Soi Dog Foundation anchors Thai tsunami animal relief effort

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2005:

PHUKET, Thailand–“We are okay,” Soi
Dog Foundation president Margot Park e-mailed to
ANIMAL PEOPLE on December 26, soon after the
tsunami, “but the devastation is indescribable.
Three Norwegians, including a baby, three
Russians, and a German are stranded at our house
with seven more Norwegians on their way. Many
dogs have lost their homes and more will be
dumped as people flee.
“My extremely good friend Leone Cosens
has been found dead,” Park added. (See
Obituaries, page 22.)
The Phuket Animal Welfare Society,
founded by Cosens in 1992, lost countless local
volunteers. Almost a month later the PAWS web
site still said nothing of the tsunami; there
was apparently no one to update it.
“If anyone travels to Phuket,” Park
asked, “he/she could perhaps bring some things
such as long-acting antibiotics, Iver-mectin to
treat mange, and suture materials for
sterilization surgery. But our most immediate
need,” Park stipulated, “is funds to buy dog and
cat food. Many dogs and cats perished, but
those who survived have lost their food sources
and cannot find fresh drinking water.”

Park found on her first post-tsunami
feeding mission that “Many dogs were totally
dazed. They didn’t want to touch food!” But she
knew they would be hungry soon.
Her catch-pole was first used after the
tsunami to retrieve the German refugee’s rented
bicycle from underwater.
Soi Dog volunteer John Dalley “visited
Khao Lak [which literally means “Cow Lake”] and
spent two days wrapping bodies as well as looking
for animals, of which I could find very few
alive or dead,” he reported.
At Kamala Bay, however, Dalley found
“Many dogs wandering around lost and dazed. The
temple was destroyed,” Dalley said, “though
miraculously about 12 dogs were still in the bell
tower. I found a cat nursing kittens in a
derelict building,” Dalley added, “and have no
idea how they survived.”
Nearby animal care organizations checked in during the next few days.
“We are thankfully unharmed by the disaster,”
e-mailed PhaNgan Animal Care founder Shevaun
Gallwey, “but everyone is sad. We are trying to
help those who need it.”
“The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
sanctuary in Phuket was untouched,” relayed
Wildlife Friends of Thailand director Edwin Wiek,
“as it is high above sea-level and is situated on
the other side of the island.”
“The Thai Animal Guardians Association
and Wildlife Friends of Thailand will do animal
rescue in coordination with the Royal Thai
Tourist Police and the Royal Thai Forestry
Police, supported by the World Society for the
Protection of Animals,” said Animal Guardians
Association director Roger Lohanan–but the
arrangement was not officially announced until
January 12.
The Soi Dog Foundation in the interim
became the Phuket animal disaster relief
headquarters, with early financial aid provided
by ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“Margot Park started the Soi Dog
Foundation in October 2003, and has since helped
to sterilize and release more than 1,470 street
dogs and cats,” said Jill Robinson, founder of
the Animals Asia Foundation.
“Soi Dog has recently taken over the
organization called Atigaro, previously run by
Allison Montgomery of Hong Kong. Margot has
adopted the principle of neutering ‘everything,’
rather than only street dogs, because all
unaltered dogs contribute offspring to the stray
dog population,” Robinson added.
Flying to Phuket from Hong Kong on
January 4, Robinson did relief needs assessment
the next day with John Dalley and HIS/Asia
representative Sherry Grant.
“It was particularly touching to see
John’s devotion to helping the dogs at this time,
as his wife Gill recently rescued a dog in a
buffalo pond and contracted septicaemia, losing
both her legs below the knee,” Robinson said.
“Meeting Gill later, I was humbled to be
talking to someone so upbeat, wanting to hear
all about our day in the field, brushing off all
reference to her personal trauma.
“In mid morning we met Yvonne deGaay
Stokelerburg from the group DIDIT,” short for
Dogs [and Cats] In Distress In Thailand. “She
previously fed at least 150 dogs every day,”
Robinson learned, “but the cafes, restaurants
and hotels where she used to beg leftovers for
the street dogs are mostly gone, and those that
remain have little food to offer. Margot and
John passed her sacks of dog food, and promised
to follow up.
“South Patong is situated beside a river.
Previously, Yvonne would bring food and 25 or so
dogs would swim across to meet her. Only five or
six dogs survived the tsunami and they now refuse
to enter the water,” Robinson observed. “The
houses are all rubble, yet the residents are
kind to the dogs, and generously offered us
water.”
Added Grant, “I had to hold back tears
at the sight of a dog standing on the foundation
of a demolished house. He looked out from the
rubble to the river as if anticipating the
arrival of people who would never return.”
About 17,000 dogs, mostly pets, lived
along the Soi Dog feeding route before the
tsunami. About half were missing.
“After the October 2002 Bali bombing we
did not see many street dogs for nearly five
weeks,” Grant recalled.
Three monks and fifteen dogs were killed
at the Kamala temple, the team learned. The
surviving monks, caring for many displaced
people, “also fed the remaining dogs,” Robinson
saw. “The dogs looked fit and well, but were
clearly upset and traumatized.”
“I have never been a fan of shelters,
and the Phuket shelter, built in May 2003, is
another disaster,” Robinson emphasized. “The
municipality wanted to remove all the dogs from
the tourist areas. No one thought about the
costs of food, veterinary care, and feces
disposal. The municipality hoped that
restaurants would send food scraps. The shelter
turned into a dump. Ads asking the locals to
donate money to feed the dogs failed. Instead
there was a public backlash. The ads were pulled
and the municipality hoped the dogs would
disappearĊ read that as die.”
Park, who described her campaign against
starting the shelter in letters to ANIMAL PEOPLE,
stepped in to the feed the dogs, provide
veterinary care, and sterilize them. Because of
her care, Robinson said, the pound dogs “were
for the most part some were the best looking that
I saw in Phuket.”
But since the tsunami, “More dogs arrive
every day, thrown over the perimeter fence,
dumped on the highway along the perimeter fence,
or tied to the gate. Fourteen came from the
island of Khia Paittang,” for instance, “where
of 300 indigenous people, only 85 lived. They
are subsistence deer hunters and don’t want dogs
on the island because they can’t feed them and
don’t want them killing the deer. The dogs
arrived anesthetized and woke up confused,”
Robinson saw. “Five were pets who lost their
people. Margot photographed the dogs so she can
publish an appeal to get these dogs re-homed.”

Cats emerge

“We did not see many cats,” Robinson
finished. “Those we did see were in the areas
not impacted by the tsunami and seemed to be well
cared for.”
The cats reappeared later.
Thai Animal Guardian Association director
Roger Lohanon removed some cats from Phi Phi
island, which he told ANIMAL PEOPLE was deserted
at the time, took them to Bangkok, and was
accused of stealing pets. Lohanon responded that
Phi Phi residents could reclaim their cats after
a 15-day quarantine–but visiting Bangkok will
not be easy for the islanders.
Vacationing in northern Thailand when the tsunami
hit, Janet Hultberg, 48, of Wheat Ridge,
Colorado, made her way to the Soi Dog Foundation
with two cases of dog and cat food, and spent
the last five days of her trip volunteering.
Hultberg, Dalley, and two veterinarians visited
Phi Phi after Lohanon did, Margot Park told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, and found many more cats, who
were apparently still just coming out of hiding.
Kultida Samabuddhi of the Bangkok Post on
January 11 reported that “Packs of starving stray
dogs have been sneaking into the Wat Yanyao and
Wat Bang Muang temples and the Bang Maruan
cemetery, where some 800 dead bodies are buried,
to scavenge.
“Following complaints from forensic
experts and volunteers working there, the
Foundation for Stray Dogs recently sent a
seven-member team to Phangnga province to round
up the strays,” Kultida Samabuddhi continued.
“More than 70 dogs are waiting to be transported
to Bangkok,” where the Foundation for Stray Dogs
runs a shelter.
Veterinarian Kiattisak Rojniran, who
heads the Foundation for Stray Dogs, told
Kultida Samabuddhi that, “Many of the strays are
sick, possibly because they have contracted
diseases from decomposed bodies.”
Zoonotic disease experts consulted by ANIMAL
PEOPLE thought that was unlikely, considering
dogs’ ecological niche as scavengers and that
decomposing bodies are much less a vector for
transmissible disease than the bodies of living
organisms.
ANIMAL PEOPLE in April 2004 extensively
inquired into the reputation and operations of
the Foundation for Stray Dogs, after the
activities of a fundraiser claiming to be
associated with it roused skepticism in Britain.
It did not appear to be well-regarded.
The report of alleged corpse-eating was
“a press exaggeration,” John Dalley told ANMAL
PEOPLE the following day. “A team from the Soi
Dog Foundation and the World Society for the
Protection of Animals visited the area,” Dalley
explained.
“The dogs from Yanyao temple have been
rounded up, and are currently being looked after
by a local vet. He said he rounded them up
himself. A few dogs had sniffed around around
body bags, but nothing more. We’ll start a
clinic there next week,” Dalley said. “These
dogs will be treated and sterilized, with any
others we can find.”
The work was disrupted on January 20,
Ken Grant of HSI/Asia reported, when a man who
appeared to be intoxicated burst into the field
clinic and in an apparent misguided attempt to
treat mange, poured a substance believed to be a
mixture of creosote and mercurichrome on a dog
and three volunteers.
The dog went into seizures and the
volunteers had acute nausea for more than 12
hours. Several other volunteers, including
Grant’s wife, Sherry Grant, and their daughter
Piper, became ill from fumes.

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