Updated: Aug 3
✦ “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” - Mahatma Gandhi
*Trigger Warning: Some images may be disturbing to readers.
The Phuket-based organisation Soi Dog celebrates its 20th year anniversary this year, having helped close to a million stray cats and dogs during that period, in addition to driving a shift in perceptions on animal welfare in Southeast Asia. As its mission statement reads, “Soi Dog Foundation’s mission is to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Asia, resulting in better lives for both the animal and human communities, to create a society without homeless animals and to ultimately end animal cruelty. Simply translated from the Thai language, Soi means “street, alley or lane”. Thus, in effect, “Street Dog”.
The story of Soi Dog goes back to 2003 when British couple John and Gill Dalley decided to retire to the island paradise of Phuket, Thailand. They had got married there seven years earlier and had instantly fallen in love with the place, returning on numerous occasions until finally making the decision to relocate there full-time.
Both had enjoyed successful careers – Gill in banking and John in the chemicals industry – and decided they wanted to give something back to society, to help others less fortunate. Both animal lovers, they had noticed the appalling plight of stray animals on the streets, beaches and parks of Phuket during their numerous visits and thus decided to focus on helping them endure less suffering.
“We were a bit shocked at first,” John recalls. “Most of the dogs were emaciated through malnutrition. Many had mange and were covered in sores. Some had open wounds which could have been caused by road traffic accidents, dog fights or human cruelty. Many of the wounds were infested with parasites and maggots, and riddled with infection. They were living on the streets without anyone to care for them. I wanted to find a solution to improve their lives, but was unsure how to do this. The scale of the problem was just so overwhelming.”
The couple joined forces with a Dutch expatriate called Margot Homburg, who had set up the Soi Dog Foundation in Bangkok where she helped numerous dogs get neutered at local vets. Having recently moved to Phuket herself, Margot, John and Gill set about improving the situation by embarking on a widespread spay and neuter programme to help reduce the number of strays being born, thus reducing the suffering in the process.
The operation was underway and gaining traction before tragedy struck. In September 2004, after rescuing a dog in a flooded buffalo field, Gill contracted a rare form of septicaemia which left her in a coma for several weeks and resulted in both her legs being amputated. However, with a strong will and admirable fighting spirit, Gill discharged herself from hospital after a couple of months and returned home to continue the work.
Then the Boxing Day 2004 Tsunami hit, which completely devastated Phuket. However, proving that a glint of positivity can come out of even the darkest moments, the tragedy propelled Soi Dog into the spotlight as their tireless efforts to help animals across the island impacted by the disaster attracted widespread attention and offers of support. The following year, the organisation became the first of its kind to be granted foundation status in Thailand before it established a shelter in the northern district of Mai Khao, which still serves as its global headquarters to this day.
Margot returned to Bangkok in 2006 to leave Gill and John to drive the organisation forward and their tireless efforts resulted in profound expansion and exposure in the subsequent decade. Sadly, Gill passed away after a short battle with cancer in early 2017. John remains fully involved in the Soi Dog Foundation, honouring his commitment to Gill and the street dogs and cats, and in 2020 was awarded an MBE in Queen Elizabeth II birthday honours for services to animal welfare in Southeast Asia.
Nowadays Soi Dog continues to thrive, completing over 190,000 neuter and vaccination procedures a year, more than any other organisation in the world. The Gill Dalley Sanctuary in Phuket is home to around 1,900 animals and the most advanced stray dog and cat hospitals in Southeast Asia, with a full-time veterinary team that handle over 400 new admissions every month. There is a treatment facility in Bangkok and crisis situations throughout the country are regularly responded to. Relying wholly on donations, it continues to be dedicated to implementing effective, sustainable solutions that reduce the suffering of dogs and cats in Asia, ensuring all donations are used to help animals as effectively as possible. Advocacy has seen the likes of Peter Egan, Ricky Gervais, Dame Judi Dench and Joanna Lumley all lend their support.
Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return
Today, Soi Dog’s spay and neuter programme, CNVR (Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return), is at the forefront of its operations and is aiming to reduce the number of animals born into a life of suffering and abuse or neglect, eliminate rabies and stop the spread of other infectious diseases among dogs and cats, both domesticated and non-domesticated, benefitting animal and human communities alike. It carries out CNVR in various locations across Thailand and is committed to a long-term programme of CNVR in Greater Bangkok in partnership with Dogs Trust Worldwide, where it has expanded to nine mobile teams within the capital city.
Soi Dog was also instrumental in seeing the horrendous dog and cat meat trade abolished in Thailand and the introduction of the country’s first animal welfare law which came into effect in 2014. Active efforts to end the trade continue today in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Soi Dog also oversees local, national and international adoptions, directly rehoming thousands of dogs and cats rescued from dire situations across the country. It also collaborates with several like-minded rehoming organisations in the USA – and, prior to the implementation of an import ban in September 2022, Canada – who have helped to find loving forever homes for over 1,000 former Thai street animals in North America since 2017.
Working alongside the adoptions team in Thailand, the boards in these countries, plus a host of other dedicated volunteers, form a network that supports the adoption process from start to finish, providing ongoing advice and assistance to adopters.
Soi Dog runs Humane Education and Community Outreach programmes targeted to help improve the treatment of both stray and domestic animals in Thailand, actively teaching local schoolchildren and communities about animal welfare. Soi Dog opened its humane education centre in 2020, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.
The community outreach programme is also responsible for the treatment of over 10,000 animals each year on the street and at the local government pound and provides over 130 tonnes of dog and cat food every year to stray animal feeders.
For those wishing to help and donate their time, the Soi Dog sanctuary welcomes visitors and volunteers from all over the world, year round. More information can be accessed at www.soidog.org.
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