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Activists Dive In to Help Dogs Abandoned in Floods
By Shibani Mahtani
Activists work to save dogs that have been lost or abandoned amid the floods in Thailand.
Even in the midst of the worst floods to hit Thailand in decades, the kingdom's furry friends have not been forgotten. Animal welfare groups are mobilizing activists and volunteers all over the world to help save and protect dogs, cats and other domestic animals from the floods.
Large-scale evacuations that have affected thousands of people in the capital have left many animals abandoned, as evacuees are typically not allowed to take their pets with them to shelters. This, coupled with a large number of stray dogs and cats already roaming the streets of Thailand, has prompted animal welfare groups to appeal for emergency assistance for the animals.
A dog sat on a divider in a flooded street near the Chao Praya river in Bangkok.
Thailand's Soi Dog Foundation ("Soi" means "alley" in Thai), based in Phuket, has teamed up with other animal welfare organizations like Treat With Responsibility and Empathy All Animals in Thailand (Treat), Chulalongkorn University Small Animal Clinic and Soi Cats and Dogs (SCAD), enlisting high-powered boats and volunteers to save the stray, hungry animals.
Volunteers traverse flooded streets on small boats, armed with cages to pick up the frightened dogs, often at the risk of being bitten by animals not accustomed to human beings. The dogs are then brought to animals shelters in drier areas of the country. According to animal activists, rescue operations are getting tougher now because the sheer number of dogs and the vast areas that are now being flooded.
"We thought the situation was getting better, but it is really dire again," said Margot Homburg of Treat Bangkok, a nonprofit animal welfare organization that runs a clinic for unwanted and street animals in Bangkok.
Worsening floods in many areas, now spreading into new parts of Bangkok, have forced more evacuations � including of Treat's own low-cost veterinary clinic for street animals in Bangkok. The clinic's staff and more than 80 dogs, a monkey and a rabbit have now been evacuated to a shelter in the Cha-am area, where more than 300 dogs are being housed.
Soi Dog Foundation puts the number of dogs and cats at risk at 60,000 to 80,000, according to Leonard Coyne, a spokesperson for the nonprofit organization. The group has enlisted 75 to 100 volunteers to help with animal rescue efforts, and is currently working with the Humane Society International and World Vets to help control what they describe as an "extremely dire situation."
Most of these animal welfare groups have prominent pages on their websites' homepages asking for donations. Food and cages to transport the animals are scarce. Additional donations are also being requested to sterilize the animals.
The Soi Dog Foundation, meanwhile, has put out a request for large boats, as volunteers say the current smaller boats being used to rescue and transport pets are not big enough to carry the increasing numbers of large dogs that need rescuing. According to John Dalley, coordinator of Soi Dog Foundation's rescue efforts, two such boats were purchased today and are being sent up from Phuket.
Many of the rescued dogs have been abandoned by owners who are unable to take their pets while evacuating flooded homes. Some dogs left behind are able to stay in their owners' houses without too much risk, so volunteers leave food for them rather than taking them back to crowded shelters.
"Dogs are simply left behind, there are such a vast number of them," said Ms. Homburg of Treat. "It is horrible and heart-wrenching and the problem is just beginning. After the water is gone, there will be huge numbers unable to return�what on earth do we do with them?"
Ms. Homburg said she has also seen dogs in the rescue center that have been attacked by some of the other wild animals roaming around in floodwaters � particularly crocodiles.
Rescued dogs and other animals housed in shelters like the one in Cha-am are sterilized. The animals are provided with medical treatment if necessary, and given food and water � though a significant amount of donations are still needed to keep the animals fed and sterilized, workers say.
Bangkok-based animal activists said they had been receiving calls from places like South Korea, Canada and Australia, eager to send volunteers, food, money and cages. More volunteers are on their way, including vets � though these people, too, have to struggle to find shelter while helping the abandoned creatures.
"Feeling so powerless and not being able to help more is nerve-wrecking," said Ms. Homburg. "It is an understatement to say that the logistics involved of the scale we're dealing with here, rescuing animals in flooded areas� goes well beyond any of us have ever imagined to be involved in."
The above video shows a dog being rescued from a flooded area with a fishing net, shot by Thai dog rescuer Khun Bee.