Time to care: Janey Lowes from Barnard Castle, now saving dogs in Sri Lanka

  • Time to care: Janey Lowes from Barnard Castle, now saving dogs in Sri Lanka
  • Time to care: Janey Lowes from Barnard Castle, now saving dogs in Sri Lanka
  • Time to care: Janey Lowes from Barnard Castle, now saving dogs in Sri Lanka

Janey Lowes, who left her home in Barnard Castle to save street dogs in Sri Lanka, talks to Ruth Addicott

WHEN Janey Lowes went backpacking and saw the plight of street dogs in Sri Lanka, she knew she had to do something about it. Three years on, she has treated nearly 4,000 dogs, set up a charity and won national recognition, including an award from the Prime Minister.

She first went to Sri Lanka in May 2014, and fell in love with the island. But it was the desperate state of the street dogs that left a lasting impression on the 28-year-old vet from Barnard Castle.

“It was the sheer amount of suffering,” she says. “I remember seeing a dog on the beach with a huge tumour under his eye. When I eventually found a vet in the local city, he said he wouldn’t touch a street dog. They are seen as disgusting creatures. I needed to do something.”

Two months later, Janey returned to the beautiful Indian Ocean island and set up the charity WECare Worldwide. With the support of a £10,000 donation from Westway Vets in Newcastle, where she worked, the aim was to raise money to buy the equipment needed to treat the animals and set up her own clinic in Talalla.

There are reportedly around three million street dogs in Sri Lanka, many of whom are either sick, infested with fleas and mange or have been injured by cars or cruelly treated.

“They are the worst cases I have seen as a vet 100 times over and the worst cases I expect to ever see,” says Janey. “We see dogs with tumours the size of our heads. We see snake bites all the time and maggot wounds every day. The dogs are in a really dire state. Until you see it for yourself, you can’t comprehend it, yet they are still kicking around trying to find food.”

One dog, Badger, was in the process of biting off his own infected paw. Another, Lottie, was suffering from distemper. “She was seizuring, struggling to breathe and had blood pouring from her mouth,” says Janey. “We got her through it and there is not a single thing wrong with her now. She is an absolute miracle.”

With the help of a local assistant, Janey took to the streets and began treating the animals most in need. With many needing a place to recuperate after surgery, she ended up taking a lot of them home. “I was renting a little house in the village and at one stage I had 16 dogs, I was losing my marbles a little bit,” she says.

In January 2016, she found an old primary school that was longer in use. With a gate and garden for the dogs to run around, it was perfect and was transformed into a rehab centre.

Janey says the idea was always to provide a veterinary clinic, not a dog shelter and once the dogs have recovered, they are taken back to the same spot where they were found. “We are strict about that because that’s their community,” she says. “It’s where their pack is and their food source. It also means we know exactly where they are. We try to check on them all at least twice a week. If you see these dogs, you can see they absolutely love being on the streets. They hate being restricted.”

Puppies are often re-homed, while others have ended up staying permanently.

One dog, Belle, was attacked by a wild boar which broke her front leg in three places and left her back leg in smithereens. “I thought we’d have to put her to sleep, then a guy came forward and said, ‘No, I’ll have her, please fix her’,” says Janey. “I didn’t know where to start. I contacted three orthopaedic surgeons in the UK and they said, you need to put her to sleep. We amputated her back leg and focused on her front leg and stayed up all night, giving her IV antibiotics every six hours and she made a full recovery. I took her back to the guy and he said, ‘I don’t want a three-legged dog’, so she ended up staying with us and sleeps on my bed. She’s on three legs, but is just as fast as the other dogs. She’s a reminder that these dogs are resilient and we should try to give them every chance.”

Since the charity began in October 2014, Janey and her team of locally trained vets have treated more than 1,000 dogs, neutered around 2,500 and vaccinated around 3,500, helping eliminate the spread of rabies. As well as holding workshops and training local vets, Janey goes into schools, teaching the local community about animal welfare.

“A lot of people laugh when you say they need to put water down for a dog,” she says. “We teach them that chaining and caging isn’t right and the reasons why, what to feed their dogs, how to flea them, how to worm them and other basic things.”

Although rabies is endemic in Sri Lanka, Janey says it is not something she sees. She has no fears about approaching the dogs and has only been bitten once in three years.

“It was a dog called Jimmy, who I knew quite well,” she recalls. “I was changing a dressing on his broken leg - it was fractured in three places and he was fed up because he could see a monkey in the tree and he wanted to play. I provoke them like there’s no tomorrow, sticking fingers in ears, checking out wounds… so I think that says a lot when we have probably handled more than 3,000 dogs.”

“You see fear, but not aggression. They are so gentle and lovely, I can’t stress it enough. They encounter people throwing stones and stuff at them all the time and they just want a cuddle. They are real softies.”

Janey is now based in Sri Lanka and only comes back to the North-East for one or two months a year. She is currently raising £300,000 to build the first fully-equipped dog hospital in Sri Lanka dedicated to street dogs. “There is so much work to do,” she says. “It’s where my heart is.”

  • For further info or to donate, visit wecareworldwide.org.uk

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