By Yubaraj Sharma
LALITPUR, Nepal (Reuters) – Dog lovers of Nepal honoured canines on Monday, putting bright orange garlands around their necks and indulging them with treats to celebrate a Hindu festival highlighting the loyalty of dogs to humans.
At a dog shelter in Lalitpur, a city on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu, volunteers, residents and tourists took part in "Kukur Tihar", a ceremony that takes place on the second day of a five-day Hindu festival devoted to animals associated with Yamaraj, the god of death and justice.
"On the day of the Festival of Dogs, I want to convey the message that humans should show compassion and love to dogs and feed them as much as we can," Lalitpur Mayor Chiri Babu Maharjan said after honouring paralysed dogs at the Sneha Care animal shelter.
The tradition originates in Nepal, where street dogs are prevalent and dog welfare is struggling.
The Sneha Care shelter has around 170 dogs, some of which have been abandoned, owner Sneha Shrestha said.
"Today they are worshipped, but the next day they are being left. If they get sick, people leave them," she said.
During the festive period, it is considered a sin to act disrespectfully to dogs and other animals that are honoured.
"It is fun when we make garlands, wear them, and feed the dogs during the Festival of Dogs," local resident Tirtha Bahadur Khatri said.
Beyond the celebrations, dog welfare is starting to receive more widespread attention in Nepal.
There are an estimated 20,000 stray dogs in the Kathmandu Valley alone, according to media reports.
Authorities in Pokhara have been microchipping canines, while Kathmandu's city council has launched dog management campaigns to control the stray population.
(Reporting by Yubaraj Sharma; Writing by Lion Schellerer; Editing by Jamie Freed)
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