(And dogs, too)
We just took our latest addition to the family over to the vet for spaying. In so doing I was reminded of some pro bono work I did last August for my good friends at Lanna Dog Rescue in Chiang Mai.
I first became acquainted with this organization, which seeks to control the size of Chiang Mai's stray dog and cat population through education, reduced cost neutering for pets and mass sterilizations for strays, back in 2006. At that time Lanna Dog was also rescuing, housing and facilitating the adoption out of strays. The organization has since moved its focus away from housing strays to reducing their numbers. Lanna is also working to eradicate rabies in Chiang Mai and beyond, and is active in the campaign against the dog meat trade in Thailand.
It is a well-run organization staffed by volunteers who work like, well, dogs, with results that should be evident to anyone who visited Chiang Mai five or six years ago. There are noticeably fewer stray dogs out and about, and those who are "half-homed" (looked after and fed by a single person or a neighborhood, but not kept in a yard or in a house) are in much better shape than they used to be.
On this day Lanna Dog was staging a sterilization at Wat Suan Dok. As of last August the organization had sterilized some 5,000 dogs in Chiang Mai -- quite a contribution to the effort of keeping the city's stray population down, when you consider that in one year one female dog can give birth to 20 puppies. It costs Lanna Dog about 550 baht to spay a 10-kilo dog, which gives you an idea of the massive fundraising involved in this kind of effort.
When I arrived mid-morning things were in full swing -- an open building to the side of the wat served as a makeshift clinic where two vet hunched over operating tables. Meanwhile volunteers registered pet owners and tendied to post-surgical patients. By 11am there were about 36 dogs and cats in queue for surgery.
Banners hung around the space read:
"Be Responsible and Sterilize Your Dog"
"Dogs are Friends Not Food"
"An Overwhelming Dog Population Leads to Culling for Consumption"
The latter two phrases refer to Thailand's role in southeast Asia's booming cross-border dog meat trade. Dogs are eaten in northern Thailand; there's a dog meat market in Chiang Mai. But more than that, Thailand is a source of dogs that are trucked to Vietnam and China for consumption. Many of these dogs are stolen, others are bought from their owners or minders for the price of a plastic bucket, still others are strays that are picked up off the street. Lanna hopes to make a dent in the trade by shrinking the supply -- thus the mass sterilizations.
This particular sterilization day was part of a program Lanna was undertaking with Chiang Mai Municipality and Thailand's Department of Livestock called the Human Dog Management Project. It is an alternative to shooting strays -- which is more common in Thailand and in Malaysia than you probably know.
One thing that impressed me was how smoothly the "clinic" ran -- an orderly and efficient assembly line with a very human touch. The tenderness volunteers showed to recovering patients was really touching. While the dogs and cats slept off their anaesthetic volunteers took advantage of the opportunity to clean ears and cut nails.
My wife and I have had dogs and cats for almost as long as we've been married; every cat and dog adopted has been homeless. So I have a soft spot for causes like Lanna's. But as a repeat visitor to Chiang Mai and one who has developed relationships with locals I view the city as a second home. The efforts of Lanna Dog's volunteers have made the city a more pleasant place to be, a more liveable city than it was 6 years ago. For that I thank them.
As anyone working with Lanna Dog would tell you, strays needn't be viewed as a nuisance to be eradicated -- with the right care and treatment they can become valued community members.
If you find yourself in Chiang Mai on a Sunday look out for the Lanna Dog Rescue table at the Old City walking market. Buy a t-shirt or drop a few baht in the donation box. Or contact the organization to earmark a special donation. You can, for instance, elect to sponsor a sterilization or help Lanna to purchase needed medical equipment.
Every little bit helps.