Here, we speak to Marina about the start of the Dog Care Clinic and the story so far...
Marina, how did it all start?
I came to Sri Lanka as a tourist with my son. When I saw the situation of the stray dogs here, I decided not to come back if I couldn’t help them. I rented an apartment 500 meters from here and started to take in the neediest dogs - usually the eldest. Once I got to about 10 or 15 dogs, my landlord kicked me out. That’s when I decided to buy this property and, step by step, I built the Dog Care Clinic.
How many dogs do you look after here now?
In the clinic, we have around 250 dogs. Outside we treat and feed another 1000 dogs and we neuter daily. We send teams out to the jungle to catch unneutered dogs. Altogether, we’ve neutered about 65,000 dogs over the last 10 year.
Why do you carry out so many neuterings??
I saw how the dogs live. The population was huge, and so many were in a really bad way. That’s why I want to help them. The best way to do that was to help get the population down. That’s why we neuter seven days a week, all year long. All our treatments are free.
When I went on a feeding tour, it was amazing to see how passionate your staff are. They have a name for every stray dog!
Anyone who wants to work at the clinic has to love dogs! And loving them means looking after them.
How can you tell your staff really care about the dogs?
It’s easy to see. I observe how they treat animals, how they attach to them. If they can’t handle dogs, they can’t stay with me. Because I have to trust them when I’m in Germany.
You run a business in Germany?
Yes, I have to run my business to get enough money for the project. I’m only here when they need me the most.
So a lot that is invested in the clinic comes from your business?
At the moment, it’s around 70% of our funding. Then we get 30% from donations.
How do you find donors?
Hmm. It’s not easy because we don’t have money for advertisements. The money I get I spend directly on the animals. We advertise on Facebook because it’s free.
We heard you raised money for a tuk tuk for the daily feeding tour. That’s amazing.
When our previous Tuk Tuk broke down, we really needed a new one to keep our daily feeding tours going. Those dogs have to be fed every day. It’s also a really important tool for us here at the clinic because our veterinary assistants can keep an eye out for dogs that need treatment.
What does the local community think about your work here in the Clinic?
It’s different. Some people appreciate the service, others say why don’t you help humans instead. They don’t understand that I’m also helping people. At the moment 45 assistants are working for me here and we buy everything we need in local shops. It’s hard to explain that to them. Even the government is sometimes trying to push me. It’s not always easy to handle the clinic and to stay strong.
Has it changed since you started?
I’ve been arrested five or six times since I started the DCC. I think it’s because I’m not a doctor. People have said that diseases have been spreading around more since I’ve been here, and that the mosquito population is up… It’s not true and I try not to care much. But it’s not easy.
Who’s this big fella?
This guy is Marlon, a mix of Ridgeback and Great Dane. He was heavily abused by his owners.
Why did you decide to keep him?
He was more dead than alive when he arrived at the clinic. That’s why I decided to keep him. His whole body was full of cigarettes burns. He was 18 months old , his weight was 16 kg and now he’s 50 kg. From time to time, I buy dogs free to prevent them from further abuse.
How does E&C help with the project?
I’ve received a huge amount from Edgard & Cooper. At the beginning I couldn’t believe that this was true. With the money you donated, we separated the kitchen and medical room. We changed the kitchen from the new clinic to this side and renovated the whole house. Now the team can now cook more food and care for more dogs. This was a huge help to us. It’s the biggest sponsor we ever had.
We’ve found it quite interesting how you separate the dogs in the Clinic.
When I started the project, I promised myself to never keep the dogs in boxes. I want to have them in small natural packs and this is what I do. I have around 10 or 12 small packs. From time to time, we check the characters and change the dogs. We check pack dynamics all the time because it’s often changing.
Yesterday, we went out to see the rehoming and 50+ families. How did you come up with that initiative?
It’s not possible to keep all the dogs here. But we rehome only to reliable families. After four weeks, we visit the rehoming families for the first time. And again when a dog is seven months old. Then we pick it up for neutering. At that time we decide if the dog can stay with the family or not. If the dog is too thin, shy or afraid, we take it back.
So you regularly schedule visits? Does the family know in advance when you’re coming?
They don’t know when we’re coming. They never know. If they know, they would provide water, the dogs would be free… we know how some people are.
What drives you to do this work every day?
This is my life’s work. I’ve spent all the money I’ve ever earned on this project. And of course I’m absolutely dog mad.