Dog rescue efforts in Thailand and Myanmar
What do you think? Is our planet small or not?
Looking at a globe, you may get the impression that the Earth is small and it is even tinier from the universal point of view. It is a speck of dust, a molecule that is hardly worth mentioning! On the universal scale to be alive is a much greater win than even the biggest lotto jackpot!
At least once in awhile most of us ask what the purpose of life is. I like to believe that the main purpose of life is to “just” observe and experience it and try to make a difference in areas where suffering exists. No matter how little this planet is on the universal scale, suffering is real.
Why I Travel
In my mind travel is one of the ways of learning and understanding how one can help. I have learned how similar we all even with our different cultures. Traveling can also be challenging because it brings us closer to the disparity and poor quality life in different countries and the unnecessary suffering. Learning about the lives of others also helps us put our life into perspective and to stop complaining about little things that do not matter.
Seeing disparity in the world makes me fluctuate between a sense of gratitude, guilt and frustration. It makes me very aware that many people are not as lucky as we are. It is also hard to see that most dogs and other animals are far from getting their needs met. They are not as lucky as our best friends are.
One of the major motivating forces in my work is to use my knowledge and make a difference especially in the lives of those who are helpless - the animals. It gives me a sense of purpose.
Last January, we organized a campaign where we promised to donate a package of flea and tick control for Thai dogs that were rescued in the Bangkok floods a few years ago with the purchase of a certain product. We ended up collecting $1880 dollars -which is a significant sum. We had a hard time trying to contact reliable people who would be able to deliver the product to the dogs in need. At the end, I decided to use my airmile points and travel back to Thailand to pass over the donation and also find out what else the charity needed.
Before my departure, we contacted SOI dogs, one of the highly rated dog centred non-profits in Bangkok, and received the name of Kuhn Kan, who I was told will be able to accept the donation. Jet lagged and tired after a 24 hour trip from Vancouver, we connected with Khun by phone and she agreed to meet us at the shelter which was only open until 12 pm on the weekend.
When we calculated our travel time, I realized that we'd arrived shortly before the closing time, but Kuhn promised that she would wait for us. She even talked to the taxi driver as we were on the way and explained to him how to get to the shelter. However, the driver got lost and despite my repeated calls, Kuhn stopped answering her phone about twenty minutes before the shelter was closing. I called repeatedly, but we never heard from her until two days later. “Hey, call me back” the message said. I didn’t, because by that time we were already in Myanmar. I was also wondering what kind of person would not wait a few minutes for a significant donation? I think most people would wait if someone was coming with an almost $2,000 dollar donation. I was pretty disappointed and felt that Kuhn completely flaked out on us and cared more about her time off than about the dogs. Plus, we wasted almost two hours in a taxi in crazy Bangkok traffic!
I know that dogs need help, but before you consider making your generous donation to SOI, I think they need to get their priorities straight. My experience made me wonder if we can trust an organization with representatives that seem to take their donors for granted.
I started to wonder if giving donations to third world rescue organizations is the right way to go and if we should refocus on working with rescues to introduce simple, safe and more effective population control instead of money donations.
Myanmar (Burma) and dogs
This beautiful but troubled country has gone through a turbulent history of wars and take overs from the Mongol invasion to becoming a British Colony in the 19th century and falling under a fifty year military dictatorship after in the 60’s. Finally, the military junta was officially dissolved in 2010 following the first 2010 general election and the release of Burma’s most prominent human rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Aung Sun Suu Kyi.
I feel that giving you a little bit of Myanmar history is important to understand, how far down dogs are on the nation’s priority list. The visit gave me an opportunity to see what is needed, not only in this country full of beautiful and gentle people, but also in other countries where animals suffer beyond our imagination.
Upon our arrival in Myanmar, I felt like I was thrown in a time machine and had traveled a few hundred years back. Ninety percent of the fifty million people living in Myanmar live in very primitive bamboo shacks with no running water, no toilets, kitchens or anything resembling the households we are used to. Most roads are unpaved and if the pavement is present, the ride is bumpier than any Westerner can imagine. People travel crammed in make shift pick up truck “buses”, riding on the roof racks, hanging on with no regard for safety. The same applies to motorcycles on which families travel with little tiny kids hanging onto the parent’s shirt.
Thanks to Buddhism being the main religion, I never felt that dogs are feared or despised in Myanmar. I was also relieved to learn that unlike other countries, such as Vietnam, Burmese people do not eat dogs. However, the extreme poverty and virtual absence of spay and neuter programs, homeless starving dogs can be seen everywhere.
Traveling through Myanmar was tough because I started to feel that there is no way the dog over population problem could be solved by the methods used in the Western world. I still have a vivid memory of a beautiful “mama” dog with her nipples almost dragging on the ground. It was pretty obvious that she just had her puppies, she was scavenging from garbage bin to garbage bin around the restaurant where we were having dinner at. The owners tried to chase her off but at then end, agreed with our request to let her stay and allow us to buy her a few hunks of chicken for dinner.
It made us feel better at the moment, but lets be honest. Feeding one dog is like applying a little bandaid on a ruptured artery. It makes very little difference.
Connecting with a Yangon shelter
Seeing the situation, I managed to make a connection with Terryl Just, an American English teacher who has been working and living in Myanmar for the past ten years. Terryl has established a rescue shelter in Yangon - the largest city in Myanmar. I was horrified to hear that every month, the local government poisons 6000 dogs in the city. Terryl has been trying to stop the massacre and work with the government to get the dog overpopulation under control humanely. One day, she was called by the local officials they told her that they recognized her efforts and would like to give her an award. They told her that she would be picked up by a car for the ceremony. When she arrived to the destination, there was no ceremony instead a three hour interrogation with a warning for her to mind her own business otherwise more trouble would follow…
When I talked to Terryl, I could hear in her voice that she was exhausted. There were more dogs on the street than she could ever provide shelter for and beside the job of running the shelter, she also has her teaching job at Yangon International school. According to her the general public is upset about the poisonings but people have other serious problems of their own and the dog problem is too big to tackle.
During our stay in Myanmar, I myself started to feel like I was shutting down, seeing homeless, skinny mangy dogs everywhere, sleeping in the middle of the road, puppies running freely on the streets sometimes barely escaping the tires of a car or bus.
From the discussion with Terryl, I learned that the main issues that she has to deal with are the lack of humane population control, tick infestation, heartworm, skin and respiratory problems.
She told me that they vaccinate all the dogs yearly but for some reason, they end up with serious health problems that seem to be connected with vaccination. You and I know this story way too well. These dogs are getting sick from vaccines. In the process of learning more about Terryl’s work I realized that in order to solve the “dog problem” of the 3rd world, we need to go beyond the odd donation or spay and neuter clinic. We need to teach the locals simple ways of population control and also teach them how to create natural immunity, reduce the use of vaccines to prevent vaccinosis and develop a more natural tick prevention program. The overall main goal would be to teach the locals how to perform sterilization and how treat the most common medical conditions naturally without needing the help of a vet because vets in Myanmar are rare.
My thought was that using products such as Zueterin or other Zinc Gluconate products may be a reasonable solution. I am aware that some people may object to any form of alteration but I strongly believe that one trip to countries like Myanmar would make them change their mind.
My plan is that in over the next year, we would develop a program and establish a core of volunteers who would be in charge of the organization and fundraising. The final goal would be teaching and empowering the members of local communities to perform the procedures and eventually educate others.
Before I ended the conversation with Terryl, we talked about making sure that she and people involved in the rescue would not burn out. I have seen many rescuers burnout because many rescue efforts are simply unsustainable. In my opinion the problem of dog overpopulation is not unsolvable, it just needs to be approached differently.
1. I have made arrangements to meet with Terryl again when she visits the US around Christmas time.
2. Establish a well organized group of volunteers and project leaders. This process can start in January by using live online Healing Hangouts
3. See if we can get connections with influential people, media and celebrities to help us endorse the campaign and educate the general public
4. Outline the key core programs including humane dog population control, creating an online first aid course for treating the most common conditions, develop a more natural parasite control for flea, tick and heartworm infestations
5. Educate the locals about potentially harmful effect of vaccines, how to use minimal vaccination and use homeopathic remedies to neutralize the vaccine side effects
My general sense is that if this program goes well and if proven in one country, over time it could be implemented in various regions and countries and hopefully help in an effective, meaningful and sustainable way.
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© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM