Asia doesn’t have a particularly good reputation where the kind treatment of animals is concerned. But the good news is, there are some hugely well-respected sanctuaries for lost, abandoned, abused, injured and disabled animals across the region.
The master of them all has to be Soi Dog Foundation, based in the jungle on the north of Phuket Island was founded in 2003 by Brits John and Gill Dalley, and Dutch retiree Margot Homburg. Soi Dog Foundation was founded to help the street dogs and cats who had no one else to care for them and to provide a humane and sustainable solution to address the stray population and manage their medical needs. At the time, over 70,000 stray animals roamed the island with numbers increasing at an alarming rate due to the lack of sterilisation (spay/neuter) programmes to control the population.
Soi Dog Foundation has the most sophisticated and best-equipped dog hospital in Southeast Asia, staffed with 15 full-time veterinarians, 12 additional vets work out of the mobile clinics. The hospital can hold up to 160 patients at any one time. A new cat hospital and education centre are currently under construction, along with a new isolation unit for infectious diseases, and eight additional shelters opened at the sanctuary between November 2018 and January 2019.
In 2018, Soi Dog Foundation treated 7,899 sick or injured animals, 3,806 in the hospital, 325 in its Bangkok clinic and 3,768 on community outreach. Together, they spayed and neutered almost 81,000 animals in 2018 alone. Soi also has Emergency Response and Community Outreach teams who provide on-the-ground help to both animals and people affected by natural disasters.
Soi Dog Foundation is the driving force behind Thai laws explicitly relating to cruelty to animals. The penalties are becoming steeper and can result in imprisonment. The foundation actively gathers information and evidence in animal cruelty cases to aid prosecutions.
Peoples attitudes and habits form at a very young age; it is therefore imperative that children grow up with empathy to dogs and cats; there will then naturally be fewer cases of cruelty and neglect. To guide this formation of sympathy towards dogs and cats, Soi Dog Foundation has devised a programme of education for school children starting in primary school.
The beloved late ruler of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej was a lover of animals and would promote their wellbeing across the nation. Several cats and dogs resided in the royal residence; the Kings favourite was a street dog called ‘Tong Daeng’ which means ‘Copper’ in Thai. In 1998 the King visited an animal medical centre in Bangkok where he met a stray dog who had just had a litter of adorable puppies. A specific bundle of fluff stole the Kings' heart and moved to the Royal Palace; Tong Daeng went on to have her puppies, who also lived a royal canine life with the monarch.
The King praised Tong Daeng for her loyalty and intelligence; he once said, ‘Tong Daeng is a common dog who is uncommon’. The King unintentionally created a fashion craze back in 2002. He visited a hospital for a minor operation and wore a tee-shirt that carried a picture of Tong Daeng and her puppies: the public bought up every last Tong Daeng tee-shirt as soon as they were put out for sale. Later that year, he published a book ‘The Story of Tong Daeng’ which became an instant best seller. In 2004, an animated version was published which was so popular numerous re-prints were required to satisfy demand.
Across the islands of Phuket and Koh Samui, there are teams of compassionate people that are making headway into the prevention and eradication of cruelty to animals. Bodhi Dog Rescue and Shelter works tirelessly with sick stray dogs and those that are injured, starving or in an unsafe situation. They work on healing them and then adopting them to loving families, many of which are around the world — the shelter houses over 150 dogs. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, the first ethical elephant sanctuary in Phuket, has a collection of elephant loving cats and dogs that roam in freedom, not to mention a three-legged pig called Erika and her farrow of piglets. Lone-lady Simone Allene is caretaker to over 100 stray cats and dogs near Rawai Temple and feeds every single one, every single day. She's been doing this for well over a decade.
Remarkable Thai youngster Sai (self-pronounced ‘sigh’!) uses her love of art to help animals in need. Since childhood, she has always had a fondness of the beach and the pieces of flotsam and jetsam that drift onto the shores of the Andaman Sea. Sai is likened to a magpie: she sees the beauty in all things old and worn, she works her magic to create unique pieces of art which depict seaside homes and villages. The proceeds of each sale go to purchasing food for stray cats and dogs that she feeds on her daily beach walks collecting treasures for her next piece of Art of the sea.
His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn has recently donated a large amount of pet food and supplies to Phuket Stray Dog Shelter in Thalang. Major General Thawatchai Srikaew of the Royal Thai Airforce presented the pet food to Phuket Governor Pakkaphong Tavipattana at the shelter. Governor Phakaphong spoke at the shelter expressing his gratitude for the donation and the King’s kindness towards the animals “His Majesty donated a total of 1.2 tons of pet food – 60 sacks each weighing 20kg. I am grateful to His Majesty for his support of the shelter. Many of the dogs are disabled, and many have been abandoned”. John Dalley of the Soi Foundation said; “We hope the donation of food from His Majesty will set an example for others to follow”.
Meanwhile, on Koh Samui Island co-founder of ‘The Road Less Travelled’ Warot Petcharoen ‘Pat’ is supporting Pariah Dog Koh Samui by replacing an almost impassable rocky road that leads to the sanctuary. Pat is an animal lover, and his family operate concrete company ‘SamuiPongPetch Ltd’ who are heavily discounting the overall cost of the new road. International donations, philanthropic soirees at local hot-spots, pub quizzes and fun-runs with the local Hash House Harriers raised funds for this essential project. Pariah Dog Koh Samui is a mid-sized operation that works closely with Soi Dog Foundation, and they house over 70 dogs and cats and regularly have spay and neuter programmes to limit the number of puppies and kittens born. It takes a village to care, well, an island in this case.
Happy Tails Koh Samui is a small rescue sanctuary run by Belgian expat Francoise de Jaegher. She has lived on Koh Samui island for many years and has dedicated her life to rescuing abandoned pets and animals in need. The sanctuary relies solely on kind donations and volunteers.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. Let us continue together, to make our beautiful land a better place.