Michael Earle: Phuket’s Soi Dog Foundation – Saving Animals in Need and Inspiring Us All
Several years ago, I adopted two dogs from a dog pound in another country. The scene was not pleasant, it felt as though I was walking through death row, selecting which dog would live and which would not. The dogs were in small cages, penned in and desperate for release. The sadness of that day is still with me. Spending time at Soi Dog is the complete opposite experience, both inspiring and smile inducing. The dogs are happy, well cared for and are housed in large pens where they can run and play, in addition to their time outside with the volunteer walkers. The compound is very well thought out, separated into areas depending on the health of the dogs and their size, in some cases.
John and Gill Dalley moved from England to Phuket in 2003, after having visited many times before on vacation. The Dalleys had married in Phuket and decided to come back permanently to retire. Little did they know that instead of a leisurely retirement, they would work harder with Soi Dog than they ever had in England. What they found in Phuket after getting settled was a massive stray dog problem that was growing rapidly due to the growth of Phuket as a tourist destination and a place where Thais from all over Thailand came to find work. The Dalleys knew they had to try to help somehow.
When asked why they chose Phuket initially, John replied, “The climate, the people and of course the animals!” They were determined to do something to help “rather than just spend our time lying around doing nothing.” When they looked closer at the situation around Phuket, they saw many street dogs, sick, suffering and needing help. Being a nation of Buddhists, euthanasia was unacceptable. However, it was acceptable to put unwanted puppies and kittens on the streets because nature would take its course. About the same time the Dalleys arrived, a woman named Margot Homburg Park also moved there. Park was the original founder of the Soi Dog Foundation in 2002. (Soi is the Thai word for street). Using her own funds, Park began sterilising the stray dogs in her neighbourhood, first in the capitol city of Bangkok and then in her new home of Phuket. The Dalleys and Park worked together to create spay/neuter clinics around the island. Slowly the organisation grew. The Soi Dog Foundation (SDF) was on its way to becoming a driving force in helping the street dogs of Phuket have better lives.
In September of 2004, Gill Dalley was attempting to bring a tranquillized stray into the clinic for treatment. They had tranquillized the dog and it had escaped into a flooded buffalo field. She knew she could not leave the dog there and waded through the water to save it. Shortly afterward, Gill became ill and her legs began to ache and turn a bluish-gray. She had developed septicemia, infected by an unknown organism in the flooded field she had carried the dog through. Doctors treating her realised the only way to save her life was to amputate both her legs below the knee.
A few months later in December, the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami ripped through the island, destroying everything within the waves’ reach. One of the organisation’s most impassioned volunteers, Leone Cosens, was killed in the disaster. However, what seemed hopeless actually helped the SDF become even stronger. The months following the tsunami saw the arrival of volunteer veterinarians from around the world. Because of the SDF’s strong community presence, these organisations were able to get to work quickly and efficiently. It led to an award by the Humane Society International and another organisation, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), thought so highly of the SDF that they agreed to finance the sterilisation programme for the next two years. During this entire ordeal, Gill Dalley worked from a wheel chair as she recovered from her double amputation surgery. She didn’t let the loss of her legs stop her from helping Phuket’s animals. Using prosthetics, she now walks and trains the dogs at the Foundation’s shelter. Although sterilisation has always been the main focus, with over 29,000 animals sterilised so far, the SDF recently built a shelter, headquarters and medical clinic. They currently employ three full-time veterinarians and ten staff members. They house around 250 dogs at any one time and also have an education programme in schools to teach children about responsible pet ownership.
John Dalley jokes he works more with the animals than he did for his former company. “Gill and I effectively work 7 days a week, often 14 hours per day. In reality we now work far harder in retirement for no pay than when we worked for a living!” This is especially true since 2006 when Park became ill and moved back to Bangkok, leaving the Dalleys to continue on their own.
In 2009, the SDF purchased approximately half the land on which their buildings sit and are trying to purchase the remaining land around it. The shelter is on 4.5 acres of land near the village of Mai Khao, close to the island’s airport. They are waiting to receive full IRS 501c status in the US so donations from The States will be tax-deductible. There are many ways people can help the SDF, such as supporting their land purchase with a bank transfer donation. John Dalley states that land appeal donors will receive a certificate. Other ways to help include sponsoring a dog or cat, donating medical supplies or purchasing a copy of a documentary film about the organisation called Soi Dogs – the Movie on DVD.
Gill Dalley was selected as “Asian of the Year” in 2008 from Channel News Asia, the first non-Asian to receive the award. She said she was just doing what needed to be done although she hopes that her story will help inspire other amputees. She has just been honoured with the Asia Canine hero award which she recently received in China.
“It is very much highs and lows,” says John, “but seeing a dog or cat with horrific injuries that most people would think should be immediately euthanized, transformed, and in some cases homed, makes it all worthwhile. Also knowing that if we had done nothing then there would be a colossal problem here and the suffering would be enormous.” The Soi Dog Foundation and the Dalleys continue to make their new country a better place for companion animals.
Most humans understand specific case stories better than macro histories. We are wired to put ourselves in a situation and see similarities. That is why most of the stories we read, of horrific events do not touch us as we cannot visualise ourselves in the same situation. The enormity of the task that Soi Dog undertakes is hard to comprehend and grasp. They have sterilised over 30,000 dogs in Phuket and saved the lives of thousands. As we drive around Phuket and see homeless “soi” dogs at every turn, we see the task is enormous and nowhere near conquered. We see animals with wounds, skin diseases and broken bones every day and we drive on by. Individual cases on the other hand, are something we can get a grip on. As Dalley and I talked, he showed me a few distinct cases. A dog that had been struck with a machete and nearly died, was healthy and with the fur around the wound fully grown, showed no effects of his horrific injury. A lovely little white ball of fur named Daisy looked happy and healthy. She had been found with a skin disease and so malnourished she was hours away from death. Now, her tongue lapped out as she gasped in the heat, and enjoyed being petted and stroked immensely. These cases are but a few examples of the amazing work that the Dalleys and the rest of the team there do each day.
John Dalley forwarded me an email from a gentleman in Copenhagen. He had adopted a beautiful dog named Pearl, who was brought to the foundation suffering from acid burns to the side of her body. After the loving care of the Soi Dog team, Pearl was completely healthy outside of a slightly noticeable scar on her side and was adopted and sent to Denmark. Steen, the gentleman adopting Pearl puts it best: “Thanking all you wonderful people ever so much for making the biggest difference, by saving wonderful beings’ lives and preventing future tragedies in all kinds of ways, raising funds, treating and caring for all kinds of animals – tiny or big, beautiful and ugly, wild as well as breeds, created by us to be of use or joy to us, but forgotten by each and every one of us… except by YOU people! I am truly grateful and I’ll invest all of it in Pearl – never again shall she suffer, never again be let down. She is such an uncomplicated, clever, and well balanced being, with an aura of peace and calmness about her that affects everyone around her. She is strong, very strong. Pearl, sometimes we have to go through terrible things in life before they become good and life becomes wonderful again. Thank you Soi Dog for not giving up on her and changing the impossible into this great possibility that turned into her and my reality!”
I still have trouble reading this wonderful paragraph without getting a lump in my throat and thinking about how much more all of us should do to help the Dalleys and the rest of their great team. I know I will get more involved and this simple visit to their headquarters will stay with me for a long time. Let us all, here in Phuket or just visiting, try to help them aquire the remaining land they need for the compound and realise that these wonderful animals will give back ten-fold with a short visit. Go walk some dogs and enjoy these wonderful creatures.
Think Design Magazine, Creative Director Trisha Miller, Phuket Thailand
Diseno Earle efficiently embraces the vision of delivering high-value, low cost projects born from unprecedented, inspirational design. Based on ecologically responsible principles, our work aims to positively contribute to the individuals and communities for whom we design.
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