Founded leading Nepal humane organization past age when most people retire
KATHMANDU, Nepal––Jan Salter, 82, artist, humanitarian, and founder of the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre in Nepal in 2004, died in Lyme Regis, United Kingdom, on April 29, 2018.
Word of her death did not reach ANIMALS 24-7 until nearly 90 days later.
Born Janette Sonia Salter, in Bitterne, a suburb of Southampton, U.K., Jan Salter was “one of three children of Dorothy and Lawson Salter,” of whom brother Carl survives her, recalled longtime friend Jaynee Moon.
Hairdresser turned artist
Salter “attended Sholing Girls’ School, and even as a child loved drawing,” Moon wrote. “She wanted to attend art school, but her father dissuaded her, suggesting she train as a hairdresser to provide a means of earning her living. Hairdressing did, in fact, prove a useful way for Jan to support herself during her early travels,” as Salter “journeyed widely in Australia, the U.S., Asia and Africa.”
Moon became acquainted with Salter while working “in Asia for many years as a teacher educator, training teachers and trainers about how to teach English as a second or foreign language.” Moon is now a member of the board of governors at the Hovingham Primary School in Leeds.
Salter “first visited Nepal in 1967, and a fascination with the country and its people lured her back,” Moon continued.
Hairdressing kept Salter in Nepal
Salter arrived in Nepal “as a tourist,” elaborated EcsNepal magazine writer Prerna Rai in 2010, “but secured a job as a hairdresser in Boris Lissanevitch’s Royal Hotel.”
Lissanevitch (1905-1985) was born in Odessa [Ukraine]. Trained as a military cadet, Lissanevitch at age 15 was wounded during the Russian Revolution, but deserted the Red Army in 1924.
Lissanevitch fled to France, became a ballet dancer, then traveled the world for 30 years as a dancer, hotelier, restauranteur, and behind-the-scenes diplomat, before settling in Nepal for the rest of his life, becoming known as a patron of Nepalese traditional arts.
Not a hippie
Salter, then 32, was somewhat older than the hippies who began flocking to Nepal on spiritual quests at about the same time.
“I was never one of them,” Salter told Prerna Rai, “but I sympathized with some of their philosophies. They did not want anything to do with the material world and wanted to overcome problems to make it a better place. They were certainly not bad people.”
“For Jan,” said Moon, “painting was a hobby until she visited Indonesia in the 1970s and met the artist Affandi (1907-1990),” a self-taught impressionist painter known for socially aware themes, whose daughter Kartika Affandi, two years older than Salter, is herself a painter of note.
Affandi’s “influence inspired Jan to take up painting seriously,” Moon wrote. “On her return to Nepal in 1975, she trekked around the country, making pencil sketches of the people of the diverse ethnic groups she met, fascinated by their varied cultures. She later extended her range to painting in oils.”
Wrote Prerna Rai, “Her first drawing was of a young Newar boy, Prem Lal, who lived near Basantapur,” Salter’s home in Nepal for more than 40 years.
“You connect with people when you draw them”
“Somehow, you connect with people when you draw them,” said Salter. She later became Prem Lal’s guardian.
Prem Lal grew up to run a motorbike business with his brother, Prerna Rai recounted.
Salter later “supported two children from the little ethnic group Bote (ferrymen of Tanahun from Damauli area) whose father committed suicide,” Prerna Rai said.
Salter never married or had children of her own.
“There was a Japanese man whom she had fallen in love with while he had come to work as a volunteer in Kathmandu,” reported Abhaya Raj Joshi for EcsNepal in 2015. “According to her friends, she travelled to Japan many times to meet him. But things did not work out for the couple, as his Samurai family objected to their relationship.”
Said Salter herself, “This is a personal side of my life that I don’t wish to share.”
Faces of Nepal
Meanwhile, Salter’s drawings “gradually grew into a collection no one else had,” showing representatives of each of the 70-odd ethnicities of Nepal, Prerna Rai summarized. “In 1996 the collection was compiled into a book entitled Faces of Nepal, with text by Dr. Harka Gurung (1939-2006).”
Harka Gurung, a renowned anthropologist and conservationist, was among 24 people who died on September 23, 2006 when a helicopter chartered by the World Wildlife Fund crashed while flying officials to a ceremony at which management of the Kanchenjuna Conservation Area Project was to be turned over to the community. The region attracts birders trekking to see Himalayan monal, emerald doves, and maroon orioles, among other rare high-elevation species.
Faces of Nepal won Salter admission to the order of Gorkha Dakshin Bahu, or “Order of the Gurkha Right Arm,” an honor for distinguished service to Nepal that was awarded by the former Nepali monarchy from 1896 until 2006.
Salter received the honor from then-King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, the next-to-last monarch of Nepal, in 1997.
The monarchy fell in 2008 after the forced resignation of King Birendra’s brother and successor, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev.
All Our Daughters
Meanwhile, “Shocked by the plight of young Nepali girls trafficked into prostitution,” Moon wrote, “Salter worked with Maiti Nepal, a charity that rescues and rehabilitates the girls, to produce [a collection of] more than 50 paintings of the trafficked survivors entitled All Our Daughters, publicizing their plight.”
Salter donated the originals to Maiti Nepal at a 2015 ceremony.
Help In Suffering
Sharing her small upstairs apartment with five rescued dogs and four cats, Salter was concerned for years that the Kathmandu city government relied on poisoning street dogs to control the risk of rabies outbreaks, but was unaware of any viable alternatives until in 2003 she met Australian author/activist Christine Townend on a visit to Jaipur, India.
Townend and Animal Liberation author Peter Singer had cofounded the first Australian animal rights group Animal Liberation, which became Animals Australia, in 1978.
Becoming acquainted with Crystal Rogers (1906-1996), founder of the Help In Suffering animal hospital and shelter in Jaipur, India, Townend succeeded Rogers in 1992, and expanded the organization to run a second animal hospital in Darjeeling, in the Himalayan foothills.
Townend introduced Salter to the techniques of high-volume dog and cat sterilization and vaccination.
KAT & Parkinson’s disease
“In 2004, at 68 years of age – when most people retire, Salter started Kathmandu Animal Treatment Center [KAT] in Budhanilkantha,” wrote Abhaya Raj Joshi.
“Artist Ratan Rai,” who was among Salter’s many portrait subjects, years before, “says it was the KAT Centre that forced her to stop drawing.”
Recalled Ratan Rai, “She was totally exhausted by the amount of work she had to do.”
That was also when Salter diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which killed her after she fought it for 14 years.
Stopped the poisoning
Throwing herself into the work of KAT with the same wholehearted determination she had committed to art and humanitarian work, Salter counted among her major achievements, she wrote in 2016, that “KAT has stopped the cruel and hazardous poisoning of street dogs.
“Before KAT’s existence,” Salter explained, “Kathmandu Municipality poisoned more than 10,000 street dogs a year with strychnine. Their bodies were dumped in the rivers that are the city’s main water supply.
“KAT Centre, at inception in 2004, offered to the authorities a more humane and effective alternative to their system: a persistent, proactive animal sterilization program.
Cut dog population by a third
“More than 18,500 dogs have been sterilized by KAT,” Salter recounted. “When the KAT Centre in 2004 started to sterilize stray dogs, their population in Kathmandu was estimated at 32,500. A survey conducted less than a decade later, in conjunction with the World Health Organization, showed the numbers had declined to 22,500, mainly thanks to KAT’s intensive Animal Birth Control program.”
KAT had also vaccinated more than 25,000 street dogs against rabies, and had “rescued and treated over 7,500 sick street dogs and cats,” as well as “actively promoting the adoption of many homeless dogs.”
Showed Nepali people care about animals
Elaborated Salter to ANIMALS 24-7, “Kathmandu is full of little lanes and by-lanes, where heavy traffic never enter, which are a high breeding ground for puppies. The decrease of the dog population is now very noticeable, just by looking here, plus the improvement in health of our canine friends. It was a nightmare for tourists and people in general who cared, to witness the miserable puppies who were running visibly everywhere during puppy season. Plus the huge number of mange ridden unhealthy dogs. Now it is an unusual sight to see a poor mangy dog, or clusters of abandoned puppies in the areas where we work.
“Many people thought that the Nepali people were uncaring about animals,” Salter added. “Since starting KAT, this has been proved not so. Before KAT’s existence people were overwhelmed, and did not know how to handle such large numbers of dogs and puppies. Now that there are fewer dogs, through our birth control program, the people in the areas where we work are showing that in fact they do care.”
Cat program started in 2011
However, Salter lamented, “We still have a long way to go before we can reach all of the Kathmandu valley.”
Among the prominent KAT supporters was Camilla Parker Bowles, Dutchess of Cornwall, wife of Prince Charles of Britain. Bowles in November 2008 led a fundraising dog walk for KAT in St. James Park, London.
In 2011, after five years of recommendations from ANIMALS 24-7 that a parallel sterilization for feral cats should be started, as cats would soon take over habitat and food sources left open by the decline of the street dog program, Salter initiated the cat program.
At first KAT was sterilizing only four or five cats per month, Salter said, “but I can see how this problem [the cat population] could very well grow,” she added.
Brick factory donkeys
Meanwhile, Salter in 2008 became aware, she wrote, of the “introduction of donkeys to working in the brick factories in the Kathmandu Valley. We at KAT did not know this industry existed here until we were called for a donkey rescue. The brick factories are far away from KAT on the southern side of the valley, so we never saw them before.
“I feel that as an animal organization, KAT should try our best to improve the situation in some positive way.” Salter told ANIMALS 24-7. “I have been in touch with the Donkey Sanctuary, the Brooke Hospital for Animals, and the Society for Protecting Animals Abroad in the U.K.,” she said. “They all replied with advice on care of donkeys. They all warned me that it can be an expensive project. I tried – in vain I am sorry to say – to get a newspaper in the U.K. to help us get funds for this.”
Eventually Salter encouraged the efforts of another organization, Animal Nepal, headquartered at the opposite end of the Kathmandu Valley near the brick factories, to set up a rescue shelter and mobile clinics serving the donkeys.
Recalled Moon, “In 2010 Jan received the Extraordinary Commitment and Achievement award from Humane Society International. In 2013, she was appointed a Mistress of the British Empire,” the equivalent of a knighthood, “for her services to animal welfare in Nepal.”
But Salter was still not slowing down.
KAT took a leading role, for instance, in helping Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015.
“Luckily, the KAT Centre only received minor damage which affected water, electricity and communication lines for about a week or so. We were soon able to function as normal,” Salter recounted in an ANIMALS 24-7 guest column, Nepal earthquake update from Jan Salter, founder, KAT Centre.
“Not an unexpected disaster”
“This was not an unexpected disaster,” Salter observed. “People like me, who have lived in Nepal for many years, have been aware that a ‘big one’ was looming, and the possibility was always at the back of our minds. But none of us could have foreseen the manner and the extent of the devastation. Sadly it has been the rural hills, and rugged peoples who live a bare existence there, that have suffered the most.”
In March 2017, Salter wrote, “On behalf of the dogs, cats, and other suffering animals that KAT has been treating, we are delighted to inform you of our success in getting our own beautiful land. We are no longer at the mercy and whims of landlords and property developers.”
In September 2017, concluding her last personal message to KAT members and supporters, Salter announced that “We are expanding to sterilize and reach more street dogs living in the capital.”
Finished Jaynee Moon, “Jan was a vibrant, humane person with a great sense of humor and an indomitable spirit. She continued to run KAT until her death.”
Jamaka Petzak says
RIP Ms. Salter and may she continue to be an inspiration for others, who will hopefully prioritize the cats needing help.
Anthony Marr says
Having seen the street dog situation in India first hand (1997-1999), which has to be experienced to be appreciated, I have admired Jan’s work in Nepal from afar, though without the details revealed in this article. Her starting at age 68 beats my starting age of 51 by a large measure, and shows me even today, at my age of 74, that I can still create new projects if not start new movements. And since I’m not afflicted with Parkinson’s as she was when she started (knocking on wood with fingers crossed, since my father was), I have no excuse not to, so I do. She is an inspiration.
jigs gaton says
RIP Jan, what a great woman. I met her over a decade ago while working the other end of Kathmandu with AnimalNepal.org. But I had no idea about her past, other than she was a painter, as you see photos of her paintings all the time here. So thx for the obituary – she will be missed.
Peter Stafford says
I have donated to the KAT animal rescue centre, and was a longtime friend of Jan Salter MBE.
I befriended Jan on a bus journey to Kathmandu from London in 1967. We shared similar opinions on life, and kept in touch. I married in 1969 but on occasions would visit Jan in Southampton, and she met my family. Her travels in the seventies and eighties were not luxurious, but she had a strong constitution and was seemingly never ill.
On that 1967 journey, our bus, which was taking some 25 or so people to Kathmandu, stopped in Lahore. Here we met a young man who took 4 of us to his home to meet his family. He became a lawyer in Australia, and I’ve stayed with him there a couple of times. We remember Jan fondly.