I lie flat on my back. Relaxed beneath the blue, light cotton blanket providing a layer of protection between my exposed skin and the cool air in my bedroom. I listen to the silence beyond the hum of the air conditioner. The night is still, as if the whole world is asleep or at least lying in stillness like me. From where I lie, I can detect no movement, not even the buzz of a passing motorbike or car.
Lulled by the peace surrounding me, I begin to slip into slumber and a world of fuzzy dreams only to be jerked awake by the painful yelps of a dog in the soi behind my home. I focus on the commotion, as I try to make sense of what is happening. More dogs are barking. How many? 1, 2, 3….I cannot tell. The dog that woke me up continues to cry it’s painful yelps as if it is begging for its life. I don’t know exactly what is happening but my mind produces images of a pack of dogs surrounding and attacking one weaker pup. This may be just another night in the life of a street dog but the sound always makes me feel sick. I roll onto my side and try to let the hum of the air conditioner fill my ears until the fight ends and the night becomes peaceful once again. I think of Dopey, my soi’s stray, and hope that he has found a safe place to sleep tonight, away from the aggressiveness of this pack.
Dopey is just one of many thousands of homeless dogs that live on the streets and beaches of Phuket. Dogs that have been abandoned when they are no longer cute puppies or are the off-spring of already homeless un-neutered dogs and have nowhere else to go, make a life for themselves here. They scavenge for food from discarded rubbish and the occasional kind person, take shelter from the scorching heat of the mid-day sun, roam and play with other strays and sleep. They risk, and often lose their lives, attempting to cross roads congested with speeding motorbikes, tuk tuks and cars. And at night, they rule the streets with their own law.
Despite his shabby appearance, I fell in love with Dopey straight away. I discovered him sleeping under a neighbour’s car, hiding his scabby, oozy back from the glaring sun. I took him a small container of water and he came out of hiding for a drink and a pat. Dopey is always grateful for any love and attention he receives. He looks at me with his soft brown eyes and pushes his moist nose lovingly towards my face. I pat him tenderly around his face and on his snout, careful not to touch the sores on his back and cause him any pain.
Dopey has spent many years of his life on the streets and is old for a street dog. Most of his teeth are worn down to his gum line and must cause him pain to eat anything solid and tough. Most of the time he would have no choice. With a hungry rumbling stomach to fill, he eats whatever he can find and must bear the pain if he wants to fill his stomach and survive another day. He is also afflicted with a skin condition most likely caused by parasites that cause intense itching and result in loss of fur, infection and crusting of the skin. Dopey has many sections along his back and on his legs that lack fur. The exposed skin is dry with a crust of sometimes oozy sores.
I long to help Dopey. Feed him, treat his skin condition, give him shelter and protection and all the love a dog needs. And as simple as this is to do, it is more complicated than it seems. Unlike Dopey, I don’t live here permanently. I could take him in and look after him while I am here but what happens to him when I leave? Once again he would have to return to the street which could be too much for an old dog to bear. If I was returning directly to Australia I could make arrangements to take him with me once he was better but I am not planning to return in the short-term. And even if I just gave him leftover food, he would come to my home, waiting to be fed long after I have gone but there will be no-one to feed him and this is not a responsibility my neighbours want to assume.
Although he is clearly unwell, Dopey is not sufficiently at risk for the over-burdened street dog charities to help him at the moment. Charities such as Soi Dog (http://www.soidog.org/) are inundated with dogs that are sick and unable to fend for themselves, at risk of poisoning or have been badly mistreated and need emergency treatment. They do fantastic work helping the stray dogs of Phuket and finding them new homes but there are dogs far worse off than Dopey that need their help first. Sadly, with the number of dogs on the streets here, there will always be more and more dogs that need help. Dopey is resourceful and still able to fend for himself on the streets. With his friendly personality and untroublesome ways, he is accepted as part of the furniture in our soi and lives here safely and quietly, except in the dead of night when packs of stray dogs rule the streets.
So, for now, I do the only thing I can do and that is to keep a watchful eye on my stray friend, show him affection when I see him and hope for a way to help him, so he doesn’t die unloved and alone on the street.