By Nomi Berger
They roam the streets by the thousands, abused, abandoned and starving. They are stuffed in wire crates, smuggled illegally across the border to waiting butchers. They procreate indiscriminately, depositing new generations of puppies to join the others on the streets.
They are the stray dogs of Thailand. And in 2003, three people, stunned and sickened by what they saw, swore to each other and to them that they would intervene.
Soi means “street” in Thailand. How fitting, then, that an organization committed to saving and improving the lives of the country’s street animals should call itself Soi Dog Foundation.
Now a legally registered charity in six countries — Thailand, the United States, Australia, the UK, France and the Netherlands – Soi Dog Foundation was founded in the Thai province of Phuket by American-born Margot Homburg Park and British retirees John and Gill Dalley. Their mission: to reduce the province’s animal overpopulation through sterilization; to feed those who would otherwise go hungry; to treat those sick and injured animals left to die on the streets; to provide shelter for those no longer able to live on the streets; to rehome those who were fit and healthy; to teach local communities about animal welfare, and to stop the illegal and inhumane dog meat trade between Thailand and Vietnam.
Although their goals were lofty, their beginnings were small, starting with a single clinic assisted by volunteer veterinarians from overseas. As word about them spread, so did the number of clinics they held. With sterilization (spaying and neutering) and vaccination of Phuket’s dogs and cats as their primary focus, their methods and their message quickly moved beyond the province’s and, ultimately, the country’s borders. To accommodate the animals and their growing personnel, they moved to a large tract of land, where they built a formal shelter. In 2005, Soi Dog Foundation was the first of its kind to be granted official Foundation status in Thailand.
As their reputation grew, they attracted the attention of generous donors and people of goodwill across the globe. Men and women began streaming into Phuket, at their own expense, to volunteer at the shelter, to see for themselves what they had only read about, and to help make a difference. They would all leave Phuket, forever changed. And the word spread faster still.
A permanent clinic was established in Bangkok in 2011, giving Soi Dog Foundation a second vital presence in the country.
They instituted a “Trade of Shame” campaign to halt the illicit dog meat trade between Thailand and Vietnam, where dog meat is considered a delicacy by some.
They approached the ongoing problem on 3 fronts by: advocating for stricter enforcement of the existing laws; raising public awareness about the barbaric practice, and working with the governments of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam to introduce stronger animal welfare legislation.
As the organization recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, their achievements have been astounding. Thanks to their efforts in the area of vaccinations, Phuket is the only Thai province that is rabies-free. Over 60,000 dogs and cats have been sterilized across the island. More than 10,000 dogs have been rescued from the meat trade and more than 30 smugglers arrested. The Phuket shelter and Bangkok clinic never have fewer than 300 animals on site – both for treatment of grievous ailments or injuries and awaiting potential adoption.
And one of those adopters was Candace Cornock from Ladysmith, BC. In the fall of 2011, she was grieving the death of one of her beloved dogs and desperately needed another soul to love. One of her friends had adopted a rescue from Soi Dog Foundation and suggested she do the same. And it was on their website that she discovered a dog whose backstory would soon become all too familiar to her. The speckled, mixed breed dog, whose name, ironically, is Gracie, had been found lying, starving, sick and dying on a road in Thailand, with severe wounds to her front legs and burns from having had scalding liquid poured over her. Luckily, she had been found by a Soi Dog Foundation volunteer and brought to their shelter in Phuket for treatment. At that point, her chances of survival were slim. And yet, as Candace studied what she thought was the saddest face she had ever seen, something about that dog tugged at her heart and she fell in love. She began sponsoring her and following her progress, and as time passed and she grew increasingly attached to her, she knew that she had to find a way to make Gracie part of their family. But she was also learning more about Soi Dog Foundation, about their ambitious sterilization program, and particularly their efforts to halt the illicit dog meat trade. Soon she was making monthly donations to them and encouraging friends to do the same. She formally adopted Gracie, and when Gracie was well enough to travel, Candace arranged through Soi Dog Foundation to have her transported from Thailand to Vancouver in March 2012. . Candace’s heart was bursting as Gracie came through customs and she saw her in the flesh for the first time. Finally, she was able to hold in her arms and gently kiss the dog she had been dreaming about for months. After a calm introduction to Candace’s other pets, she settled into their home as if it had always been hers. Although she will always carry the physical scars of her wounds, with time and love, the emotional scars have begun to fade, and today, Gracie is as playful as a puppy, gentle and sweet, happy and affectionate. She loves cuddles and having her face rubbed softly. She loves racing around their vast yard, playing with her squeaky toys, lying in their bed sleeping under the blankets and Candace can’t imagine life without Gracie as a member of the family.
Candace spent all that year fundraising more and gathering supporters and friends and she gradually formed Soi Dog Canada over the course of the year in 2012. She
launched the regional support group officially with a Facebook page in April 2013. Her mission: to fundraise on behalf of Soi Dog Foundation and to raise awareness about the plight of dogs in Thailand.
Soi Dog Canada had been founded and has been growing fast ever since.
How fitting then, that in February 2013, on the other side of the country, a woman named Debbie Tremblay from Ontario began searching the web for rescues in need of volunteers, and found Thailand’s Soi Dog Foundation. How ironic that one of the videos she watched was of Gracie. Moved to tears by what she read, she promptly emailed them and offered her services. Debbie spent 3 weeks volunteering i
n the Phuket shelter, where she fell in love. “Gaius” was gangly with big ears and a crinkled forehead, and because he didn’t know his place in the hierarchy, was often bitten by the other dogs. The more Debbie tried to protect him, the more in love she fell. Despite his past, Gaius was trusting, gentle and eager to please, and the day an older dog grabbed Gaius by the neck and dragged him across the run, she made a mental promise to him that she would never allow him to be hurt again. On a cool October day in 2013, another dog of the east came bounding out of a wire crate and into the waiting arms of another woman in the west. Far from the harshness of his old world, Gaius charged confidently into the warmth and wonder of his new one. Affectionate by nature, he thrived on human contact, responding hungrily to every tender, human touch. Wherever he went, people stopped to meet him, to ask Debbie about his progress, or to simply look at him without saying a word. To those who criticize her for adopting a dog from overseas, she replies, “All life is important and love has no boundaries. Not only people come into our lives at a time of need, animals do too. Whenever I was sad and lonely, the animals were the ones to make me laugh, to help me see beyond myself. This is my way of paying them back.”
Her passion fuelled her own mission: to inform Canadians of the existence, goals, programs and achievements of Soi Dog Foundation; to educate them about the complex situation in Thailand and to encourage more Canadian to adopt dogs of their own from Soi Dog Foundation. Like other non-profits, Soi Dog Canada is run entirely by volunteers and relies solely on the generosity of others through grants and donations and by holding fundraising events. All of the monies raised go directly to Soi Dog Foundation. Just as in Thailand before it, this group is growing quickly, gaining supporters and volunteers from across the country. They are currently working towards registering as a nonprofit charity in Canada. More than 50 dogs have already been adopted from Soi Dog Foundation in Canada, and as the word spreads, so does the number of applications.
To contact Soi Dog Canada, please email: email@example.com