Dogstar Foundation: Fighting for animal welfare and rabies elimination

Post by

emily king

June 4th 2018

Dogstar Foundation is a local charity on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka and one of Mission Rabies' long standing partner organizations. We have conducted several campaigns working alongside each other and are looking forward to ournext one coming up in August! We've been chatting to Sam and Mark, founders of Dogstar Foundation to find out more...

The curries, a versatile landscape and of course the monsoon rains are all reasons for Sam and Mark to enjoy their life on this small island, but it's the animals that really captured their hearts.

These two railway engineers moved from London to Negombo in Sri Lanka to start a local animal welfare charity. What started off as an idea for a small project ended up becoming a grand organization with high impact on the local dog population. While Sam initially told Mark “It won’t change our lives,” her idea did not only have a huge impact on their own lives but also on the animal welfare situation in Sri Lanka.There is no such thing as an average day in their line of work, but their teams are working in the community sterilising, rabies vaccinating and treating skin conditions of local dogs 20-22 days a month. Seeing the huge number of suffering animals on the streets that are unwanted and unowned is their drive behind the strenuous work they are doing. Yet the results the sterilisation programmes are having in reducing the dog population, confirm the difference they are making. The percentage of sterilised dogs has increased from 7.9% to 75% thanks to their work. At the same time, the communities get the chance to hear about rabies, responsible dog ownership and animal welfare. Their education programme also  helps Dogstar Foundation and Mission Rabies to raise awareness of the vaccination campaigns that are being run throughout the entire year.

Since Sri Lanka lacks proper animal welfare legislation, they are facing many challenges. They are not only confronted with the lack of regulation, equipment and supplies but also with the difference in culture and how animals are perceived in their communities. “You almost have to reset the way you work”, Sam added, explaining that it is essential to be inventive to keep the work up. Despite the challenges that are still apparent, they have seen improvement in recent years. Draft legislation is being implemented and the younger generation is taking a greater interest in animal welfare. Sam points out that a lot of Sri Lankan activists are very interested in the topic and eager to act.

Mission Rabies is going to Sri Lanka for the 4th time this August. “We are really looking forward to the Mission Rabies campaign this year”, Mark said.

Dogstar Foundation has long been supported by Mission Rabies’ sister charity WVS and received parcels to aid their work. During a visit to the headquarters in Cranborne, UK, WVS and Mission Rabies CEO Luke had a grand idea: Mission Rabies Sri Lanka. “We had no idea what we had signed up for,” Sam said. Only 6-8 weeks later they ran a proof-of-concept vaccination campaign in Negombo. The aim was to see how effective the Mission Rabies programme can be outside of India. “I thank my lucky stars I was in the office the day to hear his idea…It has been an amazingly positive partnership with a huge difference.”

It was a real game changer for them to have the ability to scientifically prove the effect of their work. Dogstar Foundation has been utilising the WVS App for surveillance and monitoring programmes as well as recording data on the vaccination drives. With the data collected they can demonstrate to the local Government and stakeholders the impact they are having in the area. This year Dogstar Foundation will train staff from the Government on the Mission Rabies model to help them run further rabies control programmes. “It has been tremendously helpful to be part of the Mission Rabies programme. It is valuable to learn from other Mission Rabies projects, to see the commonalities and the differences experienced on the projects in each country,” Sam added.

Inviting Mission Rabies volunteers from all over the world to join the campaigns is a highlight for Dogstar Foundation. "Listening to their stories about their own backgrounds and sharing the enthusiasm to eliminate rabies always makes it very exciting," they said. 

The greatest rewards Sam and Mark get from their work is seeing the actual change and impact they have. When they drive through the areas now they can see healthier looking dogs. Working in animal welfare can be very burdensome but “seeing that change and knowing its making a difference” makes it worth it. “We’ve worked with some of these people for 12 years now…being a part of something bigger brings a lot of joy to them.” Working with groups like Dogstar Foundation is just one of the reasons Mission Rabies projects can have such a huge impact in the global fight against rabies.

The story of Dogstar Foundation actually starts with Sam’s first visit to Sri Lanka in 2006 when she met a monk with his dog, Mango. It is impossible for us to describe how that temple dog had changed her life, but she has put her experience into her own words on their website; reading the story of how Dogstar Foundation became a reality really gives you goose bumps! Mango was in fact Dogstar Foundation's first patient and “If I had not met her we would not be doing this now”, Sam explained.

Join us in Sri Lanka and you will have the chance to meet Sam and Mark and to work alongside their teams on this year’s vaccination campaign in August. “This year, with the government involvement which is a really exciting step, we are going up to the next level and can’t wait for Mission Rabies volunteers to be a part of it.”

Click here to sign up for our volunteer project!