Angel meets an angel


Just before all flights were grounded during the Covid-19 lockdown last year, dog trainer Janak Kapali was at Kathmandu airport to see off a street dog being adopted by a family in Canada, when he was surrounded by a pack of hungry strays.

One of them stood out, a snow-white one that was calm, gentle and unlike the rest of the pack that lived in the pre-departure area. She sat quietly next to the red kennel with the rescued dog being sent off (photos, above). 

Kapali noticed her at the airport whenever he came to arrange for the departure of one of the rescued dogs, and she always sat next to the pet carriers -- as if to say her own farewells to the dogs that were leaving.

“Every time I came to the airport, she was there, guarding the kennel while we waited for the dogs to be put on their flights,” says Kapali, 45, who shelters 14 rescued dogs in his Rambo Abbie Dog Training Centre (named after his own pets) in Kathmandu. 

Kapali noticed that with flights mostly cancelled during the lockdown, the unowned dogs at the airport had become emaciated because there were no humans to feed them. So, he took to offering the white dog snacks every time he was at the airport.

The white dog now has a name, Angel. And she is at the KAT Centre which works for animal welfare in the Valley. Angel has already got her shots, and her travel documents sorted out before departure.  

Akash Dahal at KAT Centre was struck by Angel's calm demeanour three months ago at the airport when he was seeing off another batch of rescued dogs.

“I have never before come across a street dog like Angel, she is just so well behaved and intelligent, as if she has been trained, she got along with the other dogs and she understood me,” says Dahal.

Lesley Mapstone, founder of Temple Dog Rescue in Canada, who supports animal welfare organisations in Nepal, also noticed Angel in airport photos taken by Kapali, and in videos posted by KAT Centre. It was she who named the dog 'Angel of Tribhuvan'.

Mapstone has been a frequent visitor to Nepal and was always moved by street dogs huddled in cardboard boxes at street-side garbage piles near Swayambhu. 

One afternoon three years ago, she followed a puppy to its mother and siblings living on a sidewalk. She started feeding them daily, but the mother and litter were in bad shape. She took them for treatment at the KAT Centre, but the vets were only able to save a female puppy.   

Mapstone named the pup Dawa, and adopted her. With Dawa by her side in Canada, Mapstone’s Temple Dog Rescue has been helping KAT Centre with fundraising to carry on with its work in feeding and sheltering Kathmandu’s community dogs, which have been going hungry during the long lockdown. 

Temple Dog Rescue also helps place dogs up for adoption with new families, and has helped find homes for dozens of strays from Nepal and Egypt. And it has found Angel a home.

The four-year-old is being adopted by an award-winning Canadian activist against domestic violence, and will soon have a large 20 hectare property to explore in Ontario. Through GoFundMe, Angel now also has a one-way ticket and is waiting for her own flight from Kathmandu airport, where she said goodbye to so many of her canine friends.

“Angel’s story about being an airport dog was so compelling that she was very popular during the fundraising, and soon she will have a loving home and lots of space to roam around and play,” Mapstone told Nepali Times by phone.

Meanwhile in Kathmandu, animal welfare activists are busier than ever caring for street animals during the lockdown. KAT Centre and Sneha’s Care have been feeding dogs, cows and even temple monkeys which have been deprived of their usual source of food. The empty roads also mean that there has been a horrendous rise in dogs and cows sitting on the asphalt being hit by speeding cars.

Sneha’s Care last week signed an MoU with Lalitpur Municipality to turn the city into an ‘animal friendly metro’, in the hope that it will be a model for other municipalities in Nepal to better care for street animals with anti-rabies vaccination campaigns, sterilisations, and control mistreatment. 

Animal welfare organisations are often asked why they pay so much attention to dogs when people are also suffering during the pandemic. Sneha Shreshta of Shena's Care answer to them is: “Looking after suffering animals is also a part of what it means to be a human being.”

Not all street dogs in Kathmandu are abandoned, many are community dogs. But many of these neighbourhood animals are also going hungry because of the lockdown, and have to forage in garbage piles to survive.

Janak Kapali says he has noticed growing awareness in communities about the need to take care of dogs all year around, and not just worship them during Kukur Tihar. Nepal’s animal care organisations have increased their profile, and there is now better response when abandoned dogs are put up for adoption.

“Unlike in the past, we now get inquiries about street dogs for adoption, although many more still prefer popular dog breeds,” says Dahal of KAT Centre. “Having people to volunteer with us is more important than donations because once people work closely with these animals, they have better empathy for them.”

It is difficult to find Nepali families wanting to adopt older, or disabled dogs and those that are not pure breeds. Which is where foreign adoptions have helped with finding homes for dogs that have been injured in acid attacks, or wounded in traffic accidents. 

Adds Mapstone of the Temple Dog Rescue: “Street dogs can be just as gentle and loyal and as willing to please as any other breed, they just need a chance and that is what we are doing.”

US suspends dog imports

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has banned dogs being brought into the country from 100 countries for one year because of an increase in the number of dogs with fake anti-rabies vaccine certificates.

The ban has been criticised by animal welfare agencies, and will affect dozens of dogs who have been delayed in joining families that have adopted them because of the lockdown. 

The US has seen a sharp increase in pet adoptions from abroad during the pandemic as lonely families cooped up at home needed companionship. However, the CDC says that more than 450 dogs arriving at US airports were found to have fake rabies certificates in 2020.

This is a small proportion of the nearly 1 million dogs that are adopted and imported in the US every year, but the CDC says it is taking no chances. The ban on imports will go into effect from 14 July, and there is a rush to take dogs to the US where the authorities have become extra-strict in checking rabies papers.

Among the 100 countries from which dog imports are suspended are China, North Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, Brazil, Kenya, Uganda, Colombia, Russia and others. Most European countries are not on the list. 

Sonia Awale


Sonia Awale is Executive Editor of Nepali Times where she also serves as the health, science and environment correspondent. She has extensively covered the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, development and public health -- looking at their political and economic interlinkages. Sonia is a graduate of public health, and has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.