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Monday, April 4, 2016

Soi Dog Foundation Builds Asia's Largest Animal Hospital

Amid much tragedy, hope

The new Soi Dog Animal Hospital
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley

When British expats John and Gill Dalley retired in the early part of this century to the stunning island of Phuket off the coast of Thailand, they expected their days to be filled lazily reading books on the patio followed by casual strolls on the beach. The most active they planned to be was the occasional golf game. Thailand’s largest island, Phuket sets on the western edge of the country in the Andaman Sea. The island is an extremely popular beach and resort destination. The Dalleys had honeymooned in Phuket years earlier and returned every year. They so loved the island, it only made sense to retire there too.

“The climate, the people, and of course the animals!” said John. However, retirement did not become the simple life the Dalleys had planned. Gill realized there are only so many books and John said his golf game was more frustrating than rewarding. They also wanted to contribute to their new community, not just sit around. Gill had hoped teach English, but there was already an abundance of teachers.

As much as they loved their new island home, they couldn’t help but notice the terrible plight of the island’s street dogs, called Soi Dogs (Soi means Street in Thai). The animals were sick, injured, sometimes on purpose by human hands, and suffering. Wanting to help, the Dalleys partnered with a woman named Margot Homburg Park, who had also moved to Phuket. Park had created the Soi Dog Foundation in Bangkok in 2002. Her organization paid for the sterilizations of stray dogs in Park’s former neighborhood. Together, they created a Soi Dog Foundation for Phuket. The organization’s original mission was to provide spay/neuter clinics and veterinary care. John organized volunteer veterinarians and Gill and Margot rounded up the dogs. Soon the Dalleys were rescuing and rehoming dogs as well. Quickly Soi Dog grew into a rescue mission with a shelter. Unfortunately, Margo took ill and had to return to Bangkok. Now on their own, the Dalleys worked 14 hour days seven days a week saving animals, harder than they ever worked during their professional careers.

“Sometimes I joke we could do with going back to work for a rest!” said John.

Construction work on the building.
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley
Despite the hard work, the couple made progress helping the stray animal population in Phuket. They had a shelter, a small vet clinic and the support of the local community. Things were busy, but going well. Then in September of 2004, the unthinkable happened. Gill was bringing a tranquilized stray dog into the clinic for treatment. To get to the dog, she walked through a flooded buffalo field or swamp. Shortly afterward, Gill became ill and her legs turned blue-grey. She had developed septicemia (blood poisoning), a potentially deadly infection. Doctors told the Dalleys the only way to save her life was to amputate both legs below the knee. Gill had her lower legs removed and began the rehabilitation process. However, that too was interrupted by a more horrific event.

That December the Indian Ocean Tsunami plowed across the island causing terrible destruction. While John and Gill’s home and shelter were spared, John said they lost one of their dearest friends, a dedicated volunteer, in the disaster. However, what looked hopeless helped Soi Dog come together. In the weeks following the tsunami, disaster relief organizations and volunteer veterinarians from around the world arrived. Since Soi Dog was already well established, they made things easier for visiting organizations. Soi Dog knew who to contact and where these organizations should go to be the most effective. They helped round up injured animals and provided vaccines to prevent the spread of disease. Soi Dog was so effective, the organization received awards from both Humane Society International and The World Society for the Protection of Animals. During this entire ordeal, Gill worked from a wheel chair. 

Gill had since relearned to walk on prosthetic legs and in 2008 was selected as Asian of the Year from Channel News Asia, the first non-Asian born person to receive the award. The Dalleys and Soi Dog Foundation have won other non-profit awards including the Asia Pacific Canine Hero in 2011. With all the accolades, you would think Soi Dog is resting on its laurels. Not the case. John and Gill work harder than ever. 
Continued work on the building. It will open in April 2016.
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley

This decade the organization has been raising funds for a new facility because the original building was on leased land. The Dalleys have since purchased the land and began construction. John says a new 8,200 sq. ft. veterinary hospital will be complete this April, after nearly 18 months of construction.

“It will be the largest and most modern dedicated animal hospital probably in Asia and entirely for stray dogs,” says John. “[It] should drastically improve the standard of care we can give these dogs and dogs belonging to poor Thais. It will include a digital x-ray and ultrasound and hydrotherapy unit.”

The Dalleys list the important reasons for having a new hospital. John says a larger hospital will help decrease the risk of cross infection due to lack of segregation, avoid having dogs kept in outdoor kennels with no temperature control, avoid healthy dogs getting sterilized from mixing in areas with sick dogs, provide the ability to put dogs in quarantine that need it and to provide the healthy conditions necessary to promote more rapid healing. Gill adds that soothing music will play inside to help de-stress the animals and there will be special grooming baths for animals with serious skin and coat conditions, something quite common in Southeast Asia.

Soi Dog now has a shelter in Buriram northeast of Bangkok and assists with spay and neuters in Bangkok using a mobile clinic.

Exterior of Soi Dog Hospital
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley
“Last year we passed 107,000 animals sterilized,” says John. They are also working with shelters in the US and Canada to find homes for the soi dogs they are able to rescue. The organization also has employed a manager in Vietnam and will begin to help dogs there as well. Soi Dog now employs over 100 people in Phuket and Bangkok.

While the organization is called Soi Dog, they haven’t ignored the island’s cats. The organization’s mobile medical clinic has dedicated cat days and there is a special donation page set up specifically for sponsoring cats. John says that recently sterilization of cats has outpaced that of dogs as the island’s stray dog population has started to decrease. John says as the dog population decreases, they expect the cat population to rise.

“Nature abhors a void!” he laughs.

Soi Dog is also working diligently to combat the Asian dog meat trade in Thailand and Vietnam. Dogs in Thailand are often rounded up (sometimes even bred) and sold for butchering. The suffering that happens to these dogs cannot be put into words. Soi Dog has partnered with three other organizations, Humane Society International, Animals Asia, and the Change for Animals Foundation to create the Asia Canine Protection Alliance to put an end to this practice. What’s Pawsitive hopes to get more information on this organization soon.

Despite the difficult times, the Dalleys’ work with Soi Dog has been fulfilling.

“It has been my dream for many years to build a modern facility with x-ray, ultra sound, hydrotherapy and all the modern technology that goes with such a hospital,” says Gill. “In a few short weeks that dream will be realized. Not only will it benefit all the street dogs who need our help,… but I hope it will serve as education to all in Asia who see it and set the standard for all such future facilities.”

While the hospital is almost finished, Soi Dog still needs funds to help furnish and equip the hospital and for ongoing treatment and operating costs. If you would like to donate to the hospital, or to any Soi Dog program, visit the website and select a program. Donations are tax deductible in the US, Australia, the UK, France and Holland. The organization can receive a variety of currencies through PayPal. Countries are Australia, Canada, Euros, Japan, Hong Kong, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and of course Thailand. People can also donate by credit card with amounts in US Dollars. Soi Dog has been listed as a Top Rated Non-Profit by for the last three years.

“These are excitedly exciting times for the street dogs of the region,” says Gill. “Just a shame they don’t know about it yet!”
The 8,200 sq. ft. hospital will be the largest animal hospital
in the region, quite possibly in Asia.
Photo by Soi Dog/John Dalley