Sunday, September 20, 2009

Growing problem of stray dogs in Thailand

In June, 2009 National Geographic reported the following on my home country of Thailand: "Thailand's capital city of Bangkok is struggling to cope with a growing population of stray dogs. It's estimated as many as 300,000 strays wander the streets." [To watch the National Geographic video click here.] A local organization, founded in 2002, Soi Cats and Dogs (SCAD), believes the numbers are higher as many cats are hidden from view. "Soi" is a Thai word that means "alley." I grew up in the heart of the city of Bangkok ... on Rajdamri Road ... i've perused current images of Rajdamri Road on the internet and see wide roads and tall buildings -- luxury hotels and the Bangkok World Trade Center have emerged. I left home when I was 15 and the last time I visited I was 18 or 19. How strange to feel like a foreigner in a country I was born and raised, and a country and culture that have shaped who I am today. I lived a privileged life as a child -- there's no denying that. Yet, I lived in a third-world country where poverty, homelessness (humans and animals), leprosy prevailed. I have memories of lepers begging on dirty streets filled with street vendors - small tin cans in front of them hoping for some kind passerby to drop some coins. I also remember stray dogs and cats ... lots of them. Looking back, it was as if I witnessed life and the horrendous poverty and suffering through a window pane. The poverty and pollution were simply a way of life. Decades later it haunts me now ....

One thing remains a problem ... and has even gotten worse -- the Soi (street/alley) dogs and cats of Thailand. Interesting that my work in animal rescue thousands of miles away, is tapping me on my shoulder to revisit the suffering of these beautiful furry creatures in my home country. The Huffington Post printed an article on the growing problem of stray dogs -- the article is titled "Buddhists Perpetuate Bangkok's Stray Dog Problem." It's a complex problem. "Soft-hearted Buddhists are perpetuating Bangkok's stray dog problem ... Buddhists, 95 percent of all Thais, are taught to revere living creatures and perform selfless acts called 'making merit' that reduce suffering in the next life. Few merit-making acts are as public or entrenched as feeding strays. Each night around dusk, merit-makers across Bangkok dump leftovers in the street - often on a banana leaf or scrap of cardboard to dignify the meal."

"... Exempting the city's sanitized downtown, stray dogs fill Bangkok's streets. They roam the night in packs, eyes glowing green in the headlights' glare, sinking through traffic, toppling trash bins for food ... But in Thailand, most strays are regarded as 'community dogs' which the Humane Society International distinguishes from 'ferals.' Both are homeless, but community dogs stick to one area, receive food from locals and produce bountiful litters. Ferals are wanderers, diseased and desperate, and typically produce weak and puny litters."

"... Giving food is among the simplest and truest
forms of merit making, says Phra Mahajatuphom Thummopalo, a monk and radio disk jockey at Bangkok's Thammongkol temple. Thais, aware of monks' devotion to sustaining all life, often drop their unwanted dogs at temple gates after dark. When food is scarce, he said, monks will actually forego dinner to feed the strays. 'Us monks, we don't know that overfeeding dogs makes more puppies. Maybe the laymen need to educate us," Thummopalo says. 'We have a lot, we give. We have a little, we also give.'"

I encourage you to read the full article.

Soi Cats and Dogs is working actively to reduce the number of stray animals in Bangkok. They work in target neighborhoods and encourage whole communities to become involved in their Animal Birth Control projects. Community cats and dogs are taken to SCAD's health centers and sterilized, vaccinated against rabies and treated for injury or disease. They are they returned to their home territory. Here in the U.S. there are TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) programs for cats around the country.

As I've immersed myself in the world of animal rescue I have learned that we, the community of animal rescue lovers and activists are in many ways, a unique breed of our own. I challenge myself every day to keep my mind and heart open. There is no simple answer and simple sol-
ution to the growing problem of poverty, suffering and homelessness of both animals and humans. It's a global problem. I am thousands of miles away, and in many ways, a "foreigner" to a country I once called home .... I've never really given much thought to "community dogs or cats" since I've been in the United States. Recently, I've been touched by homeless people and their pets. I ran across a video created by reporter who went into a Tent City in Tennessee and interviewed homeless people to ask them about their relationships with their pets. It was clear how much they loved their pets and cared for them. Many choose homelessness over giving up their pets because homeless shelters won't allow them to keep their pets.

In March, 2008 Ontario was "tagging" residents who lived in Tent City to attempt to reduce the numbers down from 400 to 170. "The no-pet order caused widespread anger and tears as some homeless people said they could not imagine life without their dogs. Many have three or four and vowed to leave Tent City before giving the dogs up. 'I will go to jail before they take my dog .... that's a part of me as much as anything. The dogs are as homeless as we are."

There's an incredible bond between animals and humans. The more I learn and the more I immerse myself in the work of animal rescue .... I find so much truth in a line from the prayer of St. Francis of Assissi: " .... O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love .... for it is in giving that we receive, pardoning that we are pardoned, dying that we are born to eternal life."

Ironically, as president of Pet Haven and assisting in co-leading an animal welfare coalition here in Minnesota ( I find myself filled with questions. Some think that I should have all the answers to be leading these organizations .... the reality is, I don't.

What I do know is that my heart aches for the suffering of both animals and humans. What I do know is that I have so much more to learn. What I do know is that our spirits are strong .... and I believe goodness prevails. I may not have the answers, but I what I do have, is hope.

[Photo credit of homeless man and dog: Stephen DesRoches]

No comments:

Post a Comment