100,000 homeless dogs on Bangkok's streets

By Kupluthai Pungkanon

If the Bt14.5 million (S$584,000) donated in days to feed and care for the some 2,000 dogs rescued in Nakhon Pathom just as they were to be transported to a neighbouring country to be cooked and eaten is an indication of the love Thais have for canines, how come they are so many strays wandering around the streets?

Part of that, says Dr Montira Thongsari, director general of the health department at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), has to do with cuteness. "Thais tend to love puppies. When the dogs grow up or when the females have pups of their own, they often dump the animals in the street or at temples," she says.

According to the National Statistical Office, in 2010 about 600,000 Bangkok canines had owners while 100,000 were strays. The BMA's Cat and Dog Shelter in Bangkok's Prawet district has room for just 1,000 canines while its Cat and Dog Shelter in Taptan district, Uthai Thani province, has a capacity of 8,000 and it's always full.

Montira has more figures: A stray's life span is three to five years (house dogs live longer, usually seven to 10 years) and it costs about Bt200,000 to keep and feed a dog in a very modest way. Right now, the BMA is shelling out about Bt10 million per year for dog food at the Prawet shelter in Bangkok and considerably more in Uthai Thani.

Between January and June last year, six people died from rabies, all of them bitten by dogs who had owners. This, says Montira, reflects a dire lack of responsibility on the part of owners in vaccinating their animals, never mind sterilising them.

After all, Montira points out, for the past years the BMA's Health Department has been campaigning to help dog owners. There's a free microchip injection when you register your dog with the BMA so that if the dog wanders off, it can be returned to its rightful owner.

There's also a dog-sterilising service and free rabies vaccination.

"This year the free rabies vaccinations take place from Monday until September 16 at the Cat and Dog Shelter and all 15 BMA health centres," Montira says, adding that there is also a campaign to support those who cannot afford to keep their dog and need to let it go. These people can bring the dog to the centres, while those who feel they'd like a dog are invited to drop in at the centres too and choose a pet to raise at home.

"Although we do our best to keep dogs in a healthy atmosphere with food and medical check-ups, dogs have feelings. Many times, we've seen them get depressed and die. We have trained many dogs to be tame and hopefully people with kind hearts who love animals will give them a good home," she says.

"Since stray dogs are a social issue, every year we receive about 4,000 petitions complaining that dogs are causing disturbances in residential areas or communities. We hear about aggressive dogs, about dogs who may have rabies. We have tried to create a policy to educate young children through keeping pets as part of the school system. We are also planning to build a dog park and have now found land in Ram-Intra for that. And we have received a budget to improve our Dog Shelter Centre in Prawet," Montira adds.

"But the money is never enough so we are always grateful to events like the one that's being hosted at the Emporium this weekend, which we hope will draw in plenty of funds for our dogs."

All woofers big and small

Help strays today and tomorrow at Benjasiri Park and the Emporium Shopping Complex in the Pet-a-Porter charity event by the Punky Runners.

Organised in collaboration with the Dog Lovers Network under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Bajra Kitiyabha and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, it's fourth edition of the jogging group's annual fund-raiser.

The Princess presides over the opening today at 4.30pm and she's granted a photograph of her dog Khun Jai Petch to be used on the official T-shirt, which will be on sale for Bt350.

Masters and their pooches can take part in the "Run for Dog" in the park, where every 800-metre round will be rewarded with one kilogram of dog food from SmartHeart Gold Fit & Firm. Registration starts at 3.30pm.

Stars like Khemanit Jamikorn, Tata Young, Lalita Panyopas, Anoma sarunsikarin, Ananda Everingham, Chollada Mekratri, Holly Amranand, Somsak chalachol, Pongpat Pongpanich and Kom Patamapongse will take part in the "Dog Hat Show" fashion event.

There's also a celebrity charity auction, live music, dog health check-ups and sales of pet supplies.

According to Manatase Annawat, vice president of the Emporium Shopping Complex, the event aims to raise Bt2 million for the renovation of the BMA's Prawet animal shelter.