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Did you see the episode of New Lives In the Wild with Ben Fogle featuring British vet Janey Lowes back in May?
In case you missed it, it showed the amazing story of how Newcastle-born Janey saw the plight of street dogs in Sri Lanka when she went backpacking - and, at the age of just 26, decided to devote her life to setting up a clinic on the island and saving street dogs’ lives.
We were so moved and inspired by her incredible efforts that we reached out to Janey to ask if we could donate some Tug-E-Nuff toys for the dogs in her care at WECare Worldwide, and if she’d be willing to share some of her experience and expertise with Tug-E-Nuff customers…
She said yes! In fact, she said she’d love to. So, as the first in a series of exclusive ‘10 Things I know About…’ articles for our 10th birthday, here’s what Janey has to say about street dogs, being a dog lover and keeping your dog well...
I grew up in a farming community and always wanted to work with animals. At 18, I went off to Nottingham University to study to be a vet. After qualifying and working for a little bit, I went travelling to Sri Lanka.
I was struck by the state of the street dogs and the sheer number of them and I felt compelled to help. What started out as wanting to ‘lend a hand’ has led to me setting up a hospital, a rehoming clinic, neutering programmes and doing educational outreach.
For a long time, I didn’t have a team. It was just me. Well, me and the dogs. I’ve always had a really strong connection with dogs and it brings such joy to my life being able to interact with them on a different level. I feel like I truly empathise.
This project is my baby and I’ve poured my heart and soul into it, so sharing so much on the show was a real risk. However, it’s turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. Everyone has been so supportive - I’ve barely had a single negative comment.
It’s restored my faith in humanity. We’ve had donations and incredibly kind messages that I’m so grateful for. It’s raised awareness of what dogs go through worldwide. And it’s proven there are no borders when you’re a dog lover. A dog is a dog, and each one deserves love and care.
Since setting up, we’ve treated nearly 8,000 dogs. Far fewer puppies are being born on the streets and we’re seeing fewer horrendous injuries. People pick up the phone to us now to report things like dogs who have broken legs from being hit by a car. The numbers of sick and injured dogs is coming down.
But there are an estimated three million street dogs in Sri Lanka, so there’s still lots to do. Our big goal here is to eradicate rabies. Other charities and government organisations in Sri Lanka working on this, too. A primary personal goal for me is to raise veterinary standards in Sri Lanka. As vets, we have a duty to ensure our profession is being carried out properly worldwide. Right now, it is, sadly, substandard - and I want to change that.
We want to expand our care to Asia and Africa where there is also a huge problem with street dogs. The huge, long-term goal is to have no dog - street dog or owned dog - go without veterinary treatment anywhere.
To achieve any of our goals, we rely on donations from dog lovers. Monthly donations, even of just £2, are absolutely incredible for us. It means we can plan for the future and focus on doing what we do best - saving street dogs - rather than panicking about money.
Lack of neutering is a huge issue in Sri Lanka, but it’s also a problem in the UK. In the UK, we see a lot of Pyometra - a very serious infection of the uterus that can be fatal for female dogs that have not been spayed. Mammary tumours in females are way more likely to occur and to be malignant if your dog isn’t spayed.
In male unneutered dogs, behaviour issues are more likely, roaming is more likely, there’s a higher risk of testicular cancer and certain diseases can be worse.
We’re really lucky in the UK that we’ve managed to eradicate distemper - a viral disease, which affects the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and central nervous systems in dogs - with vaccination. In Sri Lanka, that isn’t the case. I see it all the time and it is awful.
There is this movement gathering pace about over-vaccination and anti-vaccination. Trust me, we do not want more parvovirus, we do not want distemper to come back, we do not want to see more leptospirosis cases. They are horrendous.
Dental disease is a big issue in the UK. Dentastix can help, but they can also be fattening. Brushing teeth daily is the gold standard and what we should all be aiming for. Make it part of your routine as early as you can. Some dogs love it - the toothpaste tastes like chicken!
Flea and tick prevention and worm treatment should also be done regularly without fail for good all-round health.
There are lots of fads that go around in the dog world, from expensive, special diets to walking your dogs ‘too much’ or not walking them ‘enough’. In my experience, the biggest thing you can do to prevent illness, boost mental health and keep your dog emotionally in check is to get them out loads.
Give them off lead time. Do everything you can to boost your bond. Play with them in a interactive, engaging way. Focus on the quality of your dogs life and giving them a varied, stimulating day wherever possible.
Everyone’s circumstances are different and everyone is trying their best, but my one piece of advice is to get your dog insured if you possibly can. Insuring your dog is a crucial part of responsible pet ownership and gives you peace of mind.
For example, if your dog suddenly started having seizures, they might need an MRI, which would cost way over £1,000. Who has that kind of money just lying around!? I know I don’t. But if you’re insured, you don’t need to worry about finding the money to get your pet the treatment they need.
I often get asked how I cope with seeing dogs in such a bad way. The truth is, sometimes I don’t. There are months when I cry every day. Often vets don’t admit that because they don’t want to be seen as soft. But I think its stupid to put a brave face on when an animal is suffering or dying. Why would you want to hide that emotion? It’s a painful thing to go through.
When your own dog is poorly or passes away, it’s agony. My dog died two years ago and I can still barely say his name. My advice when your dog is sick is to put faith in your vet. Trust that they will search for answers and do everything possible to help your dog. Take pressure of yourself knowing they are in the best possible hands.
One of the ways I try to cope when things get tough is to think about the bigger picture. I go into the garden and see our dogs up for adoption who would have died a slow painful death without us. I remind myself that even if dogs make it to us and then die, at least they had a cuddle and pain relief and didn’t die alone on the street in pain. I’m usually in the hospital until midnight every night - but I try to balance it with surfing, friends and eating good food.
Finally, I shouldn’t say it as a scientist, but I do believe in miracles. I see them happen all the time. Never give up hope.
We have about 30 inpatients at any one time. This can be a mix of chemo patients, dogs with broken legs, and those with more complex injuries like hernias. We aren’t technically a shelter, but we also have around 15 dogs with us at any one time for adoption. Last year, we rehomed 270 dogs, which is incredible.
Puppies go quickly (within weeks) because they have the ‘cute’ factor. But there are some dogs who are with us for much longer. They see new dogs come and go and can get depressed so they need as much stimulating play as possible. They are going to absolutely love having new Tug-E-Nuff toys to call their own and using them for interactive play will be hugely beneficial.
University was academically and emotionally tough for me. It wasn’t the experience I expected and I really had to push hard to get to the end, but becoming a vet is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s a really challenging job and being in Sri Lanka has pushed me to my limit. But one thing that stayed stable is that I love my job, I wouldn’t do anything else. I feel super lucky to be able to say this is what was put on the planet to do, and I’ll never stop.
[Images credited to WECare Worldwide & New Lives In The Wild]