A painter and a veterinary doctor

Rabindra Pokharel


It’s strange how things make an impression on people. And even stranger the way these impressions change their lives. What could be the first impression a foreigner captures about Nepal? It could be the spectacular mountains or the verdant vegetation of the endlessly sprawling plains. Not for Jan Salter, who could see more than just the conspicuous. Salter first visited Nepal in 1968 and worked as a hairdresser at a salon in Boris Lissanevitch’s legendary Royal Hotel. Shortly afterwards, she took a job as a schoolteacher in a school for deaf children in New Zealand. And that was how she secretly believed she’d spend the rest of her life. However, the children at the school became the first inspiration for her early sketches that was to win her great acclaim as a painter. A painter by profession (and hobby?), Salter has never regretted the course she chose of her life. Though her parents deprecated her profession as an unprofitable one, she discovered a niché that brought her greatest contentment. She nonetheless complied to be trained as a hairdresser at her

father’s suggestion, that provided her with a modest income and with it, all the freedom she needed to live her life.

Salter traveled avidly in many countries with many popular artists of the day while Nepal continued to beckon her as a blissful home. Eventually, in 1975, she decided not to defer the yearning any longer. Loaded with as much as art equipment she could carry she packed up for the place where she emotionally belonged. “It is the remarkable faces that still continue to intrigue me. Perhaps, it was the simplicity of the smiles that shone on those faces that seemed remarkable,” she says. She trekked the Rocky Mountains and visited the countrysides learning more and more and drawing many faces as she explored. She’s since then had frequent visits to Nepal. The idea first struck her, when she coincidentally visited Help in Suffering in Jaipur, India during one of her painting stints. She was overwhelmingly impressed with the efficient way HIS managed to bring about “humane management of street dogs for community benefit,” making Jaipur a “rabies free dog friendly city”. Back in Nepal, she came across a number of like minded people, who believed that it was worthwhile to execute the idea of an Animal Treatment Centre.

Katmandu Animal Treatment Center (KAT) was finally established on May 9, 2004, with moral support from a large crowd of well wishers at Chapaligaun, Budhanilkhantha. The erstwhile mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Keshav Sthapit and artists Hari Bansa Acharya and Madan Krishna Shrestha were instrumental in raising the funds needed for the establishment of the centre. Among the audience on the opening day were also trainers from Jaipur. The centre at present employs over ten staff including a team of intrepid “dog catchers.” Thousands of dogs are being poisoned and strychnine is periodically spread around the city, killing over 10,000 dogs each year. Poisoning is the most brutal death that an animal could meet with. Above all, it also poses an environmental threat, for people’s pets and people at large. Piles of decomposed carcasses dumped in rivers leads to life-threatening water pollution.

Dianna Mcphee, a volunteer veterinary doctor from Australia, says, “At least 200 people die of rabies annually and this figure could go even higher if immediate measures are not taken.” Kathmandu Metropolitan Authorities have played an instrumental role in supporting KAT’s sterilisation and rabies immunisation while Hotel Radisson and Fire and Ice Restaurant has been providing leftovers to feed these destitute dogs. KAT’s vociferous campaigns have immensely helped control the population of dogs that die painfully by poisoning or starvation. Vaccination against rabies has helped alleviate the agonies of dogs and ensuing hazards to humans. KAT collects stray dogs from the streets and treats them for skin diseases, worms and wounds or injuries. All dogs treated by KAT are recorded and identified by a red collar and a clipped and tattooed ear. “It’s a lot more challenging here in Nepal and I feel that I have more import here,” says Dianna, who’s come all the way from Australia to volunteer her services to Walter’s benevolent mission. “It’s happened out of a sense of adventure and compassion. Of course there’s less money, but people appreciate it when you work for free,” she says. KAT can boast of many accomplishments. And Salter has adamantly stood by to scrape every penny (sometimes selling her pictures) to alleviate the agonies of hapless animals all the way. Though Walter’s mission continues, every little contribution could make a difference.