(see story here)
By John Dalley
As anybody who has lived here for 10 years or more can see; the number of stray dogs on the island has drastically reduced, and in addition, benefited from being rabies-free.
This is due entirely to a large-scale program which has seen over 80% of the island’s dogs sterilised and vaccinated.
All leading world authorities including the World Health Organisation, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation and Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, all agree that this is the most effective way to successfully eliminate rabies and reduce stray dog populations, particularly in countries such as Thailand with large uncontrolled populations of strays.
The reality is that removing sterilised and vaccinated dogs from the environment, and taking them to dog pounds, actually has a negative effect as it reduces herd immunity to rabies and opens up territories inhabited by sterilised dogs to ones that are unsterilised. It is also economically unviable, but nevertheless, this is what currently happens on Phuket.
At the same time, despite frequent pleas, the authorities on Phuket have done nothing to stop the import of hundreds of puppies every year from puppy farms – often these farms are situated in rabies-infected zones and the dogs sold mainly at unregulated markets.
Phuket also has puppy farms which are unlicensed. Many of these puppies go unsold or end up unwanted and are discarded. They, and the unwanted puppies of unsterilised owned dogs, provide the majority of cases that Soi Dog Foundation still sterilises in Phuket.
The biggest issue though is the extensive amounts of waste and garbage freely available for animals to feed on. Ten years ago I wrote in the local press that Soi Dog Foundation could, given time, control the stray dog population here.
However, reducing the number of stray dogs would see an increase in stray cats which are far harder to control.
If, and it is a big if, Soi Dog were able to control the number of cats, (we currently sterilise far more cats than dogs on Phuket), then we would see a big increase in the number of rats and mice, and potentially snakes as their food source increases.
The reality is that whilst ever we have poor waste control something will feed on it.
Dogs are top of the pecking order, get rid of the dogs and cats and monkeys are next, get rid of them then rats will take over.
History has shown this time and again. In parts of Rassada monkeys are now coming into villages and people’s houses stealing food where previously they kept away – because there are now not as many dogs there. One lady told me that her small village has over 300 cats now.
Until Phuket and the rest of Thailand develops a strong household waste management system then it will have a problem.
Walk a few metres back from almost any beach here and you will find discarded food waste in abundance.
The national park in Nai Yang has a large open garbage site hidden behind the trees and then authorities wonder why they have a stray dog problem.
Improvements are badly needed at the dog pound but unless more land is acquired capacity cannot be increased.
In 2006 Soi Dog took over management of the pound and invested a large amount of money in improving it – including separating runs, building a clinic and isolation areas, installing proper drainage and making it secure.
No sooner had the improvements been completed we were given notice to quit, as was deemed unacceptable for an NGO to be managing a government facility.
Since that time Soi Dog Foundation has been banned from entering and the pound has fallen into disrepair.
The several hundred dogs are cared for by two elderly ladies who have no training. Quarantine is non-existent, leading to an extremely high death rate – not helped by too many dogs fighting over too little food. It relies on a few caring volunteers to try and help the dogs.
Soi Dog, for the past two years, has been allowed in to vaccinate all the dogs there at a given time.
The government has no budget to even do that. After being refused entry to the pound we have just recently been granted permission to send vets in to treat animals, often with serious injuries, that would otherwise have been left to die a slow and painful death.
In most countries of the world such a facility would not be allowed and its owners prosecuted for animal cruelty.
The current thinking in Thailand, of removing all stray dogs and incarcerating them in such pounds is doomed to failure.
Who will provide the funding? It is one thing to spend a few million baht on building a basic facility, but who then pays for the ongoing care?
Soi Dog spends over a million baht every month just on food alone for its own and other government and private shelters.
The Department of Livestock, who are charged with caring for the dogs, are given little or no budget to do so.
The fact is that there will always be some dogs left, and whilst ever there is a food source, they will rapidly reproduce and you will be back to square one.
More and more shelters will be needed just to keep up. Most of the dogs going to the dog pound should not be there as they are vaccinated and sterilised.
Of course, there is a need for shelters for dogs that have been abandoned, abused or are truly dangerous but such shelters must have the ability to properly care for the animals in their charge.
They must also have an active adoption program or they will rapidly become full and be unable to take more in.
The number of stray dogs in Phuket is falling rapidly, but it takes time for the effects to be fully seen.
Leave vaccinated sterilised dogs where they are or pay the price. Soi Dog Foundation is now focusing on neighbouring provinces and Bangkok and supporting other groups sterilising dogs in other parts of the country.
It will continue to carry out a maintenance program in Phuket, but does not want to go back to seeing unsterilised dogs taking over.
The government should focus on preventing more dogs coming on to the island, encouraging owners to have their pets sterilised, and shutting down unlicensed puppy farms and sellers, and of course, improving waste management.
In the meantime, expect to see many more cats!
John Dalley is the Co-founder and President of internationally recognised Soi Dog Foundation, based in Phuket. for more information visit: soidog.org