So, there I was at Christmas in a lovely hotel right next to the beach in beautiful Sri Lanka, with my partner and my sister, Janet. We were there for a holiday but the main reason for our visit was to sprinkle some of my late dad's ashes under a palm tree, to take food and gifts to an orphanage in his memory, and to help as many poor people as we could. However, that's another story!

On the first day there I met a lovely lady from England (I'm from England too, but living in Viet Nam) called Jacqui. This was her seventh trip to Sri Lanka and her third stay in this hotel. She had returned here to see a stray 3-year old female dog who lives on the beach, and who she had fallen in love with in 2009. She had named her Missy, and this is a photo of her asleep on Jacqui's sunbed just a few months ago - strong, healthy and well-fed.

This year was a different story. When Jacqui saw her she was heartbroken. The beautiful, shiny, fur had gone and so had the twinkle in her eyes. Just look at this photo. Life had not been kind to Missy, but despite her terrible condition she still had half a wag in her tail and had 'adopted' a small female pup whose mum had been killed on a train track shortly before we arrived. We named the pup Sundance because, as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, she was the follower. Where Missy went, she went. This is Sundance, and my heart nearly burst when I saw her. The only fur she had on her entire body was a tuft on the top of her head and ears, and a tiny bit right at the end of her tail. Her skin was blistered and burnt, and there were open wounds where she had scratched herself so desperately. I have loved animals for my entire life, but I don't think anything has ever tugged at my heart strings as much as the sight of these two beautiful, gentle, creatures who asked for nothing but a kind word, a scrap of food, and a little bit of love. When Sundance whimpered and cried because she was so sore, Missy would run over to protect her and lick her skin. They were always together. I took photos of Sundance to a vet in a nearby town. He gave me tablets which she had to have twice daily, and lotion to help her skin. Giving her the tablets was no problem. Every morning after breakfast I would wander down to the beach with my bag of sausages (I don't eat much breakfast so it wasn't really stealing!). There they would both be, sitting together and looking so pathetic – Missy with her round head and ears sticking out at right angles like Yoda from Star Wars, and Sundance with her pink, sore, wrinkly skin looking like nothing on earth! She never even tasted the tablets that were hidden in the sausage, and she trusted me enough to let me rub the lotion into her poor sore skin.

Jacqui did the evening shift, and between us we made sure that they were given love and food every day. At night, after the security guards had left, they used to sneak into the hotel grounds. Jacqui's room was on the ground floor and had a small, enclosed, balcony where they curled up and slept. Missy went to sleep immediately, but Sundance could only sleep when Jacqui covered her completely with a damp towel to ease her itching. In the morning they would sneak back to the other healthy dogs on the beach before the security guard came to chase them off, or to throw stones at them.

As our holiday progressed, we began to worry about what would happen to them both after we left.  They needed food and care and shelter, otherwise they could not survive.  Missy had already had puppies and she wasn't strong enough or healthy enough to have more.  After much thought Jacqui decided to try to arrange for her to be sterilised.  We had got to know one of the young men who work from the beach, Danu, and had previously given him food, money and clothes for his family.  He offered to help us.  He said that he would contact a vet and ask him to come and see Missy and Sundance.  Two days later he told us that the vet had been and that he could operate on them both.  Danu also said that he would have a dog-run built at his house, and that he would care for Missy and Sundance until they had recovered and were well enough to go back to the beach.  Although this was not ideal, we felt that it was the best we could do, and at least they would both be spared the stress of having puppies.  They would also have regular check-ups and treatment from a vet.  Most of all, they would have shelter and food.  We decided to go ahead, paid Danu a lot of money, and felt a little bit more hopeful for their future.

Jacqui left Sri Lanka 2 days before me, extremely upset and worried because despite constant enquiries Danu always told us "The dog-run is coming tomorrow …".  On the last full day of my holiday I was alone on the beach feeding Missy and Sundance when a Sri Lankan man came up to me.  He thanked me for feeding the dogs and mentioned an organisation in Columbo (2-3 hours away) who does wonderful work for street dogs.  Its name is 'Embark'. 

The following morning Danu told me we had to take Missy and Sundance to his home because the dog-run was arriving soon, and the vet was going to operate on them later that afternoon.  My heart lurched, and with a lump in my throat I carried these two wonderful dogs away from their beach and held them in a tuk-tuk while we drove to Danu's house.  Leaving them, with Missy tied to a tree, and Sundance in a borrowed dog carrier ("just till the run arrives") was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  I said I didn't want to leave them there, and I cried, but Danu hugged me and assured me he would take care of them.

Leaving Sri Lanka was dreadful.  I was haunted by the look in Missy and Sundance's eyes – fear and confusion, resignation and trust, gentleness and love.  I thought about nothing but them all the way back to Vietnam. After the long journey home my first job was to check my phone.  My heart lifted when I read a message from Danu.  The operations had been done, both were doing well, and there was no need to worry - he was looking after them.  Relief – of sorts, but I still couldn't sleep or put my mind to anything other than them.  Neither could Jacqui back in England.  We were in constant contact by email hoping that one of us might have received more news.  The following day I had another message from Danu.  He said the vet had visited again to give more medicine to Missy and Sundance, and he asked me to send him more money to pay for this and to buy them food.  This is when big, big, alarm bells started ringing, and I realised that we might have made a terrible mistake.  We had already given him much, much, more money than he needed to do what he had promised.  I felt truly desperate – not because of the money, but because I had taken these gentle creatures away from their familiar surroundings in the hope of ensuring a healthy future, and now I didn't know what was happening to them or how they were being treated.  I looked at the photos I had taken of them and I was consumed by pangs of loss and guilt.

I immediately did a Google search for 'Embark + Columbo'.  The first words I read on their website were these: "If you care enough, call.  We care enough to come over."  I sent an email straight away asking if they would ring Danu to make sure that everything was OK, and to advise him on care and feeding if necessary.  Within hours I had a reply from the Head of Business Operations, Ashani, to tell me that they had talked to Danu and he had said that both dogs were doing well.  She also said that she was arranging a mobile visit, with a vet, to check on their status.  I was overjoyed, and thankful that this organisation actually does what it says it will do.  Both Jacqui and I began to feel a little bit better – but we still couldn't sleep.

The following day, 6 January, we received another email from Ashani.  She said she was sorry to make us sad, but her fears had been correct.  As the team arrived at the house, Danu told them that the dogs had run away that morning.  She believed this was a blatant lie.  He promised to try and find them, and to call Embark if he did. 

I can't even begin to describe my feelings on that day, I just can't.  It had nothing to do with the money and being conned, or trusting someone who let you down.  It was knowing that two beautiful (to me), gentle, loving, animals were lost, lonely and afraid somewhere.  My heart was bleeding.

In desperation, I messaged Danu.  I sent him more money by Western Union and promised that if he could find both dogs, and contact Embark, I would send him more.  Two days and sleepless nights later, on 8 January, he messaged to say that he had found Missy, but he refused to let Embark take her unless we sent more money.  Finally, on 9 January, after countless messages and emails between me, Jacqui, Embark and Danu, I had an email from Ashani that said "We got Missy picked up today. She is in the Embark van coming to the clinic for care."  Thank you God.  Missy was safe.

On 10 January, after more messages and demands for money (we didn't pay), Danu 'found' Sundance, and an email from Ashani later that day confirmed that "She is in our van."  Unbelievable relief.

These are photos of Missy and Sundance as they arrived at Embark.  There had been no dog-run, no vet, and by the look of them, no food.  They were frightened and confused, but they have been re-united and are in caring hands.  They have been fully examined, have had blood tests, and are being treated for their skin conditions and illnesses.  As it says on Embark's website – 'healing starts when caring takes over'.  In the future, when they are healthy and fully recovered they will both be sterilised and, god willing, will find loving homes.

I have written this not just to tell you about Missy and Sundance, but to praise this wonderful organisation, Embark, that is doing everything it possibly can to help the millions of street dogs in Sri Lanka.  Not only do they care for animals, they care for the people who love animals too.  I have had many emails already this week from Ashani telling me not to worry, that she has been to cuddle them, that they are huddled up together, and that they are in safe hands.  Please, please, just take a look at their website:

I have spent hours reading about the work they are doing, and watching videos of some of the animals they have helped.  It is truly heartwarming, especially as they rely on their team of volunteers and never openly ask for donations. 

I'm only sending this because I felt compelled to spread the word about Embark and to try to help raise a little bit of money for them to carry on their wonderful work.  I have been overwhelmed at their compassion for, and dedication to, the welfare of street dogs.  If you don't want to make a donation, but would like to know how Missy and Sundance are progressing, please email me and I will be happy to send you updates and photos of them.  With the care, love, and treatment that they are receiving from Embark I hope it won't be too long before Missy once again has a twinkle in her eyes, and little Sundance will be able to dance in the sun.

Thank you so much for reading this, and if you have friends who are dog lovers please, please, pass it on.  Miracles happen when we make them happen (from Embark's website).

With love

Carole [email protected]