the dogs and cats in her tole – these were not abandoned strays but community pets. No one owns them, but everyone does.

Rashmi at home with one of her dozen resident dogs. All photos: SHRISTI SHERCHAN

Over the years, Rashmi’s bond with dogs in her neighbourhood grew, and today at age 46 she has been taking care of several generations of dogs, while keeping some of the more needy ones in her own house in Asan.

The pandemic has been tough on Kathmandu’s community dogs  there is less food to rummage through and many butcher and food shops are closed. And, ironically, while dogs will be worshipped on Saturday morning by being fed and feted, Tihar fire crackers will scare the wits out of them in the evening.

Rashmi Didi, as she is affectionately known in her neighbourhood, gets up before dawn every morning. Not to visit the temples as some of her neighbours, but to prepare the morning meal for the 100 community canines that she cares for: from Asan to Ratna Park, and as far as Ghanta Ghar. Rashmi keeps another dozen or so seniors and injured dogs in her cramped ancestral home.

“Many people just see them as filthy animals who are always breeding endlessly, so they either do not take care of them or mistreat them,” says Rashmi while on her daily rounds to check up on the dogs in her neighbourhood.

Rashmi Tuladhar's simple ancestral home in Asan at the heart of old Kathmandu.

The dogs recognise her from afar, and run towards Rashmi, tails wagging furiously. For Rashmi, there is less of a religious motivation to appease the gods in this work. She is driven more by compassion for fellow sentient beings.

She gets help from animal welfare organisations Animal Nepal and Catmandu Lovers to sterilise and vaccinate the dogs and cats, and also treat those who are sick or injured. “Their help has made me realise that there are good people in this world too,” she says.

Rashmi Tuladhar feeding community dogs in her neighbourhood in Asan during her morning feeding round.

Rashmi herself is handicapped, her right hand is partly paralysed. From a young age, she faced discrimination and bullying for being a ‘cripple’. She says she still cannot understand how people can be so cruel, adding that her special bond with dogs probably comes from identifying with the way the animals are also mistreated by humankind.

“For me, humans are the ones more difficult to deal with in this world,” she explains matter-of-factly. “I have seen people abandoning their own pets on the streets, some leave them to suffer in cages. I cannot understand why they bring home a dog or a cat only to leave them on the streets.”

While on her morning rounds, Rashmi's neighbours stop by to chat with her. Strangers sometimes ask her why she is feeding the dogs, and they cannot understand why she does it.

“These animals cannot express themselves in a way we humans understand, they cannot ask for help. People are mean to them, they throw hot water or rocks, beat them with sticks,” she says. “Some people even say hurtful things even while I am feeding them. But at least these dogs know not all humans are nasty in this life that we are living together.”

Although she may sound despondent, Rashmi see hope in young people in her neighbourhood who stop by to pet the dogs she is feeding. Many say they do not have dogs are home, but would like to have one. Rashmi recognises every dog on the streets by their names, and introduces them to the children.

One of Rashmi’s resident senior dog looks out of the window awaiting her return from her feeding round.

After completing her daily round, Rashmi heads home to feed and care for her own resident dogs, who yelp happily to see her return.

She says: “This is what makes me happy. My disability does not affect me so why should it affect others? I just hope people were kinder.”