Protecting Vulnerable Dogs on a Small Thai Island
The work of PACS (Phangan Animal Care for Strays) is never done
I have two rescue dogs, and they’re both from a place called Koh Phangan. Sisters who lived outside until they were nine months old, Luna and Muna have a freckled past. Beachfront dog fights, sand crab hunts, ear infections from swimming too much — even with their woes, these dogs lived the life. When my partner and I took them as our own, we vowed to make their life as adventurous as possible, without sacrificing security.
When Luna lived on the beach, she wound up running into the road and getting hit by someone on a motorbike. Friends took her straight to a place called PACS, Phangan Animal Care for Strays.The facility kept her safe for a night or two — safer than she would have been sleeping outside like before — but she needed more care than anyone on the island could give her. We eventually were able to get her to a neighboring island and fit her with a cast so she didn’t have to get her leg amputated.
But not all dogs on Koh Phangan have someone who can watch them day and night, or someone who can take them on a ferry and pay for them to get the treatment they require. Many are strays, simply living amidst human society but without anyone to care for them.
That’s where PACS come in.
The average life expectancy of a street dog on Koh Phangan is only five years old.
Since 2001, PACS has been working to help cats and dogs across Koh Phangan. To keep the populations down, they focus on sterilization. In Thailand, animal organizations use a marking system to determine if street animals have been sterilized, usually tattooing the month and year of the procedure on the inside of their ear.
On the inside of Luna and Muna’s left ears, it reads 1118. November, 2018.
But PACS deals with much more than just fixing animals to slow the birth rate. They help injured and sick strays recover from all kinds of illnesses, including the common tick fever, infected wounds that have festered in the tropical island weather and — of course — moving vehicle accidents.
If you see a shaking canine, you’ve got mere minutes to get to the animal hospital. The vets made sure we knew that.
There are also some locals who use poisonous bait to get rid of unwanted residents, if they want to be more discreet than a gun allows. With most of the Thai locals living harmoniously amidst the cats and dogs, many even adopting them for themselves, this is definitely a cultural behavior that’s looked down upon by the vast majority of people. But it still happens. If you see a shaking canine, you’ve got mere minutes to get to the animal hospital. The vets made sure we knew that.
According to Adopt a Furry Friend, an organization on Koh Phangan that works to place strays with forever homes (including Luna and Muna), the average life expectancy of a street dog on Koh Phangan is only five years old. These illnesses, accidents and poisonings all contribute to that. But the people at PACS, including the traveling volunteers who help expand their mission, work to change the status quo.
PACS recently ran a campaign that allowed them to invest in a new truck so they could continue providing emergency service for animals and pick up strays who needed sterilizing or assistance. As an organization that’s run entirely on donations, they literally could not do what they do without their support system of kind-hearted locals, expats and travelers from across the globe.
Now, when traveling has all but ceased and they don’t have their typical stream of steadfast volunteers coming to help, the staff continues to help the population of stray animals on the island.
While there were a couple of COVID-19 cases on the island, the government effectively shut things down before the virus had a chance to wreak too much havoc. I hold a lot of hope that PACS will make it through until some semblance of normalcy returns.
I think often of all the people I’ve met who are helping animals. I walked stray dogs at Lanta Animal Welfare on the Thai island of Koh Lanta and still remember that three-legged gal who hopped around the beach with me. I spent time with pets at Limerick Animal Welfare in Ireland and will always be grateful for the furry ones I met. And then there’s the Faithful Friends facility in my home state of Delaware, which just so happens to be the first no-kill state in the nation.
But when I begin to get overwhelmed, I look to Luna and Muna. They have a home now. When I’m ready, I’ll meet more dogs who need rescuing and I’ll take them in, too. And I’ll do this all my life, so I know I’ve done the best I can do. I thank PACS for reminding me of the importance of persistence, and of doing what’s right no matter how difficult it may be.