The Sunday Leader

A Delightful Afternoon At Tikiri Sevana

By Susila Devasirvadham

When I woke up this morning, I remember that it is a special day. Special, because  in the afternoon I am going to visit Padma and her 60 dogs. “Sixty dogs?!” I can hear you holler. You see, that is the usual reaction of people. Let me explain: Padma has an unusually compassionate heart. She cannot resist abandoned puppies and sick strays. So, people always remember her when they find them and contact her. Sadly they suffer from amnesia “before” and “after”. So Padma’s treasure trove of abandoned puppies had grown at Tikiri Sevena* until it reached its grand total of 60.

Often seen on highways and byways hugging stray dogs she is acquainted with and giving them worm tablets, Padma evokes amazement in people. “Who is she?” they ask. Padma is a German national who has made Sri Lanka her home in order to care for abandoned dogs. She speaks Sinhala fluently and is very much at ease with the locals. Her life revolves around her dogs at Tikiri Sevana and various welfare projects for strays, leaving her very  little time for frivolities.

Among her 60-odd dogs is Sudu, my very own “find”. Something about this determined old fellow trudging tiredly along the New Gampola Road at Meewathura had got me and I had always kept an eye open for him. I had caught this woolly dog several times with expert help to get him treated for chronic mange, releasing him after treatment each time. The mange had always come back with a vengeance, and finally in desperation I had taken a rather pink dog to Padma :  Padma had “a way” with sick dogs.
The three-wheeler that takes Harshini, an acquaintance of mine, and me to Tikiri Sevana turns into a pleasant rural road at Hindagala, Peradeniya. About four kilometres from the junction, it turns left and speeds up a mountain road. The road becomes steep suddenly and I implore Tennakone our three-wheeler owner to allow us to get down and walk up the incline as I fear that the vehicle may flip back and turn over for our weight and the weight of the sack of rice at the back. The three-wheeler crawls up the hill and we toil after it bent almost double, much to the amusement of a group of elderly village woman standing by the side of the road watching us. “Townies” their smiles seem to say. Obviously, they take the hill in their daily stride.

The vehicle has been parked on a flat stretch of road and, panting heavily, we climb into it thankfully. We wind our way along the road and Harshini who has been to Tikiri Sevana before, spots the place.  We get off the three-wheeler and stand staring at a tall metal gate, outside which we see a slightly elevated wooden structure with sloping roofs. “What is this for?” I ask rhetorically, eyeing it. The gate opens for the bell and the tall, calm presence that is Padma stands in the gateway. She exudes her usual sense of peace and we are happy to see her. The wooden structure, she explains in answer to my query, is for the “outside” dogs, which do not like to be confined to the compound. Around five such dogs and nine dogs from neighbouring houses come to the gate at mealtime to be fed.
The house, an unpretentious one with a two-storeyed annexe, is situated further up at a higher level, in the middle of a spacious, well-kept garden surrounded by a wall. Plenty of room for the dogs to roam, I note with satisfaction. Padma does not believe in shutting up her dogs in cages. We step inside blithely and in that very instant the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed, undergoes an electrifying change. First, we are greeted with a volley of barks by a Warning Committee of about a dozen dogs seemingly doing “sentry” duty at the edge of an open balcony upstairs.  Next, we are surrounded by a large Welcoming Committee consisting of dogs of all shapes and sizes eager to be acquainted with us. If we are apprehensive of being mistaken to be providers of tasty morsels of raw meat, Padma isn’t. She turns and strides up the path ahead of us leaving us with no option but to follow her. This, we do gingerly keeping a wary eye on the dogs. On reaching the main building, Padma turns into a path that leads to the annexe, calling out “Seeya! Seeya!” I am surprised.
I hadn’t known that she had a hired watcher, or for that matter, needed one. “Is he the watcher?” I venture to ask. “He stays in the annexe,” she informs me disconnectedly in answer to my question. We have to report to the watcher, before being taken around, his name is Seeya and he stays in the annexe, I deduce. A few yards before reaching the annexe, I look down and notice that a dozen or so fat puppies have silently merged into the procession to waddle after Padma. Apparently, to them, Padma is Mom Number One.

Padma flings open the door of the annexe — without knocking first, I notice — and I draw in my breath sharply in surprise, for, inside, snoozing peacefully on the floor is Sudu apparently re-christened Seeya. Sudu lies in the best place in the entire doggy kingdom — under a table which holds a gigantic vessel of aromatically steaming food. Sudu continues to sleep, chest heaving gently, but the puppies would have none of it.  They swarm all over him tugging at his ears and fur. Sudu stretches out his feet lethargically and opens one lazy eye, A gleam of recognition comes to it when he sees me. The fact that he remembers me makes me happy. Slowly rising to his feet, he wags his tail and shakes out his now snow-white coat, presenting a picture of radiant health. Having got over my initial shock, I marvel at the transformation that has taken place in the lonely, miserable dog I had brought in.

Sudu refuses to follow us when we leave the annexe. He was definitely not going to risk being routed out from this wonderful haven and abandoned somewhere, if he  could help it. Remembering the plaintive ear-splitting whines of protest that rent the air whenever he was brought out of the confines of the ward, at the veterinary clinic, I leave him in peace. In the upstair section of the annexe, we are told, sick dogs or dogs that are recuperating after sterilization are housed. The other dogs also use them at times. On the way to the main house, we see a strangely grotesque shape with gnarled and twisted limbs, lying on an open cement floor. I am moved to pity. “My gosh! What happened to this dog?” I exclaim. “Lack of mother’s milk and nutritional deficiency when a pup, ” Padma answers and stoops to give the dog a vitamin tablet from the stock I have brought. While straightening up, she picks up one of the young charges at her feet and holds him snugly against her. One moment the puppy is fully awake and the next moment, not. “Look at him,” Harshini and I chorus, “He has  gone to sleep in your arms!” I eye the contentedly drooping head and realise that Padma has a tranquilizing effect on her dependents – perhaps there is something that emanates from within her which they sense. The large receiving room is bare of furniture. It is the section where the dogs sleep at night. Wooden benches are brought in for the purpose. Suddenly, something dawns on me. The entire premises are totally devoid of any form of doggy smell. I do not get a whiff of dog-droppings even. “How does she manage it?” I ask Harshini surreptitiously. I think that she gets some helpers from the village to sweep the floor and mop it regularly,” she tells me. The garden is cleaned of the dog-droppings  three or four times a day by Padma  herself, I find out later. In addition, there is a special toilet with a water seal  and a huge septic tank below, to dispose of the collected droppings.

Padma pauses to give a vitamin tablet to a young dog busily licking a wall as if its life depends on it. She then leads us to her small kitchen and offers to pour out fruit juice for us, taking out huge drinking glasses for the purpose.  Nothing fancy around here, only utilitarian items, you can be sure. We decline, saying that we had had tea just before setting out. I hide a smile, wondering how many bottles of juice she may have to use up if she is in the habit of serving drinks in these glasses.

From the kitchen, we move into a small dining room. Harshini who has walked ahead of me can be seen standing stock-still staring at something. I come up behind her to look at the object of her interest, and there, on a wooden unpainted table is a gigantic cat, the size of a half-grown dog. “Is he of some special breed?” we ask Padma, with rising excitement. Padma answers in the negative — he had simply grown to his enormous size she informs us. “Don’t take a fancy to him,” I tell Harshini, laughing. “You won’t he able to feed him!”  Cattie Bunter (I have by now named him) is not simply huge; he is also very amiable. Stretching out his fat neck, he rubs a plump cheek against my sleeve purring all the while. This, I find out, is a courtesy he extends to all the visitors. At this point, Padma looks down behind her, and in typical Sri Lankan style exclaims “Ei!” addressing the diminutive figure that has crept up behind her to tug away valiantly at her trousers. “What are you doing? This is the only good pair of trousers I have,” she chides and frees the cloth from the pup’s tender teeth.

We smile and step out into the yard. Padma points to a room which she says is her bedroom. We peer into the tiny room through an open window. Sitting upright in the rather spartan room, amidst the only personal goods Padma seems to possess, two cats meet our gaze and stare back. Suddenly, Padma remembers something, and turning, walks towards an outhouse near the dining room. She returns leading an Alsatian on a leash. “Are you keeping him for security reasons?” I ask brightly. “Not really,” she replies. “He belonged to a lady who said that she couldn’t keep him after her husband’s death. Her driver brought him here in the car. He had mange when he came.”

I am almost speechless with indignation. “So what made her think that you would be able to look after him?” I say heatedly. Padma simply smiles in reply. I remember that she once told me that sometimes people (misguidedly) ask her whether she keeps the dogs as a hobby. The cell-phone rings: Padma is about to have more visitors.

We decide it is a good time to leave and bid her good bye.  The gate closes behind us softly, shutting us out of a magical world of compassion and sacrifice.
*Tikiri Sevana’  is a Registered Trust.

5 Comments for “A Delightful Afternoon At Tikiri Sevana”

  1. Buddhika

    Please give the contat details of this animal shelter

  2. anthony jones

    can you also please forward the contact details for this noble lady. thanks. a j.

  3. [...] us out of a magical world of compassion and sacrifice. *Tikiri Sevana’ is a Registered Trust. (SL) May 1st, 2010 | Category: [...]

  4. Steve Turner

    I first met Padma in 2005 and I have supported her work when I can since then. I wish I had the meand to offer more help than I have done.She is a remarkable lady and she has managed to get other brilliant people to work with her. The dogs in Kandy are much safer and better off because of her battles with the authorities to stop strays being poisoned. I hope other people reading this will want to support her too.

  5. Could someone please email me the contact details of this place? An email address would be idea.

    Thanks.

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