I’m often asked how Dogstar started. This is it. This is the story of Mango, and how this beautiful dog with a wise soul was the catalyst for the creation of our charity.
There are certain events in a person’s life that are so significant, so utterly and irrevocably transformative, that they demand for all of the other occurrences throughout one’s existence to simply be categorised as either before or after. For me, the life-altering episode came in 2006.
At 34 years old, with an extremely rewarding 18-year career in London’s transport industry under my belt, I was unexpectedly and with no dignity made redundant from my role. No, this is not the event that I referred to above; this was merely the catalyst for all that would come after.
The previous year (2005) had been one of the most challenging of my life, as I had thrust upon me the responsibility of taking a lead role in the clear-up operation after the London bombings – ten days during which I worked as part of a team in the tunnels under London amidst the chaotic and horrifying aftermath of the deadly terrorist attack.
In 2006 seeking a break from the emotional distress that this past year had caused me, I travelled to Sri Lanka to undertake some community volunteer work. It was sitting on the dusty steps of a rural Sri Lankan schoolroom in a Temple courtyard that I noticed a tiny puppy careering towards me. This puny bundle of intense enthusiasm, who hadn’t quite figured out how to use its brakes, landed unceremoniously in my lap, yipping and staring at me expectantly.
The pup’s siblings were not far behind, and at first glance, I noticed that they were all flea-ridden, and their small bellies bloated with worms.
Thankfully, I’d had some flea treatment sent to me from the UK for a dog that had taken up residence at the volunteers’ quarters I was staying at. I had some spare so I quickly sought permission from the monk , Wangessa Terro an older gentleman with kind eyes to treat these puppies too. While I was administering the flea treatment to the back of the puppies’ red-raw necks in the sweltering heat, the monk walked over to be and looked at me with deep concern in his gaze.
“I have another dog that needs medicine, come come.”
He led me behind the temple and gestured at a medium size dog laying lifeless on the chalky grounds near the building. Riddled with mange and mites, the animal in front of me was severely emaciated and almost bald from numerous skin conditions. Thick, leathery skin was interspersed with gaping sores, and one leg was bent at an alarming angle.
“You can make her better, no?” said the monk – not like a request but with the certainty of an already-answered question; a definitive statement that seemed to be reminding me of something I already knew.
This dog clearly needed a lot more than a dose of flea treatment. Slowly, she turned to look at me; her amber eyes gazing deeply into mine and it felt like she was looking into me rather than at me. In that moment those eyes showed me all the suffering of her life and others like her and although the words “I can’t” had been on the tip of my tongue I found myself simply saying “yes” and with that one word whilst standing alone in a ( then ) politically volatile foreign country in the grasp of a civil war I had just committed to the single biggest project of my life.
I named her Mango, and though I didn’t know it at the time she was the first Dogstar case. Tracking down a vet for her was no mean feat; qualified and well-equipped vets were few and far between. After many tearful phone calls I finally contacted a University team who were working on an assignment treating elephants, roughly an hour away. They agreed to come and help. It took 15 excruciating minutes for a vet to gently clean her wounds – she screamed in agony louder than anything I’d ever heard, leaving me, the monk and even the van driver sobbing with empathy for her. The vets were wonderful with her and gave her antibiotics, injections for mange and left instructions for her care.
The very next day I woke up with the idea for the Dogstar Foundation fully formed in my mind – the name, the logo and a clear concept for working with communities to transform the lives of animals like Mango in Sri Lanka. I was interviewing for vets within days before I headed home to the UK
I returned 6 months later to be literally bowled over by a happy and very orange dog, her mange had almost disappeared, her wounds were healed, and she walked well on her injured leg. She was well enough to be spayed at one of the very first Dogstar-funded clinics. Mango had other ideas though – she was pregnant with three puppies. The pregnancy and milk production had an impact on her health, and unfortunately, her mange returned and she could only be given limited treatment because she was nursing. Only one of her pups survived, though was thankfully successfully rehomed locally. Mango quickly became the surrogate mother to an influx of unwanted puppies that flooded into the temple before she was finally spayed nearly a year after we had first met.
Mango continued to live at the temple with Wangeesa Terro the Monk. Two years later, however, her health took a sudden turn for the worse and she passed away very peacefully. We buried her under a mango tree. She was much-loved and did not suffer in her final days.
I don’t know if its was fate or just a condendence that caused the path’s of the Monk , Mango and me to cross that day in the Temple courtyard but once they did they intertwined permanently and Dogstar has gone on to sterilise and vaccinate tens of thousands of animals, alleviating incredible pain and suffering as a result. Dogstar exists today because of our beautiful Mango, her suffering , dignity and serenity inspired both my husband Mark and I to change the course of our lives and take a path we had never even dreamed existed.
I once asked Wangessa Terro why he had singled me out of all the many foreign visitors to the Temple and he replied ” because I knew you would help , I had been waiting for you to arrive for a long time ,you came to Sri Lanka to help the dogs because they suffer so much at the hands of man’ .
Yet again he was right , I simply could not see my self doing anything else with my life now.
Sri Lanka , January 2016