Hey, animal lovers, we are back with our friend Nora Livingstone of Animal Experience International! Nora wrote for us a while back. Check that post out here. This time, we asked her to talk about her last trip to Nepal. Find our earlier post on Sneha’s Care here.

Nora has been a great friend of Musa Masala and we are so happy she has shared with us again. We love the dogs, and all animals, of Nepal so this is a meaningful one for us, with a special person who has created an amazing organization, Animal Experience International. Please check out their website. You may very well find that a life changing trip awaits you. Jam Jam!!

Animal Experience International in Nepal

By Nora Livingstone, CEO and Co-Founder of Animal Experience International

I first visited Nepal in 2007 and stayed until early 2008. Freshly out of university I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I was interested in learning about people thanks to a degree in cultural anthropology and a prof who did her research in Nepal. I also knew I liked hiking from living close to mountains and spending summers camping as a child. But other than that… what did I like, what didn’t I like?

I met Jan Salter, the founder of the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre, (KAT) in a bakery in Nepal in 2008. She seemed like a neat woman and, as everyone has a story in Nepal, we started talking. She told me of the cruel and sadly predictable way the government tried to stifle the street dog population in Kathmandu: culls and poisoning. It wasn’t that they were heartless, it was that 2/3 of rabies deaths in the world were in Nepal and India and they didn’t believe there was another solution to protecting their citizens.

She then told me of visiting an animal welfare centre in India and how there was a better way! A sustainable and scientifically proven method whereby the animals didn’t have to suffer: vaccination and animal birth control. Such animal welfare for community benefit seemed like a dream to her. And never being one to ‘only’ dream, she made it a reality and the small centre was running up the road from the bakery. I would be welcome to visit if I had time. I visited, fell in love and volunteered for the last few months I was in Nepal. Helping her design posters, taking dogs for walks, brushing and washing dogs and just generally being in awe of this place that existed, not because people didn’t like dogs before, but because people had never had this amazing option. 

Now let’s fast forward to 2022. My business partner and I started our ethical travel company in 2012  sending people on solo adventures and leading group experiences. Jan, who I had the absolute pleasure of keeping in touch with and visiting over the years, has found her place with angels. The KAT centre has grown in unimaginable and exciting ways and we were able to share it with fellow animal lovers.

People ask why we work with dog groups. Aren’t there too many that need help? Aren’t there dogs back home you should be helping? I question why help should ever be questioned. Why not be part of a solution, even if it will take you a long time and to the other side of the world? We know that we can’t save the life of every dog in Kathmandu, but we  will be able to improve the life of every dog we treat. And this homecoming back to Nepal showed us the importance of long term, ongoing and sustainable investment.

Even the way that we discuss these dogs has changed since my first time in Nepal. No longer do we call the dogs we met “street dogs.” This isn’t the correct term for them for while they do live outside, they are more members of the community. Fed by local butchers, patted by local kids, appreciated by those who understand their ability to ‘take care of’ local pests like rats- these dogs are considered by many to be important members of the urban ecosystem. Nothing shows this more than when the KAT centre goes into a community to organize a mass spay/neuter and vaccination of the area dogs. Instead of having to run after the dogs with nets and sacks, they work with the human community members to get the dogs to consent to jumping into the animal ambulance. 

I spent four weeks in Nepal and before I left, I steeled myself for what I would see. I knew I would see a lot of “street” dogs. I knew I would see a lot of suffering, a lot of mange and a lot of rough sleeping. I knew that I would be going into a city that had a large population of animals who needed help and yes, while we have been invested and sending volunteers for a decade, there would still be sad sights. But the lexicon wasn’t the only thing that had changed.

Yes, I did see community dogs and I did see some mange and some limping dogs, but the number was so much smaller than I expected. I saw far more dogs playing with children, sleeping in sunbeams while people walked around them and watching patiently in front of shops who obviously kept them safe and fed. When Nepali’s asked what I was doing there I would explain volunteering with KAT and there was recognition and always a story of how they brought a dog, knew someone who volunteered or had appreciated when the ambulance picked up a sad injured animal they had seen in the community. A decade of community service really was making a more humane world for all the animals who share this space.

This time around I took a more direct approach to volunteering, knowing what was needed after spending time at so many different centres. I washed the floors everyday while the other two washed bowls, and kennels. We stuffed kong dog toys with different fillings to help the dogs pass the time. We took dogs on walks so they could stretch their legs, get social and have some fresh sunshine. We bathed away some mange, some ticks and dandruff from dogs in care. I sang Gorgeous by Taylor Swift to every dog who would let me. They really are so gorgeous, I can’t say anything to their face! 

I do not think people are cruel or negligent in their perceived ambivalence. I think all of us are just trying to get by in this world. In places where it seems like no one cares about dogs I don’t think it’s for any other reason than people’s hearts are too broken in other ways to be able to contemplate stopping the suffering of animals. A broken and weary heart can’t always take on one more thing. The heart lets the eyes not see certain things as a protective response.

But what the KAT centre has done is give people a way to help these dogs. A way to not just hope or ease the suffering of one animal, but to help a whole centre filled with people who are making sure dogs get the care they need. No longer do people have to avert their eyes, they can look at an animal in need of help and call someone who is able to provide not just short term medical attention but who sees what the whole population needs. Which is of course, animal birth control and wide spread vaccinations. 

I am so deeply proud of little baby Nora taking a chance one day in a bakery and asking someone what they were doing in Nepal. I am also so proud of all AEI’s volunteers for taking a chance on us and investing their time and their money in a centre that for some ‘just’ helps dogs. There have been real, long term and widespread change for the people and the animals of Kathmandu. And that is because one person’s mark is finite, but together we really are limitless.

Follow along on Instagram: @animalinternational