The answer is ‘Embark‘, a groundbreaking Sri Lankan street dogs rescue organisation founded by fashion icon, entrepreneur, designer, philanthropist and animal lover, Otara Gunewardene.
Despite aspirations of being a veterinary surgeon, Otara ultimately studied Biology before being discovered as a potential model and was propelled to success on the catwalks of leading international designers. She founded Odel in 1990, a fledgeling business that blossomed into what was soon to become Sri Lanka’s leading fashion brand. Through Odel, this amazing woman has spearheaded many causes over the years, including the welfare of Sri Lankan street dogs. Shortly after launching Embark in 2007, Otara adopted Niko, a street dog whom she found abandoned on the road near her home. Niko is now synonymous with the Embark brand and went on to become an ambassador, symbol of street dogs in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan street dogs neither pet nor pest
These dogs are often ‘semi-owned’ across 3 – 4 families. Street dogs are everywhere…urban areas, villages, temples, parks and train station platforms. Dogs play an important role in the tea growing area, they follow the tea leaf pickers to work each day and bark to warn them about snakes. The number of street dogs in Colombo was significantly reduced when the authorities decided to clean up the city before hosting CHOGM in 2013. Being a mostly Buddhist country, it was considered in-humane to destroy the animals, instead, Colombo dogs were rounded up and left to fend for themselves in rural areas, much to the surprise of the villagers.
Based in Colombo, Embark is focused on 4 main areas: vaccinating and de-sexing to control the street dog population and eradicate Rabies, re-homing, caring for injured dogs and education. The organisation’s ultimate goal of communities living in harmony with the Sri Lankan street dog within a Rabies free Sri Lanka is slowly, but surely becoming a reality. Embark hasano shelter policy, instead fostering is a key component of Embark’s re-homing process. Embark says that the foster system encourages the community to become involved and take responsibility. Embark has between 65 and 100 pups in foster care each month.
Sri Lankan street dogs adoption
Pet ownership is relatively new in Sri Lanka. Embark is leading the way with changing attitudes by promoting adoption and educating the community about responsible pet ownership. On the last Sunday of every month, Odel’s flagship store plays host to Embark Puppy Adoption Day. Bringing together foster parents, adopters, vets, volunteers, animal lovers and curious shoppers, the day has become iconic for both Embark and Odel. To date Embark has adopted out 1700 dogs.
What’s next? Embark is pushing for stronger laws to protect animals from cruelty. The Sri Lankan animal welfare legislation has not been reviewed and updated since it was introduced by the British in 1907. Currently the fine is only less than $1 for an act of animal cruelty and the range of offences is limited.
Embark is also developing a campaign to educate the community about puppy farms. The number of pedigree dogs dumped in the streets is on the rise.A recent spike in urbanization in Sri Lanka has led to the increased demand for pedigree dogs among other luxury items which serve as showpieces. According to Embark, dogs are neglected, abused and when no longer attractive enough to be put on display, abandoned on the roadside. Irresponsible breeders and pet shops have sprung up to profit from this recent desire for purebred dogs. These animals for sale are often kept in unsanitary, confined spaces without adequate food or medical care. They also tend to suffer from genetic defects that result from poor breeding practices.
Be pashionable! The Embark brand offers a unique clothing line and merchandise that supports and advocates care for street dogs. A portion of profits from the sale of Embark merchandise is used to fund welfare work; which is provided to the public free of charge.