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A pawsome chance at love

“See, touch, hear, taste, love, give, feel, laugh. The most precious things in life can’t be built or bought” - Otara Gunawardene

The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. But humans are not the only species on earth who is in need of love. Animals need things to sustain their lives, like food, water, shelter, but most of all they need our time, affection, care and LOVE!

Neuroscience tells us that many animals possess the physiological attributes needed to enable them to experience love, defined as ‘feelings of strong affection for a particular individual’. They are not only able to perceive love, they are also capable of giving love as we humans are. Pets, as well as, animals in zoos form strong attachments to their caregivers. As attachment is a form of love, animals are indeed capable of loving their caregivers. For instance dogs; the most common pet among humans, have been reported to love their masters so deeply that they mourn their death for many years. Such was the case of Hachiko, a Japanese Akita dog.

Although dogs are considered as one the most beloved pets, there are some dogs facing heartbreaking discrimination; street dogs. They are homeless canines, often unconfined, and mostly found in cities. They get abandoned, and unfortunately sometimes end up dying on the streets.They are left to roam the streets, scavenging for food, living as outcasts who do not fit in with the domestic animals or wild animals. Pedigreed dogs are popularly in demand while countless street dogs are being neglected, abused, and coined as unwanted. Their situation is very devastating as they deserve a chance at love like any other dog.

Thus, I present to you a Sri Lankan organization that stepped up to give street dogs a chance at love; Embark. It is an organization founded by the award winning entrepreneur Otara Gunawardene, that works towards improving the welfare of street dogs in Sri Lanka, while fostering a harmonious existence between people and animals. Its initiative is to to change the circumstances of street dogs and provide a better life for them by giving them the love, respect and the home they deserve. Otara Gunawardene is the initiator as well as the backbone of this operation, never failing in her passion and dedication to the cause. She aligned her skills in branding toward launching Embark with a line of clothing that personalized the very specific loving, mischievous, independent attitude of the dogs. The Embark brand offers customers a diverse and unique line of pooch-inspired clothing and merchandise. With its bright colors, bold slogans and trendy motifs, the collection appeals to the fashion-forward of all ages. All the profits from the sales of merchandise are used to fund Embark’s extensive welfare work, focused not only on rescues or adoptions, but also sterilizations, vaccinations, education and campaigning for improved policy with regard to animals islandwide.

Notably, in 2009, Embark shimmied down the catwalk with a bang at its inaugural fashion show. Models took to the catwalk their best accessories and– a rescued street puppy! By the end of that year, Embark moved into dog products; with a focus on leads, collars and accessories – proving that its products could not only make owners “pashionable,” but their pets as well! The Embark team takes the welfare of street dogs in Sri Lanka forward against the odds, instiling values of respect, responsibility and compassion towards all living beings. So far, Embark has rescued and treated over 30,000 street dogs in Sri Lanka. Fostered and rehomed over 6000, Carried out 28,746 sterilizations and 70,199 vaccination. Embark also conducts awareness campaigns to keep the public informed of animal welfare issues, to promote kindness, compassion and end cruelty towards animals. Embark’s main education programs are conducted alongside large-scale Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release (CNVR) campaigns that create awareness amongst school children in the selected program areas.

The programs include information on how to safely interact with and approach street dogs, methods people can use to keep both themselves and their pets safe from rabies, how to be a responsible pet guardian along with information on basic animal care and medical requirements. Embark has succeeded in not only making a significant change through its own work, but also in inspiring countless others to move from ignorance to empathy and from fear to compassion for the animals they share their space with. Currently, all work of Embark operates under the Otara Foundation, a wildlife and animal welfare focused organization founded by Otara in 2015, and is being effectively carried out. As of today, Embark is welcoming new volunteers, rescuing more pooches, conducting adoption days, free clinic days and continuing to make life better for the street dogs in Sri Lanka.

Over 3 million street dogs are still roaming the streets of Sri Lanka, most of them surviving in dire conditions. Spotting a street dog on the road is quite common, we forget that they're also living beings, capable of love and loyalty. Although they are unable to speak and cry out their needs, their friendly wagging of tails, shriveled bodies and beady eyes speak volumes. As Embark has emphasized throughout its operation, street dogs are worthy of love and care.

So next time you meet one on the street, give them a pawsome chance at love!

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