The Wagamama chef from Whiteley on a mission to help street dogs in Sri Lanka with the charity Lucas Helps Dogs

Tereza Oharkova, 37, from Whiteley is a trustee of the charity Lucas Helps Dogs, which helps support street dogs in Sri LankaTereza Oharkova, 37, from Whiteley is a trustee of the charity Lucas Helps Dogs, which helps support street dogs in Sri Lanka
Tereza Oharkova, 37, from Whiteley is a trustee of the charity Lucas Helps Dogs, which helps support street dogs in Sri Lanka
​Four years ago Tereza Oharkova first visited Sri Lanka with her best friend Ali Warburton to volunteer with a charity helping local dogs.

​Ali had visited the Asian island nation a few months earlier on her honeymoon – but was left devastated by the suffering she saw in the local dogs living on the streets.

Alongside Ali, Tereza, from Whiteley, has since become a trustee of their own charity Lucas Helps Dogs, to support the estimated six million street dogs in Sri Lanka.

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They organise vet clinics in the poverty-stricken country – funding spay and neuter clinics, rabies vaccinations, emergency treatments and aim to educate locals in animal welfare.

At a Lucas Helps Dogs a pop-up clinicAt a Lucas Helps Dogs a pop-up clinic
At a Lucas Helps Dogs a pop-up clinic

Last year year Tereza, who is a chef at Wagamama in Whiteley, travelled to oversee a vet clinic in a remote area where some 150 dogs were spayed, neutered and rabies vaccinated. And since returning home she has been working to organise weekly clinics on the island’s south coast.

The 37-year-old says: “Sri Lanka is such a beautiful country but every time I visit I am devastated by the number of street dogs living in horrendous conditions.

“Every day dogs are born into a life of misery on the dangerous roads, where drivers aim for them, disease is rife, and food and water is scarce.

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“That’s why our work to reduce the street dog population and care for those already on the streets is so important.”

Tereza Oharkova with stray dogs in Sri LankaTereza Oharkova with stray dogs in Sri Lanka
Tereza Oharkova with stray dogs in Sri Lanka

Last year, Tereza with Ali, and their third trustee Laura Kearns, arranged and funded the sterilisation and rabies vaccination of nearly 400 dogs and cats. Some 10 animals have received emergency treatments, 15 treated for cancers, and 100 dogs have been treated for skin conditions which often leave their skin hairless and dry.

The charity has also rehomed multiple dogs in Sri Lanka, and found homes for some animals in the UK – including one with a colleague at Tereza’s Wagamama branch.

Ali, whose honeymoon proved to be the catalyst for the charity’s creation recalls: “I have been really lucky in my life to have travelled a lot, but I have never seen such a dire situation like I encountered in Sri Lanka. To be honest, I spent half of my honeymoon crying because it was so heartbreaking.

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“I am an animal lover and what I saw there was just terrible. Before we left I said to my husband, I can't do nothing. I can't pretend I didn't see it."

When Tereza and Ali made their first five-week trip together in 2019, they volunteered with another animal charity which gave them some ideas of their own about what they did and didn’t want to do.

"It was a wonderful experience,” says Ali. “We learned a lot but it also showed me that it wasn't how I wanted to do it – I didn't want a shelter piled up with dogs. I realised the only way to improve things is to lower the dog population, so that's how it all started.

“I still didn't know how to go about it, but while I was there I learned that the locals who had dogs didn't know how to care for them –I saw a dog with barbed wire around its neck.”

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The three women regularly hold fundraising events and run stalls at craft markets in a bid to raise money. They make handmade collars, leads, bracelets and sell clothing with the charity logo. Chef Tereza also makes dog treats to sell on the charity’s stall.

But they are calling for donations, as the number of dogs currently on the surgery waitlist is nearing 100, which they do not have the money to cover.

Tereza says: “The charity is like a second full-time job for each of us alongside our jobs, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. These dogs have such a hard life on the streets and we desperately want to reduce the number who face such hardships on the busy roads.

“It’s a real struggle to raise enough money especially currently with the cost-of-living crisis, and we have a waiting list which is forever growing full of strays and dogs which need treatments.

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“We do what we can but ultimately we need people’s support to really make a big impact.”

“Last year was really tough financially,” adds Ali, from Dorset. “Our income from the markets was down quite a lot – people are just being very careful with their money right now. It is understandable, but it's not the best for a small charity like us.

“We all work full-time and our travels are self-funded – it's not like we're going to Sri Lanka on a holiday. We put a lot of our own funds into the charity as well, so everything we raise can go directly to the cats and dogs.”

The charity is named after Ali’s rescue dog.

“I adopted him when he was 18 months old and already completely blind.

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“He was the biggest fighter I knew. in 2018 he was diagnosed with pituitary brain tumor, and was given six month to live. He was fighting strong by my side for over two-and-a-half years. He overcame so many other health issues, but he was a happy dog, he loved to eat, sleep and cuddle.

“He was so resilient and he inspired me every day. He showed me that everything is possible and if you want to, you can overcome anything in life.

“This charity is dedicated to Lucas to keep his memory alive.”

Visit to donate or find out more.

How their first Sri Lankan employee is making a difference

​Lucas Helps Dogs is aiming to expand its operation so that it can help more cats and dogs in Sri Lanka.

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It had previously only been able to run pop-up clinics when they were in the country. However, a fortunate meeting on the last trip has changed that.​

"We met a local lady who had been working for another international charity,” says Ali Warburton, “but had to stop due to lack of funds. We asked her if she wanted to work with us instead, so she became our very first employee, which is absolutely wonderful because women in Sri Lanka are struggling to find jobs – the opportunities are not there, and if they are it’s usually something like housekeeper or cook.

“So employing somebody local and giving her the opportunity it’s changed the way we do things because we can now hold a twice-a-month spaying and neutering clinic in Hikkaduwa, which is in the south. Before we could only do it if we were there as we didn’t have anyone to run it in our absence.

“It makes me so happy – she sends us photos and does outreach on an almost daily basis to look for dogs who need to be treated. It’s really changed the way we do things, and now it’s much more efficient and we can help so much more.”

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The trustees are planning their next visit to the country in April when they will be holding additional pop-up clinics where they can treat 50-60 animals a day. And they will be educating pet owners about animal welfare.

They would also like to expand their spay and neutering programme into parts of Sri Lanka where other charities don’t currently operate and will use the trip to research ways to make this possible.