Koh Tao is a small island surrounded by the calm expanse of the Gulf of Thailand. This may be a tropical paradise for visitors but for the many ownerless dogs that live there it is far from paradise. Ravaged by mange, hungry and often frightened, they parade the beach in packs each tribe fiercely protecting their self-designated territory. This is a place where the law of the jungle pervades, survival of the fittest. But the only food source is that provided by humans – the scraps from the restaurants. The dominant male pecking order often means that the weakest get no food at all. In fact these dogs at the lower end of the scale are often cast out from the tribe.
In April of this year myself, my friend Miranda and her eight year old son Jordan visited Koh Tao. On our second day we met a small black mongrel that we later called Noi – which is Thai for little one. She had been rejected by the pack because she had weak back legs and a clubfoot, she was starving and infected by maggots. We fed her up and managed to enlist the help of the pharmacist to procure some anti-biotics from the nearby Koh Samui island. After I jabbed her she ran off and we didn’t see her for three days. We thought she was dead. Then one evening when we were walking along the beach in the sunset she appeared from nowhere. At first we weren’t sure if it was the same dog because she looked so much better. She followed us around faithfully from then on and spent the nights on our balcony. By now we were completely hooked and wanted to take her home with us but it seemed impossible. We would have to leave her behind.
When we came back to the UK we couldn’t stop thinking about Noi. I discovered that there was a Dog Rescue Centre on the nearby Koh Samui island and we made contact with Bridget and her husband Hans who run the centre. After another month of deliberation we decided that the only thing to do was to go back and get Noi. Bridget put us in contact with another Brit who had done the same thing – Roger Cooper. Roger had had a similar experience with his dog Gypsy. He had become attached to her during a holiday and when he and his family returned thirteen months later the dog recognised them instantly. The clincher was when they got into a taxi for a sight seeing trip and the dog ran after the taxi for a mile and a half and then sat in the road howling.
Miranda can speak fleunt Thai which was to be a great help. When we arrived there we took the photo we had taken of Jordan and Noi around to the different restaurants but no one had seen her. There were a few heart stopping days when we thought she was dead. Then she suddenly turned up but she was in a pretty bad state. She was sicker than before and was covered in mange and wouldn’t eat. Over the next few days we fed her up and gave her some anti bioitics and Vitamin C. But now there was another problem. Whilst they were looking for Noi another outcast had attached himself to us another black mongrel who we called Star. Since we’d first met Star someone had thrown stones at him and he was now hobbling on three legs. We decided that we would take him with us to the vet at the dog’s home in Koh Samui, fix him up and return him to the island.
The only way from Koh Toa to Koh Samui is by speedboat and it’s a pretty rocky journey. The journey by jeep to the jetty and then the crossing to Koh Samui with two dogs, a kid and luggage was a challenge particularly as the dogs wouldn’t walk on leads and had to be carried. But probably most challenging of all was the continual vomiting of little Star on the speed boat that reached such a pitch that we wanted to throw him overboard!
Arriving at Koh Samui we were met by the motorbike and sidecar from the dogs home. The dogs were loaded up and Star howled all the way the rescue centre. We had to go between two different vets to get the dogs injected, get their vaccinations and get Star’s leg fixed and then take them back to the rescue centre. By the time we arrived our hotel we were exhausted. We stayed on Koh Samui for the next few days visiting Noi and Star and generally helping out at the rescue centre. By now we had another dilemma. Star was really attached to us how could we take him back to the life of a beach dog where anything might happen? After much soul searching we decided to bring Star home.
To prepare for the next leg of the journey – the flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok, the airline had insisted that the dogs be sedated until they were asleep. The quarantine kennel here in the UK had expressly said not to sedate them because of the danger of hypothermia. A double dose of tranquilliser was administered to Noi because the first one didn’t seem to work.
When we arrived at Bangkok the dogs were actually sent out on the conveyor belt with the luggage!!! Miranda and I went off to sort out some documentation and whilst we were away Jordan, thinking that Noi didn’t look too good, put his hand into the cage and in her drugged state Noi bit him and wouldn’t let go. He started screaming. It took a security guard to prise her off. We came back to find Jordan in tears and blood all over the floor. We had to bundle the two dogs, still in their cages, Jordan and the luggage off to the nearby private hospital where Jordan had to have rabies and a tetanus injection and get his wound cleaned and his arm bandaged. We dropped the dogs off with Tai – the contact in Bangkok that Bridget from the rescue centre had arranged and dragged ourselves off to the hotel.
At nine o’clock the next morning Tai rang the hotel. There was a problem. The excessive dose of the tranquilliser may have caused Noi to go blind. We rushed to Tai’s. Things didn’t look good. Noi’s eyes were completely blue. Thankfully over the next few days her sight returned.
Noi and Star came out of quarantine in February and there were quite a handful – to say the least! But now they are house trained and understand basic commands. Star is very nervous of other dogs and this makes him quite aggressive to them but both of the dogs are great with humans. Soon they are going off for an intensive four week live in training course with Brian from Just For Dogs. He has a fantastic reputation for non aggressive training methods with amazing results.
This experience has led me to start a charity the Noistar Thai Dog Rescue to help the hundred of dogs still on the island. The Noistar Thai Dog Rescue intends to introduce a neutering and education programme to bring the dog population under control and thereby improve the quality of life for both the humans and the canines who inhabit the island. We will involve local people directly in this programme as well as targeting tourists to act more responsibly.
There will be a clinic on the island, which is already running with a bare staff of volunteers, this will be the focus for the medical and educational activities.
Koh Tao should be a refuge for the beach dogs that live there. With help they would be able to exist in harmony with the islanders and the many thousands of visitors that go there each year. We may not be able to change the world but we can change an island.
If you are interested in helping out contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org