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Not all human beings like to allocate some time from their busy lives for animals. Pets that are said to be a cure for mentality are often looked after well by many people. But it is very rare that someone has sympathy for stray animals that have no one to take care of. Eva Ruppel (Padma) who arrived in Sri Lanka 34 years ago and is currently living in Kandy is among those rare categories with soft hearts. She has been giving shelter to abandoned dogs and cats in Sri Lanka for eight years now. Talking to The Nation, she revealed that nearly 150 dogs and 50 cats are living in her premises while some of the dogs visit her for breakfast and dinner. She is originally German, but soon after coming to Sri Lanka, she had stayed nine months in a Buddhist nunnery, where she was given the name Padma within the first hour. The Nation had the opportunity to talk with her for few minutes.

Q To start off, tell us a bit about yourself and your early life
 I came to Sri Lanka in 1980, planning to stay for three months, but life had other plans. Even those days I noticed the plight of the animals, but besides including them into my daily metta meditation, I didn’t know what to do.

Q How and when did you start giving shelter to stray dogs and cats?
In 1999, I heard that an animal welfare society was being established in Kandy, so I became a member and started organizing field clinics to get the dogs in my village spayed and took the strays I caught one by one or two at a time to the vet clinic. Later we caught strays in Kandy too and released them after a few days. Sometimes I kept them at my home for after-care and sometimes I found it difficult to release them back to the road, especially when I knew that they had been dumped recently and had no established territory anywhere. That is how little by little more and more dogs gathered here. In addition to that my phone number became known because of these clinics and people started calling because of puppies being dumped on the road and because of accident cases.

Q What are the obstacles you have faced over the years in animal sheltering?
 The obstacles are many and whatever we do to overcome them is not addressing the root cause, it’s all patch-work until our people start taking responsibility for their pets and get them spayed. As long as religious beliefs are being up-held that spaying is a sin, puppies will be born and then they will be dumped and become strays. Whatever amount of money you raise and however well you organize your shelter, it can never take care of all the strays if people keep on throwing puppies and kittens out.

Besides, dogs and cats have evolved as companion animals in the course of history and they find it difficult to live in big groups. They want to be part of a family. With up to 20 dogs and 10 cats, I was happy and my animals were happy. When more came in many problems started. I had to start making fences and gates in my garden to separate dogs which didn’t get on with each other. Therefore the space available for each group to run around became less. Eventually I had to buy an adjoining property and that is also full now. And still I have not found a person to live in the house I built on the new land, so the dogs in the new section have nobody during the night.

Q What are the challengers you have to overcome?
It is good that you ask this question, because I am pretty well aware of the challenges, but I have no clue how to meet them. People will continue to seek my help and even if I learn to say no, some will just dump their cats and dogs in front of my gate. It has happened many times. Trying to raise funds to expand further is also not the solution as long as there is no team in charge. One person aged 60 can obviously not do it.
Q What are your future plans?
Sometimes I have volunteers here for a week or a month and during those periods my cats and dogs get more attention and love, so that is one of the possible lines to think along when preparing for the future... Spreading the word and also setting up the necessary facilities. Of course I would not mind paying someone who would be ready to take up a responsible position here, but up to now I had no luck.

Q Since stray dogs and cats are rejected by the society, what would you suggest to ‘make it right’?
Community dogs in a friendly neighborhood is something I could envision, but  in most cases, there are only few people, who like to feed an owner-less cat or dog and there are others around, who do not tolerate them and some are really hostile. Besides there are many dangers for such animals due to traffic and traps and of course the occasional feeder may not take the animals for treatment if they get sick. Therefore the only way out is to find a home for the every cat and dog and to make sure that no off-spring will be produced unless someone is surely going to look after it. For our present stray -population this will not happen, so for them we can only ensure that they will be spayed and somehow tolerated, but preventing future stray population is possible if media, clergy and politicians cooperate.

Q What kind of a support do you expect from the readers?
Every individual can speak up when someone talks such nonsense like spaying is going to create bad kamma. Every individual can see if there is a female owner-less cat or dog in his vicinity, which should be spayed before she litters. Every individual can see if in his neighborhood some domestic female cats or dogs are regularly producing off-spring, which mysteriously disappear after a month or two. Most people tend to think it is not my business and they choose to ignore. Under the pretext of not wanting to antagonize most people keep smiling even when they see someone doing wrong. However, I think that even without being offensive one can point out the truth.

Q Finally, any special message to give out?
Last time an article was published, I got many calls about kittens and puppies in need of shelter.  I would prefer to get calls about female dogs to be spayed. I am very happy to help with that.
If you wish to contact Padma
Address: Padma, Tikiri-Trust, Megoda-Kalugamuwa, Peradeniya
Mobile number: 077 742 6229

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