As the world celebrates International Dog Day on Thursday, a Ugandan animal activist is busy caring for the increasing number of animals abandoned by their owners amid COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past 25 years, Alex Ochieng has offered shelter to stray animals. But in the past two years the number of animals at the shelter increased sharply.
Ochieng started to care for stray animals in the 1990s.
In 1996, he partnered with some volunteers and started to rescue abandoned animals around their neighborhood in Mbuya, a suburb in Kampala.
As time went by, the number of stray animals increased, so they need a bigger shelter to accommodate them.
Later they started Uganda Society for the Protection and Care of Animals, aiming to promote awareness and mobilize resources to cater for the stray animals.
“Members of the public would bring rescued animals or staff from the shelter would be called out to rescue them. On arrival at the shelter the stray animals are assessed and if necessary given medical care. Once deemed to be healthy there are places for adoption,” Ochieng said
According to Ochieng, many animal owners especially dog owners abandoned them because of the economic hardships caused by the pandemic.
Even on the streets, the animals are finding it hard to survive as eatery places and hotels that used give them leftover food are not operating at full capacity while others are closed amid the pandemic.
“During the month of June we had many cases of abandoned stray animals, especially from the suburbs,” Ochieng said.
Dickson Tayebwa, a volunteer veterinary doctor at the shelter said the stray animals brought at the center suffer from canine influenza, parvovirus and external parasites like ticks and fleas.
Most of the animals came “in very bad shape and sickly,” Tayebwa said, adding that after proper treatment or surgeries they can recover and regain health within months.
Ochieng said despite the grueling effects of the pandemic the shelter has been getting support and donations from individuals, firms and organizations both local and international.
The shelter currently provides medical care, rescue and rehabilitation, and adoption services to over 250 stray animals, including 180 dogs.
Ochieng said even with limited resources they feed the animals twice a day so that they do not starve to death. Each day, the team gives the animals a mixture of posho (baked maize flour), meat and vegetables.
The shelter also allows adoption. Thomas Ssemakadde, a resident of Gayaza near the capital Kampala, adopted a dog at the center in 2019.
“I went through interviews before I was allowed to adopt the dog. The interview included filling forms about livelihoods, occupation and family,” Ssemakadde said, adding that a team from the shelter visited his home and interacted with his family members before he adopted the dog.