In November, I traveled to Cambodia and Thailand with my good friend Marjon. After spending 36 hours of traveling, we finally arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we spent the first 3 days of our trip. The first morning, we woke up at 4am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Pictures will never do it justice. It was truly breathtaking. This was the biggest and more spectacular temples in Angkor Wat. Angkor also consisted of other temples, such as Ta Prohm (my favorite!) and Bayon (known for the giant face carvings).
Now on to dogs …
The main mission of the trip was to bring 5 dogs back to the United States for adoption. There is a massive stray dog population as well as a horrific dog meat trade which occurs in Thailand. I will not go in to detail about the dog meat trade because it can be too graphic. If you are interested in learning more, please let me know. Soi Dog is a non-profit charitable organization located in Phuket, Thailand. They help the homeless, neglected and abused dogs and cats of Thailand and work to end the dog meat trade throughout the region. To date, Soi Dog has sterilized 80% of Phuket’s population and is moving their operation to Bangkok as t here are 640,000 unsterilized dogs on the streets. They are on track to open a state of the art animal hospital in the spring, The hospital was funded by all donations.
Marjon visited Soi Dog on her honeymoon years ago and has fallen in love with the cause ever since. She fundraises at local fairs, farmers markets and pet expos, as well as on her Etsy site, by selling handmade dog leashes, collars, bowties and treats. 100% of the proceeds are used to pay for flight volunteers to bring dogs back to the USA, as well as other special projects, such as the animal hospital. Marjon even has two Soi Dogs of her own – Lilly and Yogi! Soi Dog has partnered with a number of rescue organizations in the US, notably, the North Shore Animal League in New York, where Brandy came from.
So after years of hearing about how great Thailand is, and supporting my Marjon’s fundaraising efforts, I was finally convinced to go on a trip with her across the world! On Wednesday, November 18th, we spent the day volunteering at Soi Dog upon arrival in Phuket. After checking in to the JW Marriott at Mai Khao Beach, we were picked up by Soi Dog and driven to the shelter. This was my first time at Soi Dog (let alone Asia in general) and Marjon was excited to be back as it had been years since the last time she visited.
The day began with a tour of the property. It was much bigger, and nicer than I expected. I had no idea what to anticipate – and to be honest, I imagined far worse conditions. You could tell that all of the dogs were very well cared for. There was a puppy pen, a small dog pen, shy dog pen, older dog pen and then several “runs” where many dogs lived and played free. The property had an office building for the staff and living quarters for the Burmese workers. Soi Dog will scope out the area for stray dogs and pick up the really sick ones to bring to their facility treatment. They also receive phone calls from the locals to advise if there is a litter or pack of dogs in a particular area. Soi Dog then will pick up the dogs to spay/neuter them. If they feel that the dogs will not survive on the streets, or if they will be good adoptable dogs, they will remain at the shelter. However, since living on the street is the way of life for dogs in Asia, many dogs are very happy that way, and will be brought back to their “home.” Marjon and I got to spend time in each pen playing with the puppies and older dogs. We also took a bunch for a walk around the lake. For lunch, the adoption coordinator, Cristy, took us to a delicious local Thai restaurant. For a mere $4 USD, we had the most delicious pad thai and fresh coconut water. The second half of the day, we had discussions with the marketing coordinator, met the new CEO and got a tour of the new animal hospital, which was almost complete. It was a day I will never forget. Could you imagine how difficult it was for me to not want to take every single dog home?
Being a flight volunteer was much easier than I anticipated. By being able to check dogs in to the flight with humans, as opposed to shipping them as cargo, you save almost 4x the cost. Soi Dog will bring the dogs to the airport, check them in to the flight and get them through the security screening. Their crates are packed with blankets, extra food tied to the side, and fluids available for the dogs to drink during the long flight. Upon landing at JFK Airport in New York, the dogs came out just like the baggage does. We put their crates on a cart, went through customs with the necessary paperwork and proof of vaccines, and met the adopters outside. It was an incredible experience to save these dogs who most likely would have never made it out alive in Thailand and to see the joy on the adopters faces at the airport.