A trip to India made Leeds dog lover and artist Jess Carmichael determined to do something to help the strays. Catherine Scott reports.
Jess Carmichael loves dogs. But, while travelling in India, Jess, 26, who lives in Leeds, couldn’t believe the poor treatment and condition of scores of stray dogs that roamed the streets and beaches.
She was so moved by the plight of the huge numbers of stray dogs she saw she decided that she wanted to do something to try to make a difference.
“It was heartbreaking to see the packs of stray dogs, particularly on the beaches in India.
“They were skinny and covered in ticks. One had puppies. I would take food for them each day,” said Jess.
On her return she took to the internet to do some research and discovered a charity working in Thailand which aimed to not only help stray dogs and cats, but also to educate people better about animals.
To find out more about the charity, Jess, who works as a nursing administration team leader at Spire Leeds Hospital, decided to spend her annual leave volunteering at the Lanta Animal Welfare Centre in Koh Lanta, Thailand.
She worked in the centre’s isolation and quarantine department for two weeks in November and December last year. “Stray animals live in the centre until they are adopted and the animals are re-homed all over the world,” explains Jess.
“Pets are not high on the list of priorities in Thailand and India as they are in this country. There was one dog who came in while I was there who had been attacked with a machete – it was heartbreaking. His injuries were horrific and I just couldn’t understand how anyone could do that to a dog.
“The centre is doing great work to change people’s attitudes towards dogs and its staff go into schools to teach children how to look after animals,” said Jess, who has two pet pugs, Macy and Hugo.
“The centre relies on volunteers like me to feed and walk the 100 dogs and cats that need feeding and walking everyday. I could only get two weeks off work and I am hoping to go back, so as well as raising money for the centre I want to raise awareness among people who might want to go and help like me.
“Without the centre it just doesn’t bear thinking about what would happen to the dogs, I know I can’t change the world, but I want to do something.”
On her return, Jess was determined to try to do something to help the centre which relies completely on volunteers to run.
Now she aims to raise awareness and funds for the centre, through the sales of her pet portrait paintings at an exhibition next month. “I just felt I had to do something. I have always painted since I was a child and I do dog portraits for people of their pets. So while I was in India and Thailand I took some photographs and decided to paint some of the dogs.
“It’s a hobby, really, but then I thought maybe I could have an exhibition to sell some of my paintings, not only to raise money but to raise awareness of the amazing work the centre does.”
Jess is now busy preparing for the exhibition, capturing the character and personality of the dogs with acrylics on canvas, from the photos she took in India and Thailand.
She hopes the exhibition next month will raise awareness of the hardship of homeless animals and raise much needed funds for the centre.
“The centre is a non-profit charity and cannot operate without volunteers. It’s a cause I believe passionately in and I wanted to work with the rescued animals there to see the other side of things.
“They urge people who no longer want their animal for whatever reason to take it to them rather than just dumping in the street where it can get run over, or continue to breed, making the problems worse,” she added.
And Jess already has at least one celebrity fan.
Last year, she saw a photograph of the rapper Tinie Tempah’s new puppy on social media. She decided to paint a portrait of it and sent it to his record label.
A couple of months later, Jess was surprised to see that Tinie Tempah had posted a photo of the portrait on his dog’s Instagram page and tagged Jess in it. “It was a real surprise to see the photo of his puppy and my painting. It is nice to think that he may have it hanging somewhere in his house, but you don’t know.”
Jess is now planning her next ‘holidays’, which will involve voluntary work at other animal rescue centres around the world. “I have my eye on a few other places to volunteer,” she says, although she would very much like to go back to Thailand to see how the work at the Lanta centre has progressed.
“It is hard as you would love to give all the dogs a home but that isn’t possible. But it has really made me think. Both my dogs are pedigree and I don’t think now that I would not get a pedigree dog again, I would rather give a home to a rescue dog.”
Jess’s exhibition will be at the Café Sylva, a dog-friendly cafe in Roundhay, Leeds LS8 2FA, for one night only on Friday, April 13, from 7pm to 11pm.
Alternatively, anyone wishing to give a donation to the centre can visit: www.simplygiving.com/lantaanimal_artexhibition