Spend just hours in Thailand, and it’ll become apparent just how serious the stray dog issue is here. There are over 120,000 in Bangkok alone.
Life isn’t pretty for most of these animals. Food is scarce, parasites are rampant, and car or motorbike collisions can easily lead to serious lacerations and broken limbs. Some even end up captured, tortured, and killed as part of the (illegal) dog meat trade.
Coming from the States, where strays are (in my experience) a fairly uncommon sight, it might seem surprising that this sort of thing could spiral totally out of control. But there is a considerable cultural difference here, and Thailand’s Buddhist sensibilities are at odds with some of the more Western methods of population control. Buddhism strongly discourages the taking of any life (euthanasia) or causing harm (sterilization). After all, who’s to say that dog isn’t the reincarnation of your own ancestor?
Even though many Thais are averse to euthanasia and sterilization of street dogs, it would be a mistake to assume that their approach is always friendly. On occasion, someone may place bowls of poisoned food out in alleyways and other areas from which they wish to remove troublesome or irritating dogs. Interestingly, this isn’t necessarily seen as conflicting with Buddhist ideals. The reasoning is something like: “Hey, if the dog eats the poisoned food, that was her choice. I didn’t actively harm her!”
I certainly don’t mean to demonize an entire country here. They are plenty of animal lovers in Thailand, and temple monks in particular are famed for taking in and feeding hungry or injured dogs and cats. But without a concerted and widespread effort, this problem isn’t going away anytime soon.
I’ve been fortunate enough to volunteer with a couple of great homegrown organizations in the last month or so – organizations devoted to improving the lives of local street dogs.
Care for Dogs – Chiang Mai
Care for Dogs is a no-kill shelter located in the northern city of Chiang Mai – one of the most prolific in the country. Their mission is to reduce the population of street dogs, coordinate health care for injured animals, and adopt as many as possible out to permanent homes.
Thanks to the labor of plenty of volunteers (both short- and long-term), as well as some local veterinarians, Care for Dogs has created an environment in which inner-city strays can thrive. Those who generally get along with other dogs spend much of their time in a communal area, though with enough room to claim their own corners when they need some space. There are frequent opportunities to go on walks, and even fenced-in parks nearby!
The results they’ve achieved here are pretty remarkable. Care for Dogs has taken in and treated thousands of injured animals, exposing them to the better side of humanity in the process. And with multiple adoption fairs held in the main city every month, it’s becoming rather common for dogs (especially puppies) to find new homes with local families.
Care for Dogs relies on financial support to purchase much-needed medical supplies, vaccinations, and veterinarian labor. If you’re interested in making a donation, you can do so here. Even a few dollars or euros can go a long way in Thailand!
Phangan Animal Care – Koh Phangan
Phangan Animal Care, or “PAC”, is the only non-profit animal clinic on this balmy isle in the Gulf of Thailand. They’ve been in operation for nearly 15 years now, and have completely transformed the outlook for many of the strays living here.
As a fairly popular tropical island, Koh Phangan has no short supply of tourists throughout the year. Many end up feeding the street dogs out of a sense of compassion, which boosts their count well above what the local ecosystem can naturally handle. This overpopulation leads to excessive fighting over territory and mates, causing the dogs a great number of serious injuries (and the drunk backpackers zipping around on motorbikes don’t make things any safer).
Open wounds and unhygienic streets cause infections to spread like wildfire, and the warm climate provides perfect conditions for fleas and other parasites to thrive. It’s not at all uncommon to see wild dogs with lesions and missing clumps of hair. These animals wouldn’t stand much of a chance on the streets, and their sustained presence would likely only elicit more attempts at poisoning. And that’s where PAC steps in to give them a new lease on life.
Although the staff at PAC would love for each of the dogs and cats here to find a permanent home, they are ultimately a clinic rather than a shelter – and resources are limited. As the situation currently stands, most animals must unfortunately be returned to the streets once their injuries are healed and they’ve been sterilized / vaccinated against rabies. If you’re at all interested in contributing to a fantastic cause, you can donate items or money through their website.