John Dalley and Spartacus
My fortnight carting sand and concrete is over and I hop on the bus down to Phuket. John picks me up in Thalang to take me on a Cook’s Tour of the island’s dog and cat welfare interest spots.
We drop by the Soi Dog Foundation’s centre in Phuket Town. The building was originally intended to house just a veterinary clinic. However, there was a constant stream of dogs that couldn’t go anywhere else and it gradually turned into a shelter. Now about a hundred dogs are living there. A local family, Dang, Nit, Golf and Mali do the hard day-to-day work and keep it all together, always smiling and seemingly imperturbable amid all the heat and noise and pee and crap. John shows me the wimps’ pen, where Mr Stumpy will be going once he’s been desexed and immunized. A black pup, called Brutus, totters up to John for a pat. Before Brutus and his brother, Rufus, were rescued in an undercover operation, their owner beat them daily with sticks. Rufus’ injuries were sufficiently bad for a vet to see fit to put him down. Brutus won’t be getting over his injuries well enough to ever walk steadily but he’s still a happy dog. In other words, he’s probably much better off than his former tormentor.
The farang community in Phuket has its fair share of unhappy people. Tropical paradises are like that. Just like everywhere, some of these people take things out on their pets. However, with Thailand’s mai bpen rai ethos, they can probably get away with cruelty to animals more often and for longer here than back home. Hence the need for the occasional bit of decisive action by nameless heroes, who must feel quietly satisfied with what they did for Brutus and Rufus.
After, visiting the Centre, we go to some of Phuket’s many Buddhist temples (or Wats) to check on their dog and cat food supplies and see whether any animals need treatment. Wats have long been the Thai equivalent of the dog and cat shelter. If you don’t want your dog or cat anymore and you are halfway responsible about it, you take it to the local Wat and ask the monks to look after it. If the monks are true to Buddhist precepts, they will gladly do so.
At the rather grand Wat Srisoonthorn, I get to meet the grandly named Spartacus, who I sponsor. I chose Spartacus because he was the oldest and shabbiest looking dog on the website’s list of dogs needing sponsors. He doesn’t get handled too much and doesn’t have much time for strangers but he knows John well and always enjoys receiving a pat from him.
We go past another very grand looking Wat where we don’t stop. The abbott of this Wat saw fit to poison most of his temple dogs a while back. He later announced that he only put the poison in the meat, it was up to the dogs whether they ate it or not. Unfortunately, there is not only one Wat on Phuket where these things happen.
In a mainly Muslim neighborhood on the east side of the Island, we visit Wat Ku Ku, the least grand Wat I have ever seen. The wiharn looks a bit like a toilet block from the outside. But that’s not really important. Wat Ku Ku has just a few monks but quite a lot of dogs. Because few Buddhists live in the neighborhood, it isn’t exactly overwhelmed with tham bun offerings each morning. The regular supply of dog food that the Soi Dog Foundation now donates has been a godsend for Wat Ku Ku.
There is another Wat in eastern Phuket, Wat Para, that John says is his favourite Wat anywhere. He only discovered it a few months back after being told about a tiny temple tucked away down a laneway that had just one monk but about thirty dogs and really needed a hand to look after them. While Wat Para’s dogs are well loved by its monk, some of the neighbors are not so kind and have poisoned many of them, perhaps in the mistaken belief that Islam condones cruelty to dogs.
The next morning Ina and I pick up Mr Stumpy from the vet in Thalang and take him to the shelter in Phuket City. When we get out at the shelter and Mr Stumpy hears the sound of a hundred barking dogs, his half a tail becomes firmly stuck between his legs. Rather than throw him straight in the deep end, we tie him up in the car park with Tiger, another resident of the wimpy dogs’ pen. Tiger was recently rescued from Wat Para, covered in wounds and mange. John had to blow dart Tiger to catch him and bring him to the shelter. While he is now a picture of good health, Tiger doesn’t trust anyone he doesn’t know so one of my challenges for the afternoon is to get him to accept a pat from me.
I park a chair in the shade and spend the afternoon watching the world go by with Mr Stumpy and Tiger. Mr Stumpy sticks close to me but Tiger gets just as far away from me as his chain will allow. The clouds build up and the air grows unbearably heavy but no storm breaks. Nit and Mali wash and groom dogs. A flock of geese wander by along the footpath. The passing traffic slows down to take in the scene. It provides me with just as much entertainment. I constantly marvel at just how many people or how much stuff can be carried on one motorbike and how seldom Thai people lose their cool when there are close shaves.
Mid afternoon, a shiny new pick-up rolls into the car park. There’s a huge “US Marine Corps” sticker across the rear window. In the back of the truck there’s a magnificent looking Akita. Which is a worry. Akitas were traditionally fighting dogs and unfortunately that’s what draws a lot of people to them now.
Nit and Mali
The truck pulls to a stop and a young Thai guy jumps out. The hired help perhaps. An enormously tall and gaunt farang guy follows ever so slowly. He’s 70ish and dressed just right for a cattle ranch in Texas, right down to the Stetson hat and carved riding boots. He looks like a fish out of water here in Phuket City. No prizes for guessing he’s one of those guys who had his life shattered in Viet Nam but needs to stay close. Ina strolls over to him to say hello and see why he’s bringing the dog in. No time later she comes back and says he refused to talk to her and doesn’t think my luck would be any better. Just let him hand over the dog and go. The Akita is letting everyone who gets too close know with gnashing teeth and flying spit it’s every bit the fighting dog. Not much point trying to be friendly with him either.
I get that sinking feeling again. Fortunately, however, a new home has been pre-arranged for the Akita. He is going straight to a friend of Daeng’s who wants a guard dog for some reason or other. If the dog’s new owner provides food and shelter for it and doesn’t try to make it any more vicious than it is already, that’s probably the best result that could reasonably be hoped for.
Marine Corps guy tosses his cigarette in the dirt and shoehorns himself back into the truck. The Akita is now muzzled and tied up short in the back of Daeng’s pick-up, looking half ferocious, half piteous.
We aren’t going to know whether Marine Corps guy was sorry to get rid of the Akita or just glad to see the back of him. However, other times you can know for sure that finding a dog a new home isn’t just about doing something for the dog. Next day, Ina and I are having lunch in the street café next door to the shelter when two women from Patong come by. Their next door neighbor is dying of lung cancer. He’s terribly worried about what’s going to happen to his dog, which is all the family he’s got. They’re looking for somewhere to take the dog so they can reassure their neighbor it will be OK. But they also don’t want him parted from his dog a day too early if that can be avoided. Ina says there’s no problem. Whenever it’s time, there will be a place here for the dog for sure.
I’m off to Chiang Mai tomorrow. As the centre is closing up for the day, I make my final visit to the wimps’ enclosure. Mr Stumpy comes straight over for a pat. We’re friends for life, us two. Tiger hangs back and refuses my entreaties to come over have a pat. However, as I’m heading out the door, he darts forward and nips me just hard enough to let me know I haven’t won him over.
Click here to read part one. The final part will be posted soon.