Wanting nothing in return but love
The lockdown had just started in March, when Romi Lama saw a calf being attacked by a pack of street dogs. The calf was hungry and was foraging on a garbage pile, and the dogs were also starving.
“The young calf was badly injured, it was bleeding from the deep bites, and I knew it would not survive,” Lama recalls.
Lama was so shocked by the aggression, and so hurt by her inability to save the animal that since then she has been determined to feed the dogs so they do not have to harm other street animals and humans.
The nationwide lockdown to reduce the spread of COVID-19 that started on March 24 has affected everyone, people have lost jobs, there has been an increase in maternal mortality and migrant workers have had to walk for days to reach their homes Also suffering are Kathmandu’s street fauna.
Stray animals that survived on the food given by passerby, pilgrims at temples, or those that hung around butcher shops or restaurants for scraps have been going hungry.
Lama noticed that all the eateries on the Thankot road where she lived were closed, and the dogs were roaming the streets looking for food.
Singh Darbar dogs go hungry during lockdown, Sonia Awale
These acts of compassion have been expensive. She needs 30kg of rice every day to feed all the dogs along the road in Chandragiri Municipality. She was running out of money to buy rice when one day she met a couple who were also feeding dogs along the sidewalks.
Soon, she met other dog lovers and still others who were also helping the strays. They joined forces and divided up the road taking care of dogs in each section.
“It was much easier to work in a group with like-minded people,” said Lama, who was so traumatised by the sight of dogs attacking the calf that she is now also helping abandoned street cattle.
Luckily, Lama has found many people willing to help in cash or kind. For example, she recruited Navin Shahi, a vegetable trader at the Kalimati Market to donate greens that are not sold at the end of the day.
Lama is often encouraged by strangers on the streets, who engage her in conversation and ask how they can help. However, she is also sometimes mocked by her neighbours who cannot understand why she is feeding animals when people are going hungry.
“People have gone as far as to scold me for feeding the animals,” she says. “they say I should not feed the dogs because they are noisy and are a nuisance.”
But Lama says she tries to explain that dogs and cattle are also sentient beings, and their suffering causes hurt just like human suffering is painful. “I look at their eyes, and I can hear them say, help me. That is why I cannot stop helping the animals,” she says.
Luckily, there are ward offices and the Pashupati Development Trust which have helped her to help street animals by donating food items. She also gets some help from dog shelters and vets who help her treat injured dogs, or ones that are weak from lack of proper food.
One recent morning, it was clear that the street dogs were expecting her. They ran to Lama when they saw her approaching from down the road. A whole group of street dogs greeted her, wagging their tails wildly as she ladled out the food on the sidewalk. The dogs ate hungrily, rarely fighting or snarling at each other.
Lama says feeding the dogs also makes them less likely to be aggressive and attack humans. Vet clinics have reported a rise in dog bites since the lockdown began. She says that since dogs are naturally predatory animals, feeding them in moderation can help prevent them from becoming aggressive.
Lama runs her own restaurant, so there is always enough leftover food to distribute to dogs. She has been feeding street dogs along the Thankot stretch for the past 20 years, but she has never been as busy as now. She is also personally taking care of 50 abandoned dogs, three cats, and two oxen in a shelter.
She says: I am not the only one. When you are kind to animals, you find lots of people who will join you to help because they feel the same way about helping god’s creatures.”