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Phuket, like most areas of Thailand, is home to many stray animals in need of care. But visitors returning to Phuket will notice that there are far fewer sad, sickly dogs and cats on the loose than there were a decade ago, thanks in no small part to the tireless work of Soi Dog Foundation in providing medical care, sterilisations and adoptions for the island's strays.
Since its founding in 2003, Soi Dog has expanded its role from doing mobile sterilisation clinics and organising the care of sick and injured strays with local veterinarians into a multi-faceted organisation that not only shelters stray dogs and cats on Phuket, but is active in working to end the illegal dog meat trade of Southeast Asia.
In Phuket, Soi Dog sterilises about 12,000 animals a year both at its clinics at the Soi Dog shelter and in mobile clinics around the island. Some 400 dogs and cats are housed in the shelter, each of which receive medical treatment as needed and are cared for by both Soi Dog staff and its volunteers.
The aim is to find homes for as many of these animals as possible, both within Thailand and abroad. Dog lovers from around the world have offered their homes, and several former Phuket street dogs are now enjoying more cushy lives as far away as the UK, Australia and North America. It's a costly and lengthy procedure, but Soi Dog assists new owners with sorting through the quarantine regulations and paperwork required to move the dogs to a different country.
Soi Dog received worldwide attention and accolades for its animal rescue efforts following both the 2004 tsunami disaster in the Andaman region and the 2011 Bangkok floods, and is now a legally registered charity in Thailand, the United States, Australia, the UK, France and the Netherlands.
One of its founders, British expat Gill Dalley, was named “Asian of the Year” by Channel News Asia for her work in helping animals. Her determined efforts are particularly inspiring, given that she continued leading the charity after having both her legs amputated due to contracting a septicemia infection following a dog rescue in a muddy buffalo field, followed just a few months later by the tsunami in which her friend and one of Soi Dog's most active volunteers perished.
Since 2008 Soi Dog has operated from its own large facility with vet clinics and plenty of running-around space for the dogs near Mai Khao beach, just north of the Phuket airport. A new animal hospital is in the works, with construction set to begin later this year.
In 2011, Soi Dog also became involved in combating the dog meat trade in the region. Working with local agencies and the government, Soi Dog has helped established a community monitoring system that helps alert officials to dog smuggling activity as well as providing funding and care for a large government-run shelter in Buriram province that houses dogs rescued from the trade.
It's not only stray dogs that are snatched from the streets around Thailand, but pets, too. Most of the trade is in Thailand's northeastern region, and dogs are often transported across borders to other Southeast Asian countries. Soi Dog's research has found that “[e]very year tens of thousands of dogs are inhumanely transported from Thailand to neighbouring countries where they are butchered by cruel and barbaric methods.
“The conditions under which the dogs are transported and slaughtered are inhumane and many die from suffocation long before they reach neighbouring countries. In reality these are the lucky ones. Those that are still alive are not humanely killed many are tortured often for hours before being skinned alive. The reason for this is that people believe that the pain inflicted leads to the tenderising of the meat. Most shocking of all, is that some dogs are still alive when their fur is removed.”
With greater awareness and law enforcement spearheaded by Soi Dog's efforts, the charity reports that the number of dogs smuggled around and out of Thailand has greatly reduced since 2011, but there's still a lot work to be done. It's now working to expand its campaign into Vietnam.
Soi Dog receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations, so monetary support is always welcome. General donations are possible through the Soi Dog website, and there are several targeted ways to provide help as well, from sponsoring an animal to joining its “Puppy Care Club” to funding the new hospital. The website also maintains a list of veterinary supplies that are needed.
Another way that Phuket visitors could help, at no cost, is to sign up to be a flight volunteer. If you're flying out of Phuket to another country, particularly to the US, Canada or in Europe, you could bring along a dog as extra baggage. Soi Dog takes care of all the paperwork and sends a representative to meet you at the airport to help check the dog in, then upon arrival the new adoptive owner will meet you to pick up the dog. In order to do this, Soi Dog asks that you contact them well in advance of your travel date so they have time to make the necessary arrangements.
Volunteers on site are always welcome, too, and coming to the shelter for a few days or weeks to help care for the animals certainly gives you a different perspective of Phuket away from its beaches and nightlife. They ask that you email firstname.lastname@example.org at least a few days before visiting to set up a day and time.
Soi Dog also gives free tours of its facility daily, so be sure to at least join a tour if you have a chance. It's impossible to remain indifferent about the plight of Thailand's abused and neglected animals once you've been mobbed by a friendly pack of puppies!
Each month a Travelfish.org writer selects a charity or non-government organisation that they believe does excellent work on their patch in Southeast Asia. They write about them and we donate $100, a small way for us to give something back to the region. If you're looking to give back too, please consider giving a little cash as well.
By Lana Willocks
Last updated on 31st May, 2015.