My husband Dr Brent Waters and I have now visited Bhutan nine times since 2003, initially for a trekking and cultural visit. My husband regularly volunteers at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, as part of the U.S Health Volunteers Overseas organisation. He is a child psychiatrist and is assisting in developing Bhutan’s first department for this specialised area of mental health. He again worked as a volunteer at the hospital throughout June, 2018.
We have both travelled extensively in Bhutan. I work as a volunteer for the U.S Snow Leopard Conservancy and we are working on a pictorial essay book about snow leopards with Cornell University Press. We now have many good friends in Bhutan, and have hosted several young Bhutanese students for visits to Australia. My work as a literary agent was useful when I assisted Mr Gyonpo Tshering, the former National Librarian of Bhutan, to have his collection of Bhutanese proverbs published worldwide.
There is one issue however, which greatly concerns us. We realise it is a complex problem to solve, and something which will take more time to completely manage.
We feel deep and abiding affection for the people, landscape and culture of Bhutan, and we have an immense interest in Buddhism. However, the thing that we find very upsetting is the number of neglected and stray dogs in both the urban and rural areas. Apparently there are numerous dog bites reported every day at hospitals and clinics around the country. In Thimphu an average of four dog bite victims present to the hospital each day.
I know the neutering of a large number of dogs has been carried out, but in our opinion significantly more needs to be done. We do not understand why there is so little food available to the dogs, which are always scrounging for a morsel to eat, although we know many Bhutanese kindly offer them food scraps. Neutering is not enough; they need to have enough nutrition, clean water, and veterinary care to be healthy and contented, as we humans do. In winter there is also very little shelter from the cold and sometimes snowy conditions.
I feel it is a great opportunity for Bhutan to be known as the country, which is compassionate to animals. After all you have a renowned and pristine environment, with extraordinary bio-diversity of innumerable species of flora and fauna.
Do you feel there are further ways in which Bhutan could enhance the lives of these poor stray dogs? I am aware that some Bhutanese now have imported speciality breeds as pets, but perhaps there could be more work done to educate and encourage people to adopt and care for home-grown homeless animals.
During this most recent visit I saw the excellent new veterinary hospital in Thimphu, and I am, aware of the animal shelters operating in Paro and Thimphu, which also care for injured and stray animals. But it is clear that further funding is urgently needed to address the widespread stray dog problem. On this most recent visit I did day hikes to both Tango and Cheri monasteries, and it was sad to see so many adult dogs and pups desperate for food, and begging in the picnic area grounds for something to eat.
I am running below some comments from Australian tourists about the stray dogs. Many other friends who have visited Bhutan have told me it is the one big negative about their otherwise delightful visit.
“My wife and I have been visiting Bhutan regularly since 2000 and have made many memorable journeys. We have seen most of the country from east to west and north to south. It is a fantastic place and will always be my favourite destination in South East Asia. However, over the years there are a number of issues that our groups always comment negatively on. These being the vast number of stray dogs and mounting rubbish. I am sure that with lateral thinking this problem can be solved.”
Chris and Tashi Lachman. Thor Travel. Adelaide. 2018.
“Loved my visit to Bhutan in 2015 but came home wondering how it can be promoted as having such high gross domestic happiness when I was saddened to see so many homeless dogs.” Catherine DeVyre, Author and Inspirational Speaker. Sydney. 2018.
“It is hypocritical to showcase Bhutan as the happiest country on earth, when the stray dogs in the street are so miserable. The largely indifferent attitude to their suffering is deplorable when Bhutan is known for its compassion and kindness, the tenets of a profound Buddhist nation. I implore you to introduce more initiatives to resolve this issue so that other visitors to your beautiful country will not have to witness this suffering.” Christine Courtenay, AM. Visitor to Bhutan. 2018.
I am contacting you in the hope that you can facilitate some additional action, which will indeed make Bhutan known around the world as the country, which is compassionate to animals. That really would be a world first, and add to the enchantment which most visitors feel who are blessed to visit this special Buddhist Kingdom in the remarkable Himalayas.
At a time when the inner feelings of animals is being increasingly understood via mainstream and social media platforms, this is a wonderful opportunity to make a real difference to the precarious lives of the sad, homeless dogs of Bhutan.
For now my deepest respect and best wishes.