Why did I kill that dog?

I stood there wondering if this entire situation could have been prevented. The ebbs and flows of the Indian Ocean were already starting to wash away her body.

I've never really come to terms with the day I killed a dog. Although more than a year has passed, I still feel ashamed when I think about it. I’d be lying if I told you that killing the dog was easy. Fighting it off with a broom handle was physically exhausting. In reality I didn't have a choice. The dog was rabid, and it had to die.

It was mid-June, 2013 and I was nearing the end of my Fulbright fellowship in Sri Lanka. For the past eight months I had been working as an English teacher in Trincomalee, a small town on the Eastern coast.

I arrived at campus early most Tuesdays to prepare for the usual busy day of classes. It was early in the morning, but the air was hot and heavy — a typical summer day on the equator. After several long classes, I’d join the students in the evening for our weekly basketball game.

Nearing campus, I saw the school director chasing a small dog. “Stay back,” he yelled at me. “The dog is rabid!” He chased the dog off the campus and I closed the gate. But the dog stumbled back through the gate; I tried to chase it out. Unfortunately, the door to the girl’s bathroom had been left ajar and the dog stumbled into the room to hide. I locked her in the bathroom, and went to find the director.

Like many developing countries, Sri Lanka has limited public services. The country is still trying to rebuild from 30 years of civil war and a devastating tsunami in 2004. Throughout the civil war, Trincomalee’s harbor served as the Sri Lankan Navy’s main base. Until the end of the war, in 2009, the city was subject to bombings and attacks. Many residents have not been able to return to their land yet. The city’s supply of electricity is erratic, most residents burn their garbage since there is no other way to dispose of it. Trincomalee does not have the resources to control its dog population.

“What should we do?” I asked the school’s director. He handed me an old broom while he picked up a mop pole; we would have to deal with the rabid dog by ourselves.

We spent a minute discussing the best way to chase the dog off the campus. Our options were limited—we knew it would be difficult to chase the dog out of the bathroom’s tight quarters. If either of us were bitten we'd have to travel eight hours by bus to get a rabies shot in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.

We opened the bathroom door and saw the dog stumble. Rabies is a virus that attacks the brain. It destroys its host’s ability to control movement; the disease causes dogs to stumble around slack jawed. She backed herself into a corner and snarled at us — foam dripped out of her mouth. Her eyes were glazed over, devoid of life. With the director to my left, we tried to force the dog towards the door.But she lunged at the director, and I panicked, and smashed the broom handle down on her skull.

I'll spare you the rest of the details, but she did not die easily.

Drenched in sweat, I scooped her lifeless body into a cardboard box and unceremoniously dropped it into the harbor. I stood there for a few moments, staring at her lifeless body. Gazing out over the harbor I wondered how long it would take for the ocean to decompose her body. Tears filled my eyes as the reality of the moment began to sink in.

I wondered then, and I wonder still: could this have been prevented? A few weeks earlier I had received a call from the Minister of Health for Trincomalee District, who told me the dog sterilization and vaccination clinic I had been working to set up had been approved. It had taken me four months to get approval for the clinic. I had to convince District Ministers, Public Health Officials, and the local Military Commander to approve this project. If the town’s stray dog population had been vaccinated earlier, the dog I had just killed might still be alive.

I had been working with the Tsunami Animal-People Alliance (TAPA) to bring the first rabies clinic to Trincomalee since the war ended. In one clinic, 250 dogs would be vaccinated against rabies and also sterilized to humanely control the population and limit the need to vaccinate even more dogs. The approval process had been long and frustrating.

Standing at the harbor, looking at the setting sun, I started to laugh. I was laughing because I didn't know what else to do. My mind was a mess, I was physically and mentally drained. I had no choice but to kill the dog, I had no choice but to laugh. Everything felt fucked up.

More than 60,000 people die from rabies every year (W.H.O.)

In developing countries, 90% of rabies cases are from dog bites. Controlling animal populations is expensive, and many countries cannot afford to vaccinate and sterilize dogs. Vaccination helps prevent transmission among the animals, while sterilization humanely controls the population to limit the number of new dogs needing vaccination.

To return to Trincomalee and continue their work, TAPA needs your help. Each clinic spays/neuters 250 dogs and is implemented by a team of 12 well-trained and experienced Sri Lankans, including veterinary surgeons, vet techs and animal handlers. Approximately half the dogs are street dogs caught humanely in TAPA’s large butterfly nets. They are then sterilized and vaccinated, and upon recovery returned to the exact spot where they were caught. The other half are owned by community members who could not afford vet services even if they were routinely available.

Each clinic costs $5,875 dollars to run. $24 covers the cost of spaying/neutering and vaccinating one dog. This includes medications, surgical supplies, team costs, and van for transporting the animals. You can support TAPA by clicking here.

Here is a breakdown of what it costs to run a clinic:
Vaccinating one dog: $3.00
Spay/neuter one dog: $21.00 (Meds/supplies: $9, Team Costs $12)
Total to Spay/neuter/vaccinate one dog = $24.00
Every dollar you give will help eradicate rabies in Sri Lanka.

TAPA’s work doesn't stop at vaccination. Their experienced team partners with the local schools to raise awareness about dog safety among children, and the need treat animals humanely.

Thank you for your support, and for helping me to raise enough money to fund another clinic in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.

-Sean O’Connor

P.S. Please share this story with your friends and family.

P.P.S. I know that times are hard and not everyone has $24.00 to donate, if you want to support TAPA please go to their Amazon Smile Page and 0.5% of all of your Amazon purchases will be donated to support TAPA’s work.

Pictures from a recent clinic in Sri Lanka

Rabies is controllable. You can help to end rabies in Sri Lanka by donating now (all donations are tax deductible).

The TAPA team performs surgeries in their mobile operating room.
A TAPA Team Member with a stray dog that has been sterilized, vaccinated, and tagged.

Since 2005, TAPA has vaccinated and sterilized over 45,000 dogs in Sri Lanka.

TAPA puts on education programs at schools to teach students about animal safety
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