Tsunami victims put pets first
The villagers come running when they see Dr. Chamal Mahanama pull up in a three-wheeled taxi to administer his version of disaster relief: one aimed at the four-legged survivors.
Standing in line with their pet dogs, cats, rabbits, and even the odd monkey, they wait patiently as the veterinarian deftly swabs a furry rump with alcohol before quickly injecting the vaccines _ the first for rabies, the second for distemper, hepatitis and leptospirosis.
"People have lost everything. They have no houses, no work. Everything was destroyed by tsunami," Mahanama said. "We go to them and we vaccinate their pets for free. That automatically helps people."
He is part of a team of vets drafted by the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals to go into tsunami-stricken areas to vaccinate animals against disease, which becomes a greater risk when communities are vulnerable.
"If you don't pay attention to rabies and other animal diseases, if there's an outbreak, it would be a big crisis on top of a huge crisis," said Juan Murillo, a WSPA veterinary field officer coordinating the program in Sri Lanka.
The group has similar teams working in Indonesia, India and Thailand, which were also hard-hit by the disaster, he said. Over the past week, some 5,000 animals, mostly dogs, have been vaccinated in the southern part of Sri Lanka, he said. The teams are systematically making their way through the southern region, with the goal of vaccinating about 70 percent of the animal population, he said.