Bridging the animal care gulf in the Gulf of Thailand

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2004:

Koh PhaNgan, Thailand–“The island government has just
done–for the first time since we have been here–a mass culling of
dogs,” PhaNgan Animal Care practice manager Amber Holland e-mailed
to ANIMAL PEOPLE on December 29.
“We are outraged to say the least,” Holland continued, “and
have had a letter printed in The National,” a leading Thai newspaper
published in English. “All of the dogs were desexed, vaccinated,
and healthy, and were indiscriminately killed for no other reason
than laziness and lack of creative thinking” by authorities who made
them scapegoats for slower-than-hoped-for Christmas tourism.
Koh PhaNgan, north of Koh Samui, is the smaller of two
islands in the Gulf of Thailand, close to the Malay Peninsula. Not
one of the busier and better known Thai tourist destinations, it
caters chiefly to divers–like Irish veterinarian Shevaun Gallwey,
who began visiting while practicing in Hong Kong.
“I have always been saddened to see the condition of the Thai beach
dogs when holidaying there, and have been frustrated, as a
veterinarian, at not being able to help them. So, when embarking on
a three-month visit to Koh PhaNgan in early 2001,” Gallwey told the
Asia for Animals conference in September 2003,

“I borrowed equipment and medicines from the Dog Rescue Centre
Samui,” founded by German retiree Brigitte Gomm on the island to the
south in April 1999, “and brought them to Koh PhaNgan. With the
assistance of long term resident Heidi Farmer, I carried out free
neutering, vaccination, and skin and wound treatment. The work was
so gratefully received that I decided to try to provide some more
permanent care on this island.
“With the assistance of the Animals Asia Foundation and the
Dog Rescue Center Samui,” Gallwey continued, “we founded PhaNgan
Animal Care. It has been gratefully embraced by the island
residents, who never before had any option to obtain treatment,”
unless the animal was transported off the island, which was beyond
the means of most Thai islanders. Before the Dog Rescue Center Samui
began bringing veterinarians to Samui, the nearest vet was on the
mainland.
Nira Brande, owner of two bakeries and a PhaNgan resident
since 1989, had previously tried to bring veterinary care to
PhaNgan. When Brande heard what Gallwey and Farmer were doing, she
helped to convert a building into the clinic site, hosted the grand
opening, and became the organization’s liaison to the local
government, an often difficult job because of the hostility toward
dogs shown by many of the PhaNgan resort owners.
Traditionally, the resort owners were at liberty to poison
street dogs and free-roaming pets, and often did, without being
called to account. Now PhaNgan Animal Care has joined the media
campaign against poisoning begun by Brigit Gomme on Samui.
“We could not have settled on Koh Samui without a
veterinarian and closed our eyes to the animal misery,” Gomme
recalled at the fourth anniversary of starting the Dog Rescue Center
Samui. “The goverment secretly poisoned hundreds of unwanted dogs in
the cruelest manner and then removed them on trucks at night. Since
only the strongest dogs got enough poisoned meat, the others were
only half dead. Tourists who happened to witness this in earlier
years were totally shocked and as a result never came back. “
Photos and descriptions of the Samui poisonings eventually
appeared in German newspapers, further discouraging tourism.
After the Dog Rescue Center Samui began sterilizing from 50
to 70 dogs and cats per month and built a sanctuary for more than 170
dogs and 20 cats who had to be removed completely from some hotel
grounds, “The government stopped the mass poisoning,” Gomme
continued. “Unfortunately, some hotel managers still poison
animals,” still not understanding that the poisonings offend more
tourists than the presence of dogs and cats if the animals are
healthy.
In the first two full years that PhaNgan Animal Care
operated, Gallwey and team sterilized 730 animals, mostly dogs but
also some cats, and treated more than 6,300. The organization grew
to occupy three fulltime staff, with Gallwey dividing her time
between PhaNgan, where she volunteers, and her paid work in Hong
Kong.
Other team members are Holland, originally from Oregon, who
previously did animal welfare work in the Cook Islands and Costa
Rica; veterinary nurse Lia Titman, originally from Oxford,
England, also a veteran of animal welfare work in the Cook Islands;
and veterinary nurse trainee Ampai Thongpliw, called Por, who comes
from the northeast of Thailand.
Other than Gallwey’s contributions, “Veterinary care is
limited to visits from volunteering veterinarians, which thankfully
is frequent,” Holland told ANIMAL PEOPLE. The staff encourages
veterinarians to take diving vacations to PhaNgan and, while there,
to donate a day or two to the clinic in exchange for help in
arranging their tours.
“The clinic operates by requesting donations only to cover
supplies used in treating pets. All strays are treated at the
expense of the clinic,” Holland continued “In addition, all
temples, which are last-resort refuges for stray animals, are
visited regularly, and every temple animal is neutered at the
clinic’s expense. No animal (stray or owned) has been denied
treatment since our opening. “
Holland, scheduled to leave in April, is now seeking her
own replacement, which she admitted feels “very much like planning
my own funeral. There are many aspects to the position,” she said,
which includes being the primary fundraiser for PhaNgan Animal Care,
“but the most important point is to remain as friendly and smiley and
good-hearted as possible, in keeping with the Koh PhaNgan way.”
Inquiries are welcome c/o PhaNgan Animal Care, P.O. Box 70,
Thong Sala, Koh PhaNgan, Suratthani 84280, Thailand;
<info@pacthailand.org>; <www.pacthailand.org>.
“Take a peek at ‘Medically Interesting Cases’ for a look at
medical care that PAC provides the animals of the island,” the
PhaNgan Animal Care web site advises. “We understand that all of you
may not be interested in blood and guts so we have provided ‘Cute and
Cuddly Cases’ for your warm, fuzzy enjoyment.”
The Dog Rescue Center Samui also welcomes skilled visiting
volunteers, c/o 112/35 Moo 6 Bophut, Saui 84320 Surath-thani,
Thailand; 077-413-490; <info@samui-dog.org>; <www.samuidog.org>.

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