Tsunami Brings Better Treatment for Thai Stray Dogs
PHUKET, Thailand "Black, fat, female," a veterinary worker shouts to an assistant taking notes as she gives a rabies shot to another nameless dog left homeless by the Dec. 26 tsunami on the Thai resort island of Phuket.
Hundreds of such pets were saved by officials and animal rights activists while rescue workers were scouring the Andaman Sea coast for the victims of the Asian tsunami that left 230,000 people dead or missing along the Indian Ocean rim.
But while human survivors in Thailand complain that red tape makes it hard for them to resume normal life, the deadly waves brought better care to the dogs and cats that escaped.
"The tsunami crisis is an opportunity for abandoned animals to be taken care of," said Roger Lohanan, head of Thai Animal Guardians Association helping stray pets get treatment and new homes.
A U.S. C-130 military cargo plane even flew 120 cats and dogs to Bangkok to find new homes. They had been rescued from Phi Phi Island, where the backpacker movie "The Beach" was filmed.
Another 64 starving "tsunami dogs" were rounded up around a makeshift morgue at a Buddhist temple in nearby province of Phang Nga, where some had been nibbling corpses, officials said.
Some have already found new owners and only 30 of them are still at a state shelter.
In Phuket, the city's animal shelter, called "Mid-Road Dog's House," Thai slang for strays, has more than 400 abandoned dogs.
RUSH OF MONEY
The tsunami devastation brought the Guardians Association a rush of contributions from animal lovers.
The London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) promised 2 million baht ($50,000), Lohanan said.
But stray dogs are a problem all over Thailand and Lohanan said donations his organization received would be spent on abandoned animals in other parts of the country if the projects were approved by the donor.
"Many Thais buy dogs as a fad," he said.
"When the film about Dalmatians was showing, it was a Dalmatian fever and a few months later many of them were left on streets," said Lohanan as he pointed to a Dalmatian-street dog cross at the Mid-Road Dog's House.
"Many of these dogs have been left wandering on the street because their owners' houses are too small for them. And when they play and mate with strays, the owners abandon their puppies." Bangkok is estimated to have at least 120,000 strays.
In areas of Phuket where they pack together, animal activists say, aggressive stray dogs have attacked people, bringing fears of rabies, especially during the very hot March-May period.
"Before the shelter existed in Phuket, strays were taken from the streets and either poisoned or slaughtered,' said Phuket chief veterinarian Sunart Wongchavalit, who started the 1.6 acre dog shelter last year.
But whenever city officials poison or slaughter some of the island's 2,000 to 3,000 strays, controversy erupts as killing is a sin to Thailand's Buddhist majority.
So Phuket authorities plan a law obliging owners to register and insert identification microchips in their dogs, Sunart said. Owners would be fined if their pets were found abandoned.
"After the law is enforced, we hope to eradicate all strays in Phuket in two to three years."