Awright, before we get into it, just a quick warning that some of the photos aren’t 100% pleasant, but I can confirm that the dogs pictured seemed quite happy and well cared for.
Okay, here we go!
So, the colleague with whom I was traveling had heard of a dog shelter on Phuket and, given that she had recently lost an uncle who’d been an ardent dog lover and supporter of a shelter in Chicago, she wanted to visit the place in his honor. I mean, obviously, she’s a dog lover, too, the whole thing with her uncle just made the visit that much more important and personal to her.
This shelter, called the Soi Dog Foundation, began primarily as a program for vaccinating and sterilizing (as in, spaying and neutering) Phuket’s soi dogs and cats. (A quick clarification: as I’d mentioned before, a ‘soi’ is an alley, so soi dogs and soi cats are literally alley dogs and cats but refers to any stray animals). The organization volunteers would travel throughout the island of Phuket (which is technically a peninsula and covers a fairly large area), pick up dogs, bring them back to the foundation base, vaccinate and sterilize them, then, as long as the dogs were in good health and well-fed, they would simply bring them back to where they’d been found.
In fact, I can confirm that soi dogs are in generally good shape. If anything, they are often overfed. Temples will often care for the dogs while locals basically adopt them as neighborhood pets. So, the organization’s initial goal was to simply control the local population and, a couple years ago, they reached their goal, managing to sterilize 80% of the island’s soi dog population, thereby stabilizing their numbers.
Since then, they’ve expanded their mandate, establishing a dog and cat hospital as well as what is essentially hospice care for older and very sick dogs. They also provide adoption services, typically to would-be owners in North America and Europe (Australia doesn’t allow it and Thais rarely adopt pets from them). The foundation also spearheaded the criminalizing of serving dog meat, a practice that is now illegal in Thailand, in large part thanks to the organization, and they have also established a sort of strike team that rescues the dogs still trafficked for meat, mostly along the Laos border. One of the runs on their property was devoted to dogs rescued from these traffickers and are now up for adoption.
The work they do is quite impressive and it’s clear that they’ve accomplished a lot. They’ve now established a presence in Bangkok, where they hope for results similar to those achieved in Phuket, though it will be a challenge, given that Bangkok has an estimated soi dog population exceeding 600,000.
Still, as is the case with most of these outfits, they were overcrowded, with over 400 dogs and 150 cats on property. The “Old Dogs” run, which is their hospice wing, was especially sad, but these dogs were well cared for and would have been far worse off—or already dead—on the streets.
The organization allows people to visit with some of the dogs, in specific runs, allowing both the animals and people to benefit from socialization. We visited several runs, including the two Old Dog pens. Some of the dogs were skittish, some were visibly anxious and growled or barked, but they clearly weren’t dangerous.
Most were just happy to be scratched or petted. A couple in the Old Dogs pen weren’t so much old as disabled, and so could not be placed with the younger dogs. Two were entirely blind, actually eyeless. One was eyeless and three-legged, but had still managed to climb to an upper platform in the run, though he did seem to wonder how he would now get back down.
We finished off our visit with a few minutes in the puppy run, of course. Not so much as a way to forget the old dogs but just to brighten our spirits a tad.
Anyway, it was a great and unusual experience. The organization welcomes volunteers, of course, including just for a day. Mostly, short term volunteers are expected to simply walk the dogs, though those staying longer may be given extra duties. Given that it’s just a few minutes from a nearby town and a lovely beach, it’s a pretty convenient spot to do good works and enjoy Phuket.
In fact, while we were in the area, my colleague and I made our way to Nai Yang beach which featured nice sand, some great waves and good swimming. It wasn’t too crowded and, around sundown, the sky filled with sails as local kite-surfers took to the waves.