One Woman’s Mission to Save Sri Lankan Street Dogs

Guest post by Natalie Kyriacou, Director, My Green World

In 2006, Samantha Green was vacationing in Sri Lanka when she came across a young street dog that seemed minutes away from death. Lying lifeless on the chalky grounds of a village temple, the puppy was riddled with mange and mites and was severely emaciated. Samantha, a UK citizen working in the transport industry at the time was taken aback by the sight of this creature, who was barely recognizable atop the torrid dirt piles.

Unable to walk away from this wounded pup, Samantha quickly got to work, contacting vets and animal experts, and paying for the puppy to receive the medical attention it needed.

But the problem was far worse than Samantha ever could have imagined. At every street crossing, every corner, and outside every shopfront was a roaming street dog. Most often, they were riddled with mange, a parasitic skin disease, and starved beyond belief. Thousands upon thousands of dogs were in urgent need of medical attention, scattered across the worn streets of Sri Lanka, and nobody was helping them.

The Sri Lankan government’s reputation for street dog maintenance was shameful, alternating between poisoning or shooting dogs and relocating them (or, dumping them in rural areas).

Standing with the wasted puppy in her arms, in a politically volatile and foreign country, Samantha had just, unbeknownst to her, committed to the biggest project of her life. Having no veterinary experience, limited knowledge of Sri Lanka, and no contacts whatsoever in the country, Samantha did the only thing she could. She saved the dog’s life. Then, she uplifted her entire life and moved to Sri Lanka.

The Birth of Dogstar Foundation

Ten years on, Samantha lives in Negombo, a fishing village on the west coast of Sri Lanka, roughly 35km north of the country’s capital. There, with her husband Mark, she runs the Dogstar Foundation, which is now one of the leading animal welfare charities in Sri Lanka. Giving up their illustrious careers in the transport industry in both the UK and Australia, Samantha and Mark work without salaries, providing much needed care to Sri Lanka’s forgotten street animals.

I visited Sri Lanka in 2008 to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary outside Kegalle. I was astounded by the street dog overpopulation problem. The cadaverous bodies of roaming street dogs haunted every corner. I, too, wanted to help street dogs, but had no idea where to start.

Hidden within a tiny canteen in an obscure village in Sri Lanka, I came across a modest pamphlet which simply said “Dogstar Foundation- Contact us if you have a dog in need.” I began enquiring after this mystery charity, and eventually was able to meet Samantha Green, of Dogstar Foundation, in the flesh.

With a fair complexion, blonde hair and an athletic build, Samantha was easy to spot. Racing madly around the small village of Kegalle, Samantha was a godsend to many locals; solving street dog welfare problems through compassion, education and veterinary aid. I was immediately overcome with profound respect and admiration for her.

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As soon as I returned to Australia, I resumed contact with Samantha and Mark, and began trying to raise funds for them. It wasn’t until February, 2015 that I was able to return to Sri Lanka.

I stayed with Sam and Mark in their humble home, along with their goofy Rottweiler rescue dog, and their two rescue cats. Since that first day when I came across Dogstar’s simple pamphlet in a Sri Lankan village, the charity had grown immensely. Still working without a salary, Sam and Mark have completely transformed animal welfare in Sri Lanka. The villages where they work have seen a drastic reduction in street dogs, and the street dogs that are present, appear happier, healthier, and have been sterilized and vaccinated.

I returned to a small village in Sri Lanka where I had once come across a street dog enduring its final moments on earth. I was unable to help it, and the memory still haunts me. That street was filled with death and despair in 2006, and I remember walking through it and sobbing at my inability to help, my utter helplessness to save these innocent creatures. This time, that very same street was not plagued with the same lifelessness. The dogs now all fashioned little green stripes on their heads. These green markers were painted by Dogstar Foundation, and it signifies that the dog has been vaccinated and recorded. But it signifies much more. It means that these dogs are no longer forgotten. It means that there are two people out there fighting every single day to save their lives. They have been fighting for almost ten years now, and it is not over yet, and maybe, it never will be. The streets of Sri Lanka are still overcome with sick and dying street dogs. Abuse, neglect and disease are still prevalent. But Sam and Mark, alongside their dedicated team, have touched the lives of thousands upon thousands of dogs. And for those dogs, life is a lot better. There is hope on the streets now. Tails are wagging, children are more aware of the issue, and locals rush out of their homes when they see the painted Dogstar Foundation van, knowing that these people will help. Knowing, that Dogstar Foundation represents the future for animal welfare in Sri Lanka.

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A Day in the Life

Sam and Mark have employed a team of dedicated staff and volunteers, mobilized community members, built an animal medical centre, and launched a highly successful mobile veterinary service. Their major focus is a sterilization program, to stem the flow of breeding street dogs and overpopulation.

My stay with Sam and Mark in February 2015 was eye-opening to say the least. The energetic couple were up every morning at 4am, and didn’t stop until midnight.

In the two weeks that I was there, the Dogstar team, consisting of roughly ten people, and pioneered by Sam and Mark, vaccinated over 5000 dogs against rabies. That’s not to mention the steady flow of dogs and cats that they continue to sterilize and provide medical treatment to, on a daily basis.

The two week vaccination campaign took place in Negombo, Sri Lanka and had been carefully mapped, planned and calculated. It was wildly ambitious and encompassed many miles of territory with a single mission: vaccinate as many street dogs as possible and record their data.

Two teams of roughly six people took to the streets to find and catch every dog within a carefully mapped town. This included both stray dogs and owned dogs. The mission was to provide a free rabies vaccine to the many dogs of Sri Lanka as well as educational materials to any owners. I accompanied Sam and Mark during this campaign as we spent the day chasing down dogs, jumping fences, scaling walls, climbing through barbed wire, running along beaches and driving down tiny alleys in pursuit of dogs. Once we caught them, we would net them, record them (and their health condition) into a GPS tracker, vaccinate them, paint their little heads (to keep track of dogs that have been treated) and set them free again.

Community members, including the elderly and young children were following us down the streets, blessing us and cheering and laughing as we pursued the dogs. In this single day, we vaccinated over 350 dogs.

Vaccinating dogs and recording data about their location and health condition are crucial components of the work that Dogstar Foundation undertakes, but, the dogs don’t make it easy. Once they see the Dogstar Bus rumbling down the various alleys and streets that they call home, many of them bolt for cover. Some dogs even sound the canine alarm throughout the neighborhood to let their furry friends know that the Dogstar bus is in the area.

Samantha and Mark have just returned from Nepal, where they worked alongside various charities to provide the many animals affected by the earthquake with urgent medical attention. Wherever there is an animal in need, you can be sure to find this dedicated duo there.

248 comments

Mark Donner
Mark Donner1 years ago

This is a lot more than what countries like the US and Canada are doing for dogs They just murder the dogs with their "kill shelters"

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Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe2 years ago

A big THANK YOU to Samantha & Mark for all they do to help these poor dogs!!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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jon Jones
jon Jones2 years ago

Thank you for caring about the dogs. You may like to contact Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand. Vets go out there for free to sterilize the dogs every month. Maybe they could offer some assistance to you. Well done, hope you get some support.
Polly Jones

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Julia Cabrera-Woscek

Such a need for more people like you: Angels!

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c rocklein
Land Lost2 years ago

I don't like to see animals suffer but I have been to Sri Lanka and when i was in Kandy the street dogs were a real menace. You leave the hotel at night and get a group of them standing around you and barking.. i.e. potentially hazardous. Kandy itself while beautiful suffers other problems as well. One Swiss woman I met there was almost raped, lost a tooth in a fight with some tuk tuk drivers who found her walking alone on the far side of the lake. Mostly Sri Lanka is safe but some precaution for women especially may be in order. As for the dogs, like India, they're a bit out of control in some places it would seem, only reinforcing my preference for cats.

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Danielle Torgerson

I would like to help the couple with a monthly donation, please get me in contact with those wonderful people! I was in Sri Lanka once and I am aware about the obstacle they have taken on...

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C Principe
C Principe2 years ago

So much gratitude to these amazing people! Thank you, thank you.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

Wonderful, wish her the best!

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Manuela C.
Manuela C2 years ago

Amazing work! Such great people.

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