WECare Worldwide

Changing the Lives of Animals with WECare Worldwide

Dr Janey Lowes is a North East vet helping transform the lives on animals by saving the dogs of Sri Lanka with her company WECare Worldwide

Elysia Fryer

Editor at Luxe

I take great pride in saying that I don’t fall short of opportunities to be inspired by people in this job. And when I am given the opportunity to uncover the stories of people who are really making a difference in this world, I am humbled to share those conversations.

The conversations that change you as a person, shift your perspective or encourage you to act on something. They are the conversations that make the world a better place.

And it’s my job to share my exchanges with those people in the hope that it can have a snowball effect and we can continue to make a positive difference. Cue Dr Janey Lowes. A North East vet with a big, big heart.

As I sit down for my post-lunch break cuppa, Janey dials in as day turns to dusk in Sri Lanka. In true British style, we kick off the conversation by sharing news of our worlds-apart weather conditions.

And while I’m craving the blazing sunshine, Janey longs for cosy evenings back home. We share stories about our lives at opposite ends of the Tees Valley – Janey growing up in Teesdale and me at the foot of the North York Moors – and she takes great comfort in the familiarity of home.

But for Janey, Sri Lanka very much feels like home now – a place where she is making a huge difference in veterinary care.

WECare Worldwide

Where it all Started…

After spending time backpacking in Sri Lanka back in 2014, she couldn’t help but notice the plight of local street dogs being injured or struggling to get by.

“I didn’t go searching for it,” she admits.

“But as soon as I saw what was going on over there, I knew I had to do something. I was horrified at the numbers – there’s one street dog for every eight people here.”

At that point, returning to her job as a vet in Newcastle just wasn’t enough. She simply couldn’t turn her back on the dogs that needed her. So she packed up, left her life behind and committed to transforming the lives of street dogs in need of high standard veterinary care.

She came to my attention when I saw her smiling, looking after animals and just being her beautiful self on Ben Fogle’s Channel 5 show, New Lives in the Wild. Janey has a warmth to her that you’d expect from someone who has so much to give.

We’re on a video call, thousands of miles between us, but she still has the ability to light up the room.

“After my initial shock at the sheer number of street dogs in Sri Lanka, I came to realise that the way of living – not just for people, but for animals too – is so different to how we see it in the UK,” she starts.

“I realised that the dogs here actually did have everything they needed to survive – food, freedom, a safe place to sleep and even a community caring for them. What they didn’t have, however, was veterinary care when things got tough.”

WECare Worldwide

Founding of WECare Worldwide

That’s when WECare Worldwide was born, and Janey has never looked back. From a one-woman-mission to a team of up to 60, it’s a charity that is really making a difference, and it was fantastic to see the story picked up by Ben Fogle.

Since the show aired in April, Janey has been feeling the love, donations have soared and WECare’s dream of setting up a new hospital for their animals in need, is finally in sight.

“These last few weeks have been amazing,” Janey beams.

“It really restores my faith in humanity. We have felt so much love, and after a very difficult few years, battling with our hospital building – which was an old, run-down school – we are happy to finally be in the early stages of building a new and improved hospital.”

Since she made the decision to make this life her reality, there’s no getting away from the street dog problem Sri Lanka is facing. But, being the smiley, positive person she is, she admits she is living out her dream by helping animals in need.

“The whole thing is really visual for me,” she starts.

“It’s literally on my doorstep. I open my gate and the problem is there. I go to the supermarket and the problem is there. Anywhere you go, it’s there. That’s my driver every day. We made an oath to fix any animal in need of us, so that is what we will do every day.

“Because I now know that this is what goes on, there’s no way I could just come home and pretend it isn’t happening. The guilt I’d feel about not being here and doing what I can to help would be so much worse than the tiredness and sadness I sometimes feel being here.”

WECare Worldwide

WECare Worldwide and its Mission

Janey was just 26 when she made the decision to up sticks and save street dogs in Sri Lanka.

“I was really quite young, and really quite naive. I laugh now because I have six dogs, five of which I picked up in my first year here because I just wanted to give them all a home.

“This was before I really got my head around street dogs and their role in the local community. So, in the nine years since then, I’ve only got one more dog, because I realised the street isn’t the problem.

“These dogs belong to a loving and nurturing community, the country just doesn’t have the facilities to provide the care these animals need when times get tough. I’ve got that awareness now.

“Thank goodness, or I’d have thousands of dogs at home!” she laughs.

In the early days, when Janey returned to Sri Lanka after her backpacking trip, on a mission to change lives, BBC’s Inside Out North East and Cumbria picked up on what she was doing and got over 30 million views.

“It went a bit mental from there,” says Janey.

“So that was the point where this building became a hospital as we got a bit of funding on the back of that exposure.

“Year on year, I was saying to my boss, ‘yeah I’ll come back soon!’ But it finally became apparent that I was never coming back.

“It was a real hustle back in the day, and it was never a conscious decision that I was going to move to Sri Lanka and save dogs for the rest of my life, it was almost a bit of a gap year, that got a little bit out of hand, you could say!”

WECare Worldwide

The Growth of WECare Worldwide

WECare started as a one woman hustle, but very quickly, people were inspired by what Janey was doing and soon the team started to grow, but not always quick enough to keep up with the demand of dogs in need.

“It was just me to start with,” says Janey

“Then I met a guy who was working on a building site nearby and he loved dogs, so started giving up his one day off a week to come and help me. We found a tuk tuk driver and it was just the three of us cruising around for ages.

Then I met a local vet who I still work with to this day. It was the four of us for three or four years, now we are up to 60 staff and it has gotten big and out of control!

“None of this was planned, but it’s weird, it just feels so right. There are definitely days when it gets a bit much, but there’s never a consideration that this isn’t my path. This is where I can use my skills.

“If a dog is in an emergency situation at home, they’ve got a choice of 20 vets, whereas here there’s just nothing, so this is where I’m best placed to do what I love, which is helping animals that need me.”

WECare’s set-up is a stark contrast to animal care back in the UK. Not because the love and commitment isn’t there, but because the way of living is so dissimilar. So, just how do dogs end up in the care of Janey and co.?

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Community Involvement and WECare Worldwide

“Back in the day we would just drive around looking for them,” she starts.

“But now, the word is out and people report to us. They’ll ring and say, ‘a dog has just been hit by a bus’, or ‘a dog has been attacked by a wild pig’. It’s such a community effort, which is amazing.

“I think there is this narrative, sometimes, that the people here don’t care about animals. It’s not the case at all. They’ve just never had anyone on hand to help them. They do care that there was a dog hit by a bus, but what are they supposed to do about it if there are no vets around to treat the dog, and they only earn £100 a month?

“Before we set up, there was nothing available to them, but now that there is, we are seeing this incredible response where everyone wants to help. It goes to show how kind the people here are.

“Once the dogs are with us, we treat them – and that is the hardest part, honestly – because you’re treating them, not just as their vet, but you become their owner and caregiver because you’re having to make all of these big, life decisions.

“When I’m a vet at home, I’ll give the owner multiple options and they’ll go away and have a think about it. Here, we have to call all of the shots, and because we’re in a charity setting, we’ve got to be careful how we spend – we don’t have options for referral, we don’t have an MRI.

“You get really emotionally attached, whether you want to or not, because you do become the decision maker, the owner and the caregiver.”

WECare Worldwide

Approach and Philosophy of WECare Worldwide

It’s not always a happy ending, Janey explains, but usually it is, and she talks me through the process of getting dogs back out into their communities.

“People are always surprised to hear that our job is to treat dogs, nurture them, then get them back out onto the street.

“But this is why we call them street dogs and not stray dogs, because most of them do have a ‘guardian’ of sorts. It’s not someone who is going to pay their vet bills, but it is someone who is going to give them their leftover rice and curry at the end of every single day. They are committed to them in that sense.

“So when we (hopefully) discharge them, they are going back to a community that they’ve probably grown up in. They’re not stray, they were born on the street and are very much part of the community – they’ll walk the kids to the bus stop every single day.

“There’s all of these magical moments that make them such a huge part of people’s lives. The ecosystem works really well here, and street dogs are at the beating heart of it.

“If they don’t have a guardian or they’re a young puppy so never got the chance to establish a territory,” Janey continues.

“We do adopt them out to homes as pets. We have adopted out about 350 dogs to the local community, and a few to England now, which has been nice.”

WECare Worldwide

The Reason Behind

So what is the reason for such a huge number of street dogs in Sri Lanka?

“It’s a bit of a complex one,” Janey explains.

“Essentially, every country in the world would have had a street dog problem at some stage. At home, ours are away behind shiny shelters, whereas here, it’s out on the street for everyone to see. A lot of it comes down to Sri Lankan kindness.

“Everyone in Sri Lanka is a feeder, so it’s very rare for me to see a dog that is underweight because they are all incredibly well fed. It speaks volumes for the type of people they are because, even through the economic crisis, something like 60% of people could only afford one meal a day, yet all of the dogs were still being fed.

“So, these animals are being fed, which is lovely, but it means they’re in a fit enough state to reproduce.”

Janey is incredibly humble and, even after the huge response from the Channel 5 show, was surprised by my request to feature her story in Luxe. But she is very proud to do the work she does, in the community that she does it in. Sri Lanka has very much become her adopted home.

“I feel so settled here, in every sense,” she smiles.

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Janey’s Life in Sri Lanka

“When I was in the UK, I was always looking for something else and thinking there’s more to life, whereas now I don’t really think like that. I feel I am where I need to be.

“The thing I love most about Sri Lanka is how diverse it is. You can be on a tropical beach, then you drive a few hours east and it’s like you’re in Africa with elephants. You drive inland and you’re in the hills like you’re back in England. Or you go north, and it’s almost like you’re in India. It’s really cool because you’ve got so many islands within one in a way.

“If I’m ever homesick, I head for the hills, where it’s a little bit cooler. I can stick a jumper and a hat on and enjoy the countryside.”

When she’s not caring for animals, chasing waves on her surfboard or heading for the hills, Janey likes to keep well connected to her life back home.

“I usually try to come home once a year,” she says.

“During Covid, it was around three or four years, and I really, really missed it. The first thing I do when I go home is go to the Metrocentre and have Wagamamas – every time!

“I really love going home to Teesdale. My brother is a gamekeeper on the Holwick Estate, where High Force is, so I love spending time up there, on the. fell.

“When I get it, I spend a lot of my downtime surfing, so if I’m home and feeling brave, I’ll go and surf at Tynemouth. I’m definitely a fair weather surfer now!

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Northern Roots

“I love coming home to catch up with friends and family and just bedding in. It’s so hot in Sri Lanka all the time, that you never feel cosy, so it’s a real novelty for me to get wrapped up on the sofa.

“This is ridiculous, but just being able to walk on a footpath is a real joy when I’m home. We don’t have footpaths over here, we just walk on dirt roads, so it feels like a real luxury, just to go for a little walk along a footpath.”

Janey gives thanks to the northern roots (and her very understanding boss back in Newcastle!) for the journey she is currently on in Sri Lanka. She shares her dreams of growing WECare to open clinics all over the world in areas that need it most.

But for now, Sri Lanka’s street dogs need her and her next goal is to get a new hospital up and running. If you’re as inspired by Janey’s story as we are, you can donate online. If you’re a dog owner, you can purchase WECare’s dog food online, with 100% of profits going directly to help street dogs.