They come in all shapes and sizes, and spend their lives roaming Thailand’s streets and beaches in a never-ending search for food and shelter.
It is estimated that Thailand has some 10 million stray dogs, with nearly 70,000 unwanted puppies born each year.
They grow up, often sickly and covered with sores and fleas, scarred from fights or with infected wounds inflicted by irate residents fed up of the continual begging for food.
But there are now a number of organisations working to end this misery for the country’s stray dogs, among them the largest animal foundation in Asia.
Soi Dog Foundation – its name translates as “street dog” in Thai – aims to reduce the unwanted canine population through neutering; treating ill and injured dogs, and caring for those who are victims of cruelty; finding homes for dogs if possible, and educating the local communities about animal welfare.
Soi Dog is also at the forefront of the international campaign to end the illegal dog meat trade in Asia – which has seen thousands of stolen pets and strays rounded up and brutally killed in horrific conditions – and support dogs rescued from it. Launched by Leeds couple John and Gill Dalley after they retired to that country in 2003, Soi Dog runs Thailand’s largest privately-owned shelter and rehoming centre, caring for more than 300 canines that have been abandoned or abused and subjected to cruelty.
In 2008, Mrs Dalley became the first non-Asian by birth to be named Asian of the Year, and by 2012, Soi Dog was finding homes for hundreds of dogs every year both overseas and within Thailand.
And now Galashiels couple Joe Hardie and Gina Antonacci, who have just returned home after two weeks working as volunteers at Soi Dog’s shelter in Phuket in Thailand, hope to help raise the organisation’s profile in Scotland and plan to return to Thailand shortly to spend a longer period assisting the charity.
“We were on a two-month holiday to Thailand and Laos and had lined up some work on a farm, but that fell through,” Gina, who works as a waitress in Galashiels, explained this week. “We then found out about Soi Dog, and as dog lovers ourselves, it seemed an ideal opportunity.
“It was a fantastic experience. There were some heartbreaking days when you saw the state of some of the dogs that were brought in – some had been run over and just left to die by the side of the road, while others had horrific injuries from being hit with machetes.
“But the work Soi Dog is doing is transforming their lives. It’s a wonderful charity.”
Gina, 25, and her musician boyfriend, Joe, 23, were assigned a run of 21 dogs which had to be walked each day.
“We also spent time with them, getting to know them and helping them become socialised with people and other dogs,” added Gina.
“We want to go back to Thailand some time in the near future and spend a longer period volunteering at Soi Dog. It’s a great place to work as a volunteer if you love dogs – there were about 10 volunteers there when we were at Soi Dog.”
Gina and Joe are now looking at ways to help raise funds for the charity, including the possibility of a charity gig organised by Joe.
“Soi Dog is making a difference to the lives of stray dogs and those rescued from the meat trade in Thailand, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and hopefully we can keep helping,” added Gina.
More information on Soi Dog at www.soidog.org