Sunday, December 20, 2020

Dogs of the Port


'Red Dog' is one of our favorites

Dogs here in Sri Lanka seem to have it better than in many of the non-First World countries we visited. Maybe it's the predominantly Buddhist culture, but people don't seem to mistreat them as readily.

Her tail goes a mile a minute when anticipating rubs

There have been a number of countries we have visited in the past where people regularly kick dogs, poison them, or eat them (as we as we know, we have been spared seeing dogs sold for or served as food). Even here in Sri Lanka though, dogs are shy around humans they don't know. It took a bit of time before the ones that hang around our boat would let us pet them and most of the dogs seem to run away if you pretend to pick up a non-existent rock (our go-to strategy if a dog shows aggression).

However, there are still a lot of stray dogs*, some in sorry shape. There are a few dozen dogs in the port here, loosely organized into 5 or 6 packs with each pack inhabiting an area that it considers "its own".  Of course, the boundaries are a bit fluid and the packs are always pushing the limits of their borders. This often leads to 10-12 dogs barking their heads off at each other for 10 minutes, oftentimes joined in by any other dogs within hearing range.  Not a big deal during the day, but when a dispute erupts just outside the boat at 2 a.m., one's love for dogs can be sorely tested.

Dinner time?

There is one exception to the dog boundary rule: the port has a singular male dog that occupies the alpha role over all the other port dogs. He is compact, muscular and has one dull eye, probably from previous battles.  He also swaggers around the port, from one end to the other, ignoring all the other dogs that will bark at him, but never confront him, while peeing on everything to remind all the other dogs who's boss. It may just be a coincidence, but the other significant feature of this dog is that he sports the most massive set of canine cajones we have ever seen. Not sure if that's what made him the alpha, but there you go.

We have seen several port workers who make an effort to feed the strays (mostly bread and rice), but there doesn't seem to be any official program to spay or neuter strays. Private organizations, such as The Dog Care Clinic (DCC), try to round up strays and 'fix' them, as well as trying to educate people, but it is an uphill battle. Some owners are against neutering their male guard dogs--maybe they believe un-neutered dogs will be better protectors. And even dogs that are "owned" by households typically have free run of the neighborhoods, so more puppies are born to eke out an existence and have more puppies down the line.



This little guy pictured above (he could fit on your hand) started hanging out near our section of the port about a week ago and we thought he had a broken and poorly mended leg because of its weird shape. He also had a terrible skin condition and his fur was thin and patchy. We were able to feed him, get him into a box and hand him over to The Dog Care Clinic (Matt donned some heavy-duty gloves to avoid the nips and subsequent rabies shots that our friends endured when they tried to collect some other Port puppies earlier this year). The boys have given some money for his care to the DCC (thanks Nana for the generous donation). It turns out that he had a calcium deficiency rather than a broken leg, which the DCC is treating with supplements. They named him 'Pedro' after a previous puppy with a similar condition.

We feel much better now that Pedro is being well-cared for. If it works out, we hope to visit him to see how he's doing before we leave Sri Lanka. Despite the many extraordinary experiences living on a boat has given us, we still miss out on some things, like spending holidays with extended family (though this year we would probably be missing that anyway) and having a dog. It will be sad to leave our dog friends when it's time, but we're enjoying each other while it lasts.

Also, the occasional monitor lizard

*There are stray cats as well, but we don't see them as often and the ones in the port seem relatively healthy. Maybe they do alright with the rats and birds.

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