Part One – July/ August 2006
Thursday is pool competition night for the Khao Lak tsunami volunteers. It’s the start of my second stint helping out with reconstruction along the 50km strip of towns and villages that were hardest hit by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. Tonight, I’m getting to meet all of the hundred or so volunteers currently in town, who are variously labouring on building sites, making furniture and toys, planting trees and teaching English in schools. I’m also getting to meet all the local street dogs. They join in most social gatherings around here but are guaranteed to make an appearance when food is involved.
They seem a well-fed and happy lot. All except for one. There’s a very ribby adolescent dog with half his tail missing wandering among the crowd. Someone gives him an inadvertent kick while trying to get to the bar and he whimpers. Next thing he blunders into another dog, which promptly nips him. I wince in sympathy. Another dog person, Claire, sees my responses and fills me in: “That’s Gecko or Stumpy. He breaks my heart. We think he got run over a while back and that’s why half his tail is missing. He’s probably got brain damage too. He won’t eat properly. I don’t know what to do. Some vets were supposed to come up from Phang Nga to get the dogs sorted but they never showed.”
That’s a pity for Stumpy, who really is a bit of a sad case. It’s also a pity for Stumpy’s mama, Mama. She is heavy with another impending litter of pups and she looks like she’s had a few already.
However, the wheel of fortune also turns for dogs. After I finish my stint here, I’m scheduled to spend some time with the Soi Dog Foundation down in Phuket. When I ring them next day to see if they can help, John Dalley, from the Foundation, says if I can get the dog down there, he’ll organize a vet to treat him and they will work out a long-term plan for him after that. The Soi Dog Foundation sterilizes and immunizes all the street dogs it treats, and then usually returns them to wherever they came from. For those dogs that can’t be returned to the streets or left at a temple, they have a small shelter in Phuket City. Needless to say, it’s bursting at the seams, with both former street dogs and surrendered pets. However, they can usually find room for just one more.
(left) Mr Stumpy in the TVC Office (right): Mr Stumpy has his 1st taste of truckin’
John adds that if I can’t get a truck organized, dogs are permitted on the Surat Thani – Phuket bus. I resolve that, one way or another, I am going to get Mr Stumpy down to Phuket, even if it means making a whole busload of people squirm at the sight of an obviously heat-addled farang with a not very wholesome looking dog in tow.
The authorities probably didn’t have dogs like Mr Stumpy in mind when they decided pets were permitted on buses. The feeling that an alternative form of transport would be preferable is reinforced next morning, when I’m sitting on the footpath drinking an iced coffee and tickling Mr Stumpy’s belly. The Surat Thani – Phuket bus pulls up right next to us. A couple of dozen softly smiling faces look down on us. The kind of soft, slightly nervous smiles that tell me they’re probably worrying about what I’m about to catch. I’m sure they wouldn’t complain about sharing a bus with with Mr Stumpy and me, because Thai people never seem to complain about anything much. However, I’m also sure they wouldn’t be thrilled about it either.
All this planning assumes Mr Stumpy is going to last until I’ve got the free time to get down to Phuket. On Friday night, after a beer or two, I’m meandering through town when I see a dog lying on the median divide in the middle of the highway. At first glance I think it’s a stiff and gird myself for the task of scooping up the remains. Then I see that it’s alive and just lying down. Of course, it’s Mr Stumpy. So pick him up and carry him to the side of the road. A couple of waiters are standing out the front of their empty restaurant and watching our unsteady progress. One comes over shaking his head sadly: “He do that all the time.” Most Thais love animals but part company with we farang with their greater willingness to let things take their course. Deciding you are going to do what it takes to save one unlucky dog among millions probably seems just a little irrational to them.
Thanks to some friends from up the hill in Khao Sok, we have a truck on Monday to take Mr Stumpy to the vet in Phuket. That’s at least one thing that has gone better than expected. However, things don’t go so well when I grab Mr Stumpy out from under the computers in the Tsunami Volunteer Centre office and put a collar on him. It’s a bit too much of a new experience for a dog that has never been owned by anyone. He scuttles off like a crab, trying to get loose of the collar. I get that sinking feeling as I trot down the road in hot pursuit and wonder if it would be better to do things Thai-style and leave him to take his chances here with the local pack and the highway traffic. Maybe he will go berserk in the truck and wind up in a bigger mess than he is already.
Instead, he takes to riding in the truck like a duck to water.
(left): Tiger (right): The Shelter, Phuket Town
At Dr John’s veterinary surgery in Thalang we get to see how good things are for Khao Lak’s street dogs. Out the front, Ina from the Soi Dog Foundation is plucking maggots from a dog they have just named Lucky. He is almost entirely bald with mange. Lucky was unlucky enough to live in the middle of an expensive condominium complex, where ex-pats must have been coolly regarding him over their gin and tonics for a couple of months and muttering: “What a revolting dog! Someone really should do something about it.”
Ina gathers quite an audience from passers by and people coming into the surgery. Several people comment that Mr Stumpy doesn’t look too bad compared to Lucky and one or two other dogs that have come in today. One adds that if he’s the worst case in Khao Lak, it must be a pretty good place.
Back in Khao Lak that evening, Anne-Marie, a Swedish ex-pat who lives in Thailand half the year, enlightens me about how Mr Stumpy actually lost his tail. “No he wasn’t hit by a car. He was set upon right outside my house by all the other dogs at 3 in the morning. It sounded like they were going to kill him. They’re all nice during the day but after midnight they turn into wolves. Please, can you have that dog put down? He’s going to be bottom of the pile wherever he goes. Can you guarantee him a safe home behind a fence?” I wish I could. There’s absolutely no chance of being able to take him home to Australia with me so from now on it’s in other people’s hands whether he has a safe home or not.
When I raise the possibility of putting Mr Stumpy down with Gill Dalley, from Soi-Dog Foundation, she says it’s simply not an option. “This is Thailand. We usually can’t get vets to put down desperately ill dogs, there’s no way we could find one to put down a healthy dog.” Plus, the shelter has a special wimps enclosure. Even if the shelter becomes Mr Stumpy’s permanent home, Gill assures me he will be have a decent life. Besides, Dr John, the vet who is treating Mr Stumpy, says that apart from a minor toe infection, there’s not a thing wrong with him.