As in Myanmar, street dogs proliferate in Thailand, and even relatively well-off Phuket is no exception. The dogs nose around garbage cans, hang out in front of shops, walk down the street and sleep in vacant lots, sidewalks, or on the beach. Thailand is a Buddhist country and generally the Thai people are tolerant or kind to the dogs. They allow them to live in their communities and will feed their regular visitors any leftovers that they may have. The dogs tend to hang out in the same areas and this becomes their territory. Some are friendly, others wary of humans, but none seemed threatening.
But, of course, life is not trouble-free for these pooches. They are in danger from the motorbikes that race around, leading to to occasional dog that is missing a leg or sporting a limp. Often unsterilized, they breed at will and are not treated when they fall ill or develop mange. The dogs form packs and tend to fight with their rivals (on our beach there are three main packs). And, worst of all, they may be abuse by human hands. Dogs deemed pesky or annoying – for example, barkers – may have their toes or tail cut off or be chased off with a machete or boiling water.
Soi Dog Foundation was formed about ten years ago to help take care of the street dogs (soi means street in Thai). The people at SDF are the caring, devoted individuals who are making a difference, some of whom are volunteering full-time for months or even years!
At SDF, they treat, sterilize, vaccine and return street dogs to their “street homes” (their own version of trap-neuter-release that happens among feral cats in the USA), thereby helping to reduce the numbers of dogs and making sure those that are on the street have their basic health needs met. They are already sterilized over 47,000 dogs and cats on the island, preventing tens or hundreds of thousands of births (the island has an estimated 120,000 dogs already).
Some dogs are not able to be returned to the streets because they can’t take care of themselves, often due to age or injury or because their original environment was unsafe (e.g. the dog was abused or attacked in the area of their old home; or for a puppy who never learned street smarts). In those cases, dogs are sheltered long-term at SDF or, if the dog is suitable, he or she may be placed for adoption.
There are currently over 400 dogs at SDF, divided into different areas. There are large runs, eight in total, for the standard, healthy dogs. There are about 20-25 dogs in each run and they are all healthy, clean and many are very friendly. Some of these are available for adoption. Once a dog has an adopter, they move to the hotel run. Here they receive extra socialization and leash training to ensure a smooth transition to their new home. There are also two old dog runs, a puppy run, a small dog run, a shy dog run and a run for dogs who are waiting to return to the streets. There are also clinic, treatment and isolation rooms for those that can’t yet mix with the others. SDF also cares for a couple dozen cats too.
In 2012, we sponsored three dogs, but only one was at SDF once we arrived. Sweet Pimghon passed away from old age just last month and another oldie Rama is now enjoying life in NYC! We did get to meet our third sponsor dog Meg, who had a potential adoption recently fall through. At her older age, it’s hard to say if another opportunity will come along for her.
After our lengthy tour and chat with the amazing long-term volunteers, we spend time socializing with the cats and puppies. We wish them all luck in finding their special humans. SDF adopts animals out all over the world, so next time you are looking for a friend….. Soi Dog Foundation. They are also a registered charity in the USA, among other places. Woof!