By Richie Kul
My deep affinity for pups has been an admittedly recent development. In fact, growing up if I saw a dog approaching (particularly a big one), perceived survival instincts would kick in and I would make a beeline to the other side of the street. When I was younger, I was chased down a small alley and bitten by a vagrant white dog while on the way to my aunt’s house in Thailand. The aftermath required several rabies shots and resulted in emotional wounds and a slight apprehensiveness around dogs. The white dog fared even worse. Animal control was called and he was rounded up and taken away. Only one family cried, the same one that left out food and water for him each day but never let him inside the house. The other neighbors cheered, most being victims at some point over the years of the same fearsome white jaws that clamped themselves around my knee and drew blood.
For years my relationship with dogs remained a tepid one. Friends would gush about their dogs and I would feign understanding of the depth of their love for their furry friends. This little charade ended rather abruptly though when my sister, in her crusade to save the world one rescue pup at a time, emailed me a few years ago and announced that she had gotten me a dog for my birthday from a local high-kill shelter in Henderson, Nevada. I ran through the laundry list of reasons why this arrangement was an ill fated one – travel schedule, lack of experience, the fact that I lived in an apartment in the middle of a concrete jungle – but all those excuses fell by the wayside the moment the small little white puppy she had adopted crawled into my travel bag and looked up to signal she was ready to head to the airport with me.
From that day on, I was a dog person and the world was transformed into a different place through Lily’s soulful eyes. The dilapidated stretch of grass wedged between two old buildings? It became a grand meadow that Lily would squeal at and charge towards with great urgency each morning. Every walk became a new adventure of different sights, sounds and smells that never failed to captivate and delight. And New York City, famed for being hardnosed and impersonal, weakened its defenses and became downright friendly for this inquisitive little 6 month old puppy who disarmed passersby with her charm.
As I fell more and more in love with Lily and as I plotted ways to use my platform as an actor and model to help more animals in need, I found myself thinking more and more about another dog, the one they called “Old Whitey”, the one that bit me in the alley years ago. I have no illusions about what happened to Old Whitey. A stray dog with a history of biting humans has only one fate when picked up by animal control. There are, however, countless thousands of stray dogs wandering the streets of Thailand in search of food, water and a loving home. The more I educated myself about the situation, the more I realized that I wanted to be a part of doing something to help ease their plight.
That is how I came to be involved with the heroic efforts of Soi Dog, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the lives of Thailand’s homeless street dogs and rescuing and rehabilitating pups from the pernicious meat and fur trade in Southeast Asia. I am just one of many, most of whom toil far more tirelessly to save the life of yet one more dog.
As a longtime vegetarian and staunch believer in the sanctity of all life, working with Soi Dog and beholding the heart wrenching images of beautiful pups being violently procured and crammed into transport trucks to meet an incomprehensible fate compels me to do more. This sad reality that resonates with and outrages so many of us dog lovers is a fate that befalls many other equally smart and sensitive souls each and every day at farms and slaughterhouses around the world, and I try to urge fans and friends to not be selective in our compassion and instead, to open our hearts and minds to the importance of minimizing the harm we inflict on our fellow sentient, loving creatures.
It is with that in mind that Lily and I proudly serve as ambassadors for great animal welfare organizations and vegan fashion brands such as Soi Dog, CARE, PETA, Vaute Couture, Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue, FARM, In Defense of Animals, Animals Asia, and NOHARM that are fighting for our animal friends – dogs, cats, wildlife, and farm animals alike.
I do it for Lily, an abandoned stray herself. I also do it for Old Whitey, for whom I still say a silent prayer every time I think of him.
Actor, model, and animal activist, Richie Kul has starred in a number of independent films and has modeled extensively in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, appearing in international campaigns and fashion editorials for Swatch, BlackRock, Nivea, GQ, Samsung, Chevrolet, Vaute Couture, Robinson les Bains, Mr Turk, Men’s Health, Ballantine’s and NOHARM.
Born in Thailand, Richie grew up near the sun-kissed beaches of Southern California and later attended Stanford University, where he earned degrees in Economics and Organizational Behavior. After eye-opening stints in investment banking and government finance, he quickly learned that the life of a desk jockey was not for him and broke out his passport and enlisted as a global nomad (aka travelling international model and actor), a pursuit he has been happily embracing ever since. A devoted vegetarian and committed animal activist, Richie eagerly shares with friends and fans the many virtues and benefits of going cruelty free and living in harmony with our animal friends.