The number of stray dogs in Thailand has significantly reduced over the past two decades due to mass sterilisation. However, according to the latest figures in 2018, there were still an estimated 750,000 dogs wandering the streets.
“It’s a multitude of reasons, and that’s why there isn’t one solution to the problem,” said Practice Manager Henna Pekko.
Many factors contribute to the overpopulation of stray animals in Thailand, including cultural differences, lack of government support and the overall education about pets, Ms Pekko said.
Rescue P.A.W.S. provides animal welfare through sterilisation. The organisation also looks after animals on the streets by providing food and medical care.
While the population of stray animals still remains large in Thailand, sterilisation has been effective in controlling the population. Locals have noticed fewer dogs on the streets over the past few years.
“I’ve had people who have been away for a year or two come back and say, ‘Wow, there’s so fewer dogs now, it’s amazing’. So it just shows there’s proof that what we do works,” said Rescue P.A.W.S. volunteer Ross Leslie.
However, Dr Sudson Sirivaidyapong, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Chulalongkorn University, notes that although sterilisation reduces the numbers, it cannot fix the overpopulation of stray dogs in Thailand.
There are three types of strays in Thailand: real strays with no owners or feeders; strays that are partially owned and fed by someone; and strays that are owned but roam free. It is culturally acceptable to allow pets to roam freely in Thailand, but the relaxed pet ownership further contributes to the overpopulation of stray dogs, Dr Sudson explained.
This problem has led foundations and shelters across Thailand to tackle the issue, he added.
Dr Alicja Izydorczyk, Animal Welfare Director at Soi Dog Foundation, agrees. “Most owned dogs are actually free-roaming in Thailand, so they are adding to the problem of overpopulation,” she said.
Soi Dog Foundation, based in Phuket, works to improve animal welfare and end animal suffering in Thailand, and is well known for its central mission to sterilise and vaccinate animals under its Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return programme (CNVR).
Soi Dog Foundation has CNVR mobile teams located in different areas of Thailand. Dr Izydorczyk said the team is able to sterilise 15,000 animals on average per month. The organisation has sterilised and vaccinated about 780,000 animals since 2003.
Although Dr Izydorczyk is mainly involved with the sterilisation program, she said CNVR is not the only approach to solving the overpopulation of stray dogs. “CNVR is helping us reduce the population, but if people keep on dumping dogs, as they do, you’re always kind of fighting against that tide of new dogs and they’re unsterilised dogs,” she said.
The culture and lack of education play major roles in the overpopulation of stray dogs, Dr Izydorczyk added. “It’s not like there are not enough vets in Thailand who are capable of spay and neuter… It’s more that there are so many dogs that people don’t spend money on, because they can’t afford it,” she said.
Many pet owners also do not want to pay to register their pets, Dr Sudson of Chulalongkorn University noted.
The Thai Cabinet approved an amendment in 2018 that would have required pet owners to register their animals for B450. However, due to public outrage over the expenses pet registration would impose on Thai locals and rescue shelters, the law did not pass. There has been no further discourse from the Thai Cabinet regarding an updated proposal.
Dr Sudson believes that a pet registration programme is the best solution to controlling the stray population in Thailand. Registration through microchipping can benefit both the owner and the animal. “It’s not easy but if you don’t start, how can we solve this in the long run?” he said.
According to Dr Sudson’s research about the stray animal population in Thailand, people often are not sufficiently educated about pet ownership before getting a pet, which can lead to pet abandonment.
People don’t want to abandon animals, but they often do when they produce too many offspring, he said.
Meanwhile, market stands in Bangkok currently sell puppies and kittens with no adoption process or registration, allowing anyone to buy an animal at any time without any knowledge about pet ownership.
“In Thailand, we have a problem that people abandon their pet, because when they’re young, they look cute, so they like it,” Veterinarian Cooky said, agreeing that abandonment is a major reason why there is such an overpopulation of stray animals.
Dr Cooky has sterilised 60 dogs in one day before. Despite her expertise in sterilisation, she thinks education is one of the most important ways to prevent the overpopulation of stray animals. “Even if people don’t have much money, they can be educated,” she said.
Joley Neilan, English Teaching Coordinator at Rescue P.A.W.S, is tackling the education gap in the hope that attitudes can be changed. “I think it’s just a lack of education and having the wrong impression of why sterilisation is important,” she said.
The education team at Rescue P.A.W.S. visits schools in Thailand to teach children about pet ownership and safety around strays. “Just tackling each day as it comes with sterilisation and educating communities on the importance of vaccinations and sterilisations… I think it can really make a difference,” she said.
Dr Izydorczyk at Soi Dog said the Soi Dog Foundation is trying to expand their community outreach programme, which involves educating the public about responsible pet ownership.
There is an overpopulation of stray dogs and cats so long as the animals are seen as less valuable, she said. However, the problem is recognised only when the number of strays on the street rises. “Most people are very happy to have one or two or three dogs on the street, but not so happy to have 10,” she said.
While Soi Dog keeps animals that could not survive on the streets in its shelter, such as disabled or injured ones, the organisation returns the other animals to the streets after they have been sterilised and vaccinated.
“They’re always super happy to go back, and very often, there are people who are greeting them and happy to have them back as well,” Dr Izydorczyk said. “So the best thing that we can do is send them back home to their territories.”
While Soi Dog Foundation and Rescue P.A.W.S. hope to eventually have no homeless animals, their main goal is to reduce the population.
Dr Izydorczyk wants to make dogs seen as more valuable by the community; the relationship between humans and animals needs to be changed in Thailand, she said.
“If we change peoples’ minds and hearts and their attitudes toward the street dogs, then anything is possible,” she said.
By Anna Brown