With a population on the island of around 20.3 million (2012 Census), this equates to almost 1 free-roaming dog for every 7 humans, aligning with the WHO's estimates.
So, it is not surprising when I peruse my photo albums to find many stray dogs featuring in my life and travels around Sri Lanka!
I thought I'd dedicate this blog post to some of these special dogs (and sometimes puppies) who have inspired, protected, irritated, saddened and cheered me up over the past few years on the island... If anything, these dogs often surprise me in ways I least expect. By the time you come to the end of reading this post you'll get a glimpse of why they've been part of my experiences all along the way.
Living in Colombo you see stray dogs everywhere. There are a few near my home, packs of dogs that seem to live on or around the beach and also in and around religious places. When you leave Colombo, it's more of the same. You'll notice them sharing the road with you; using pedestrian crossings (yes, I always look twice when I witness this oddly human behavior!); sleeping in the most picturesque of places or the quietest; playing with each other; often scrounging for food; and sometimes just making you laugh.
Take for example the stunning sunrise in the photo below... This photo was taken at Kalmunai, along the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. I had the pleasure of taking this shot early one morning at the beach.
The contrast to the stunning sunrise was right behind me with the pack of dogs stirring for the morning and starting to play with each other, as well as sniffing around in the sand.
The two photos below were taken at Mount Lavinia Beach where there always seems to be packs of dogs patrolling the long stretch of beach. However, these two depict a dog in a more pensive mood, taking in one of the best views of the ocean.
This another of a small pack of dogs at Unawatuna Beach. I was taking an early morning walk to start my day and found the beach quiet and empty, apart from the dogs.
I wrote about the protection of dogs in one of my blog posts on a pilgrimage climbing up Sri Pada. I really can't explain the phenomena when this happens, but I do know other travelers and pilgrims have enjoyed similar experiences to mine.
"There is honor in being a dog." ~ Aristotle
When I look back at my photos of the Sri Pada climb, there is this one dog that appears in all of the photos. I remember there being more than one dog, but this one was with us all the way. It was so dark with few people around during our climb, so I feel gratitude for the protection and companionship this dog offered up and down the mountain.
We also met some playful puppies on our way down Sri Pada.
And then there's a climb I made with my mother up Sigiriya. About halfway up we paused and took some photos of the expansive landscape and vistas. There was a little puppy perched on the wall. He showed no fear and boldly sat right near the edge. He tried to follow us when we climbed higher, but we lost him once we got to the lion's paws.
Some of you may have seen this photo before. I posted it to my blog's facebook page. I was wandering around Kandy early one morning above all the commuter traffic around the lake. The views were sensational looking down across the lake and towards Sri Dalada Maligawa. Anyway, I came upon this stray dog sat right in the middle of the road appearing in a meditative pose while gazing at the Buddha statue. I couldn't resist taking a shot!
The moment was broken when two cars came along on either side of the road and ol' dog had to move his butt out of harm's way.
And then, there was this stray dog near Suratalee Falls who offered plenty of opportunities to observe and chuckle. I managed to catch him twice on camera, but his off-camera antics were genuinely hilarious. Before I took the first shot, he had been trying to rub his butt on the road in a kind of squatting position. he must have had an itch on his bottom which was giving him grief. And so he mesmerized me for a full minute or two as he sat on his butt and tried to move towards me. Seriously hilarious!
Later on, he sat transfixed in the middle of the road watching passing traffic. He acted with no thought of oncoming traffic nor fear of getting run over!
I stopped one time to take photos at a place just past Haputale heading towards Beragala. When I stepped out of the vehicle I was greeted by this hungry looking stray dog hiding near the rocks.
I didn't have much by way of food, so I gave him some cracker biscuits.
Soon after, another stray dog emerged from nowhere and I fed him too.
The shot below was around Lake Gregory in Nuwara Eliya. I was trying to capture a part of Lake Gregory and the stray dog was taking a leisurely nap along the banks of the lake. Nice for some eh?
And another stray dog I passed on the road around Lake Gregory. I was walking close to the lake and he perked up when he saw me - tail started wagging, ears up and attention towards me.
I felt something pull at my heartstrings for this little one. He was loitering around a small shop where we stopped for directions and a cup of tea around Ambewela. I think it was the expression in his eyes that just melted me.
"If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principle difference between a dog and a man." ~ Mark Twain
You wouldn't know it, but this one below was taken on a visit to Aluvihara in Matale. Sleeping dogs are in abundance around temples and churches in Sri Lanka. This is probably what I'd call an atypical shot of a stay dog in a temple.
Although there are many issues associated with stray dogs (including disease, hunger, attacks etc) there's also freedom with where they can go, sleep and poke their noses. This captures a bit of that freedom...
"To be followed home by a stray dog is a sign of impending wealth."
~ Chinese Proverb