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May 21, 2016
I miss my dog Lolly when I travel. I know she'd love to be frolicking in clear shallow waters or running wild along sandy beaches. And I think about how different her life of luxury is to that of the dogs I befriend when I'm in Asia.
If you've enjoyed the beauty and serenity of some of Thailand's most beautiful beaches you'll almost sure to have noticed the stray dogs that make these holiday areas their home. Thailand is home to a staggering number of dumped pets, too many of whom aren't desexed creating an endless cycle of more and more puppies being born. The stray dogs wander the streets and beaches, often in groups, on the hunt for food and a place to sleep. They are known as Soi Dogs - Soi meaning Street in Thai.
The more fortunate of these "Un-Thai'd" dogs live near beach resorts or beach restaurants where there will inevitably be dog-loving tourists to hang out with. I generally seek the local dogs out or they'll seek me out, with their doggy sense they instinctively know who the doggy people are. These dogs will be in pretty good condition, they've worked out where to go or who to go to for food.
If I'm staying in a beach area my day will start with an early walk along the beach. I love wandering along the water's edge before most people have risen, when it's just me, the locals setting up their businesses for the day and the dogs. I'm fascinated by the smarts of these dogs, a wisdom that they exhibit from an early age. At around 7am before the heat of the day has taken hold, the local stray dogs are out sometimes paddling or just standing in the water or perhaps chasing each other. They may not have the lives of our pampered pooches at home but they are still dogs and as such they love to play.
After a couple of days staying in a location the dogs will recognise me and I them and I'll beckon them to tag along with me on my morning walk. I give them names which somehow they seem to respond to.
An hour or two into the day (depending on the time of year) the dogs will generally disappear. So much cleverer than us humans who lie in the sun all day they go presumably go to find food and a cool shady spot.
By around 4pm back out come the dogs from wherever they've been. And so begins their afternoon ritual of scampering along the beach, cooling off in the water or finding those doggy people who want to give them a pat or a snack. I wonder if they know how to fetch a ball or a stick or if anybody has ever taught them to sit.
In April this year, the hottest month in Thailand, on Koh Phangan's Tong Nai Pan Noi Beach, a cheeky young dog we named "Goldie" took the liberty of laying next to me on my towel near the water's edge. And just like any dog would do he was adept at pushing this human off the towel just enough so he could take it over. Dogs will be always be dogs.
The lives of the Un-Thai'd Dogs is in such a stark contrast to those dogs we've left back home. I've never seen one have a drink of water and they all scratch - a lot. We overreact when our pups get a flea bite at home but the Soi Dogs are forever scratching.
They make friends with humans for a short time and those humans then leave. Do these dogs feel sadness at this or are they just conditioned not to get too attached? On a recent stay on Koh Phangan a senior dog (guessing he was senior but the dogs age quicker without creature comforts) made his home under my sun lounger in the morning. As the day heated up he retreated into a shady corner of the garden of our villa just next to the beach soccer ball. We named him "PresDog" after our beloved Presley who died in 2014 and looked similar. Hotel Security asked if we wanted him moved which of course we didn't. If he felt secure and safe then who were we to move him? We became his temporary foster carers and fed him sausages from the breakfast buffet each day. Can't help but worry that the next guests to stay in our villa wouldn't be so accommodating but hopefully this old guy would find other dog lovers to take care of him for a while.
Whilst I enjoy the company of my short term doggie friends the reality of the Soi Dogs of Thailand is heartbreaking. Living with the discomfort of fleas and skin conditions is the least of the problem, without vaccinations they succumb to disease with rabies still evident. Tragically it is estimated there are 700,000 stray dogs in Thailand and although the Thai Government is actively trying to end the illegal dog meat trade, there are stray dogs still being captured and taken to neighbouring countries to die a torturous death.
In the tourist areas though dogs do have guardian angels. In Koh Samui I fell for a tiny pup who resembled a little wallaby. Eating at a restaurant right on the beach at Bophut this puppy sidled right up to our table and we fed her tidbits. Of course I'd love to take all the dogs I befriend home but this one was different. She was too skinny and had sad eyes. I seriously considered adopting her that night. Fortunately our waiter turned out to be her guardian angel. We'd eaten pork ribs and he threw her the leftover rib bones. Before he did so I went to stop him; "you can't feed dogs cooked bones" I said. But of course Soi dogs are more resilient and stronger than our pets and instantly I felt stupid saying this. This kind waiter feeds her ribs and other leftovers every night. He also told us how she was only 5 months old, part of a small litter that were born thankfully with the medical assistance of the vets from the Samui Dog and Cat Rescue Organisation. The rest of the litter turned up that night and there was a little scuffle over our attention and food. Another waiter from the same restaurant told us not to feed the pups because other customers complain about the dogs hanging around and this affects business. I had a quiet word as I left to the kind waiter and asked him to please carry on looking after those pups.
After hearing the story of the birth of the Bophut Beach Pups that night I took the time to research the Rescue Organisation on Samui who have done so much to help the dogs and cats of Koh Samui since 1999. I was interested to read they encourage visitors to feed the stray dogs and will assist you if you've fallen in love with a dog and want to give her/him a furever home elsewhere in the world. Soi Dog Foundation are doing the same in Phuket as are the SPCA in Thailand and other volunteer organisations around the country. They work tirelessly to neuter and vaccinate the dogs and improve their lives 4 paws at a time.
As I can't bring all my furry friends home I am taking up Soi Dog's request for doggie sponsors instead and also ask readers of this article to please support them any way you can. And finally, please say hi to all my Thai doggie friends when you visit, give them a pat from me and if you're staying on Koh Phangan and see PresDog please feed him. If you see Tiny and her siblings on Samui's Bophut Beach check they're still being fattened up and looked after.
Please support the following Dog Rescue Organisations in any way you can and follow on FB
For a fascinating insight into what the Soi Dogs eat check out this blog: http://thespiritualdogtrainer.com/what-do-the-street-dogs-soi-dogs-of-thailand-eat/
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