Artist and Saviour : The Calling of Jan Salter

November 1, 2013 , by Supriya Rai, Leave your thoughts
Artist and Saviour : The Calling of Jan Salter » My Dreams Mag
Photo: At KATCentre, Budhanilkantha
As we follow Jan into her home, the exuberant racket of her pets become clearer and louder, and two of her three dogs come bounding towards the new faces. A quick peek around at her modestly furnished apartment, some minutes spent fussing over the dogs before we sit down for a cup of tea and a trip down the memory lane with the artist, animal lover and founder of KAT Centre (Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre).


Jan Salter walks in measured steps, talks in a slow affirming manner and exudes affectionate warmth. Salter’s love affair with Nepal began in 1968, when she first arrived here as a backpacking hairdresser from England- she used to earn her keep in those days freelancing as a hair stylist. Kathmandu then was a melting pot of different castes and ethnicities. The striking differences between the different castes, the complexities of cultures within cultures, and the hierarchically structured society promised fascinating stories to be explored for the budding artist.

That promise lured her back to Nepal 7 years after her first visit and has served as her home ever since.“Today the society is so well gelled together but at that time, it was a different story. I came back to Nepal, to sketch, capture and understand the different faces of Kathmandu.”

Premlal, an 8 year old waiter at a tea shop, became the first of many threads that bonded her to this Himalayan nation. This first face whom she drew on her return, later also became her adopted son. It was primarily to support him financially that she started selling her sketches to be sold as postcards.

The mother and son duo trekked through Nepal and Salter continued to sketch the faces of Nepal on her canvas. Although not a trained artist, she started experimenting with oil colours and in time, she became renowned for her paintings as much as her sketches. Throughout the years she held many exhibitions of her work in the Ethnic Museum.

A fateful meeting with Dr. Harka Gurung, the renowned geologist, at one of her exhibitions led to a successful collaboration that produced the critically acclaimed book ‘Faces of Nepal’ in 1996. To say that this book, established Salter as a national treasure in her adopted country would not be an overstatement. It not only won her the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu from the then King Birendra, it also solidified her unique place among Nepal’s art and culture aficionados. That there has never been a follow up book to this hugely successful publication is unexpected.

Ambulance. KATCentre

Sometimes I wish I could clone myself you know. Divide myself into two and then maybe I could manage”, says Jan a little ruefully. The reason she had to ignore her artistic calling though is her commendable operation, the KAT (Kathmandu Animal Treatment) Center.

In 2003 the animal lover visited the ‘Help in suffering’ charity in Jaipur. Impressed with their successful program that had brought the street dog population in the city under control, the animal lover came back with the resolution to replicate a similar program in Kathmandu. She had long bore witness to the pitiable condition of our city’s street dogs. Treated no better than vermin, the practice then was to poison the animals in an inhumane quick-fix by the municipality. Their carcasses would then be dumped along riverbeds, polluting the river stream and further exacerbating the problems faced by the public. This tactic however was ineffective chiefly because the dogs kept breeding, fortifying their population in a matter of months.

Besides several animals would lose their lives routinely or get injured in road accidents – maimed, with maggot filled open sores, suffering with curable diseases like Rabies and Mange. People’s indifference towards these animals meant many were beaten, chased away or tortured for fun by cruel mobs.


Hence at the ripe age of 68, when most of her friends were retired and living a comfortable life, this altruist invested all her life’s saving to set up a home for these helpless animals. KAT Centre is a not-for-profit organization that has adopted a three-fold approach to contain the dog population and better their existing living conditions. Firstly it works to control their population by spaying all the female dogs in a locality. Secondly, by taking in and treating dogs that have been injured and vaccinating them against deadly diseases like Rabies. They also care for some in their own premises until a loving adoptive family can be found for the dog. Thirdly, by raising awareness about the terrible plight of these innocent beings and working to change the public’s indifference.

A long sigh escapes her lips as she fingers the cup of tea in her hand. “I thought running an NGO would be easy you know. But it is not. It really is not.” The challenges have been numerous, inspite of their devoted work and success rate.

Regrettably the woman, who invested herself so thoroughly for a cause that has benefitted us all, has suffered unfairly due to hardships and stress of running this charitable organization. What started out as a noble intention grew into an administrative, legal, and financial chore of inadvertent proportions. Most tellingly her health has suffered, the helping hands are inadequate, the support insufficient.


New & More Kennels being constructed at new KAT location. Budhanilkantha.

It was serendipitous how KAT came to be. That I should have visited Jaipur, then reconnecting with Charlotte (BBC presenter and patron of KAT), finding the perfect piece of land for the center… It was all meant to be. It had to happen”, reflects a cogitative Jan. There seems to be no doubt in her mind that the centre was not a misstep or an impulsive gaffe.

After all it has helped in transforming the city as we knew it, bettered the lives of thousands of unclaimed animals and safeguarded the public from the imminent threat of Rabies. And Jan though has paid the ultimate price for her daring, she seems not regretful but convinced that it was not in vain.

It would be nice to have Nepali volunteers at the centre. It’s all foreigners at the moment”, reveals the founder.


Dogs/Pups at KAT Centre on Kukkur Tihar.


It is ironic that a culture that devotes an entire day to worship and celebrate dogs for being the messenger of Yamaraj, keeper of the underworld, should restrict this reverence to the day of Kukur Tihar. This begs the question, if our society is not being hypocritical or entirely self-serving by using the festival merely as another excuse to entertain itself.


The atmosphere in the room is heavy at times, the noise of the traffic a welcome distraction. It is shameful how lightly we have overlooked her work; let it drown amidst the noise of consumerism, political chaos and societal machismo. Still at 77, Salter continues to blaze on in her crusade, with or without the thanks she deserves.


With local staffs and few out of over 50 street dogs currently housed at KAT Centre.

Some of the KAT volunteers and staff celebrating World Rabies Day at the 1905 farmers’ market.

**KAT Centre has just moved to a new location with larger space with more kennels and animal welfare plans. KAT Centre welcomes local volunteers, charities, funds and donations of canine products, if you are interested to contribute your love & support for the animals. KAT is planning to be able to help the animals as far as Patan & Bhaktapur as well besides Kathmandu. For a noble dedication like this, individual and institutional support becomes essential. Please do reach out to Jan Salter to find out more on how you can help.


Visit their webpage: www.katcentre.org.np

Connect or quick updates at FB: fb.com/katcentre


Text by: Supriya Rai
Photographer: Mohan Duwal
Other images: KAT Centre

  • 1
  • 2
  • 1382861_458870274228677_2049745868_n
  • 1392873_472011662914538_1132471012_n
  • Ambulance. KATCentre
  • Banner
  • Kennels
  • Sita
  • Featuer
  • KATCentre
  • Collage

Categorised in: Features

Leave a Reply

Connect with:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>