Adventurous Veterinarian Nicole took a month off work in August to participate in a voluntary program where she and five other volunteers performed sterilisations on dogs in a small remote town called Leh, located in the northern Himalayas. Read her amazing story about the time she spent in this colourful community.

~ The True Meaning of Life ~

“We are visitors on this planet,
We are here for ninety
or one hundred years
at the very most.
During that period,
we must try to do something
good, something useful,
with our lives.
If you contribute to other
people’s happiness, you will
find the true goal,
the true meaning of life.”

~ H.H The 14th Dalai Lama

This was the quotation I faced each morning when beginning my days surgery in a small town located in the far northern Indian Himalayas called ‘Leh’.

Leh is a stunningly remote town located in the province of Ladakh, 3500m above sea level, bordered by Tibet to the east and Kashmir to the west. It is renowned for its Tibetan Buddhist culture and its high mountain passes favoured by trekkers and mountaineers.

In August 2009 I volunteered to work for a street dog program in Leh run by the Ladakh Animal Care Society in conjunction with Vets Beyond Borders. These programs have been initiated to improve both the animal welfare and public health of communities in India and around the world.

Vets Beyond Borders is an Australian not for profit organisation that was developed in 2003 and runs animal welfare and public health programs in communities throughout the Asia Pacific region.

During my stay I lived with five other volunteers in the local farmhouse of the program co-ordinator Kunzang Namgyal and his extended family. This gave us the opportunity to truly experience the Buddhist life style of the local Ladakh people, and appreciate some of the many hardships that these communities cope with in such a positive manner.

Each morning we would wake to the bright sun streaming through the wooden panel windows of the 300 year old farm house, overlooking an expanse of barley fields with a panorama of mountain ranges in the distance.

Padma, the family cook and distant relation of Kunzang, would have been up since daybreak baking home made bread and cooking oat porridge over the pot bellied stove, fueled by dried cow faeces. Soltan, an adopted son would have carried water up from the river for our morning chai.

After breakfast we would walk down to the clinic to begin the days surgery. On arrival we would be met by about 12 of the resident dogs who choose to live on in the clinic. Most of the resident dogs would probably not survive on the streets due to various disabilities, though there is no physical containment of the dogs on the premises.

Generally about 15 animals were neutered each day, depending on how many street dogs Kunzang and other local helpers managed to trap on their predawn morning run through town.

Generally the days surgery was completed by mid afternoon, and we would then have time to ourselves to either visit local tourist spots or head into town to explore the local Tibetan markets.

Due to extreme weather conditions in Leh (temperatures in mid winter can be as low as minus 50) the project only runs from June to September each year, and since its inception in 2003 has resulted in the sterilisation and rabies vaccination of over 4000 dogs. This year an achievement of over 1000 dogs.

Volunteers include both veterinary surgeons, and veterinary nurses from all over the world. Volunteering is a fantastic way of meeting people from diverse backgrounds. Much of the work undertaken also involves help from local Ladakh people who are employed by Vets Beyond Borders, and so these programs also help communities from a local economy perspective as well.

Overall I found Ladakh and India generally to be a fascinating, vibrant land of contrasts, and feel very fortunate that I was able to use my skills and knowledge to contribute to the ongoing improvements in animal welfare and public health in the community. In exchange I was able to experience the warmth and compassion of the local Ladakh people and Kunzang’s family in particular and also meet some amazing dogs with huge personalities.

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