Founding any animal rescue is not for the faint of heart. Founding a rescue in a foreign country filled with unfamiliar regulations and different cultural perception towards animals is downright intimidating, at least to almost any rational thinking human being. Yet without brave souls willing to take on such a task countless more animals in the world would suffer. Not to mention that serial volunteers, such as myself, would be without opportunities to help, at least without diving head on into founding an organization ourselves.
This summer marks the third anniversary of Care for Dogs in Chiangmai, Thailand, my favorite place to volunteer. Within their shelter walls I have whiled away hours socializing dogs one day, then the next day, I’ve escaped to spectacular gold-covered, Buddhist temples (wats) to help capture dogs for their spay/neuter program. I am eagerly counting the days until I can return and do much more. As a result of the gifts they have given to both me and to the animals of Northern, Thailand, I wanted to learn more.
Indeed, I wanted to get a peek inside the mind of one of those extraordinary folks who boldly go where even the most foolhardy rescuers have never gone before – establishing a rescue from the ground up. What makes these most intrepid of rescuers tick? Is it a passion for red-tape and astronomical odds, or is there more to it? The following is an interview with Amandine Lecesne. Amandine is one of the co-founders of Care for Dogs.
How did you get your start in animal rescue?
I grew up in the Alps in France and I remember watching the deer out my window and loving their grace. I learned a profound reverence for nature’s families. At thirteen, I stopped eating meat out of respect for animals and at 17, began dreaming of starting a shelter. Though I never set out to complete my dream, years later, when the opportunity presented itself to start Care for Dogs, I jumped on it!” What brought you to Thailand?
“I moved to Thailand in 2005 to work as a teacher and to do some volunteer work. I hadn’t found a passion yet, and I wanted to explore options. I had worked as a counselor and, once in Thailand, started working with immigrants. But once here, I couldn’t overlook the hundreds of street dogs limping, scrounging for scraps in trash, being kicked and hit, birthing litters on street corners, starving, walking around with tumors or open wounds, scratching fleas off, losing energy from the bloodsucking ticks riddling their bodies, and dying either from traffic accidents or of diseases. Helping the street dogs became a priority and it has been an incredible joy to see some of these creatures find safety and protection and even start wagging their tails again!”
What made you decide to start an animal rescue in Chiangmai?
“We set up a shelter/animal rescue group in Thailand primarily because there was such a tremendous need for one. Although all countries have a need for shelters/spay campaigns/adoption programs, etc, Thailand is one of the only countries whose overall human population really wanted to help reduce the stray/suffering dog population without resorting to eating dogs, but they just didn’t have the funds/knowledge to go about doing so in a kind and loving manner. It was obvious to us that there was both a really desperate need for an animal rescue group/shelter as well as a desire from the community to see such a program be put in place.”
When and how did you go about founding Care for Dogs?
“I developed an intimate friendship with Karin Hawelka who was as passionate about caring for the street dogs around our area as I was, and was as hopeful that, if we started a shelter, we could potentially attract enough financial support to really make a difference in the dogs’ lives. Though our rescue work started much earlier, our shelter officially opened June 2006. We’ve been expanding our efforts and impact ever since!”
What is your job like there?
“Unlike Karin who stays and maintains the shelter operations on a daily basis, I go back and forth between Thailand and the states (I go back to the US in part to work, in part to continue my studies). When I’m in Thailand, my job consists of giving vaccinations, bringing dogs to the vet to be spayed, cleaning wounds, administering ivermectin to dogs suffering from mange, putting IV lines in for dogs who need extra hydration, responding to emergency calls, helping with adoptions, deworming street dogs, doing heartworm tests (and giving the appropriate treatment if they test positive), caring for newborns, and often (unfortunately, too often) caring for dying and/or severely ill dogs.
What I enjoy doing the most, though, is going around the familiar temples and parking lots on which many dogs roam. I like checking in on the doggies to make sure they’re healthy, being looked after by neighboring street vendors, up to date on their vaccinations and deworming, free from ticks and fleas, as well as spayed/neutered. I love calling out when I arrive and having 4-7 dogs who know me come rushing out of bushes, corners, under benches, to say hi and eagerly receive kisses and belly rubs! These dogs are truly the loves of my life.”
What does your family think of your Care for Dogs work?
“My family has been extremely supportive of the work we do. They’ve had the opportunity to come to Thailand and see the issues first hand and therefore understand our inability to turn a blind eye to the animals’ suffering.”
What is the best rescue story you’ve seen?
“One of the best rescue stories we’ve seen started in September of 2007. It was at that time that several concerned children of an old lady that had recently passed away contacted Care for Dogs and explained that their kind elderly mother had been taking street dogs into her home for years. Although she’d had good intentions to provide a safe home for each of the rescues, she had felt pressured by her neighbors to keep them quiet and had resorted to locking them up in covered up cages so as to stop them from seeing anything that would alarm them, including each other.
Unfortunately, she knew, that a sad reality was that if the dogs barked too much, they could be poisoned or taken and sent away to the meat market by annoyed neighbors. When we got to her house, we were shocked and horrified to witness 14 dogs being kept in a constant state of loneliness and boredom. Although some were “fortunate” to be imprisoned with another dog, some were completely isolated in their own small dark space. Some of the dogs were at various stages of blindness, apparent from their white eyes and a couple were quite old and frail. All of them, though, were completely terrified of anything outside of their tiny 2 x 2 cell.
When they first arrived at the Care For Dog shelter, many of the 14 dogs were unable to leave the security of a corner or the darkness under a floor of a hut for quite some time, cowering with their tail between their legs. With our volunteers’ help and patient understanding, slowly but surely, they all emerged into the main area of the shelter and started getting some much needed play and socialization. Although the dogs have not all fully recovered from their neglect, we hope that some day, with the love and affection they continue to receive on a daily basis that they will! We’re incredibly grateful to have been a part of these dogs’ rescue and have enjoyed helping each of them start wagging their tails again.”
What are your goals for Care for Dogs?
“Our main priority is on spaying. Sterilizing is the only effective preventative method to reduce the number of unwanted street dogs. We are currently spaying between 400-500 dogs a year, though we hope to increase those numbers even further. We are also striving to see that every dog has a loving and forever home. To date, we have found homes for over 500 animals!
In general, we strive to work with communities so that families adopt stray dogs instead of purchasing purebreds, give them a stable and caring home, pet their dogs instead of hit them, spay/neuter them before reproductive age, and take them to the vet whenever they fall ill. Until that process is achieved, we will continue to work hard with communities, temples, schools, and families, to teach animal compassion, relating, bonding, and understanding.”
What volunteer opportunities exist at Care for Dogs?
“Individuals who wish to volunteer with us have the opportunity to come socialize our dogs by playing, grooming, bathing, or walking them. Many street dogs have never had the constant love and support volunteers can provide them! Our dogs, in turn, are always fond of newcomers who have a passion for helpers. They can sense good intentions and will eagerly jump on the occasion to be paid attention to. People can also help with vet trips and/or temple runs, learn to give injections and treat mange, pick up dogs who need to be spayed or taken to the vet for a physical, do heartworm tests, help with emergency calls, assist with writing articles for the website, aid us in fundraising or other types of administrative work. We also always have loads of opportunities for those wishing to help us with translations!”
What would you like the Thai people to know most about dogs in their country?
“I’d like everyone to realize just how incredibly caring and loving dogs can be. Because of the attachments that they are able to form, they can also be pained by the separation from those they’ve learned to care about. I’d like all humans to be simply more humane when interacting with animals, and understand that street dogs are frightened, hungry, and often hurting and that they would benefit so much from a kind gesture of food or hug. It’s important to remember that, a long time ago, human beings were the ones who brought wolves into their homes in order to protect their territory. We are the ones who transformed wolves into dogs and made them dependent on our care and affection. We therefore have a responsibility to them to hold up our part of the bargain – wolves and dogs have, for many centuries, protected and watched over us. Now it is our turn to protect and watch over them”
What would you like the people of the world to know most about the dogs of Thailand?,
“I would be grateful if people around the world would see and realize that many street dogs in Thailand are being at best ignored, but at worst abused, maltreated and harassed. It’s important to funnel our energy into programs, like Care for Dogs, which help local communities manage the street dog population with kindness, understanding and patience. I would also like the people of the world to realize that vet services in Thailand are a tenth cheaper than they would be in the West so you can imagine what a difference to our efforts even a small contribution can make!”
Is there anything else you would like to mention about the work of Care for Dogs?
“Our first priority is spaying female street, temple, parking lot and community dogs in order to reduce the number of homeless dogs in a humane way. Our current budget allows us to spay between 400-500 dogs per year. After spaying, we keep the dogs for one week at our shelter for after-care before they are returned to their original areas. We wish we could keep all street dogs with us but due to limitations in space, we just can’t! We’re convinced, however, that spaying the ones we do find will inevitably reduce the overpopulation and limit the suffering future generations will have to endure.
Additionally, vaccinations are a very important part of our protocol for homeless dogs. Deworming, heartworm prevention, de-flea and de-tick treatments are also a regular part of our health care program. Once the dogs are healthy and spayed, we actively look for new homes for the dogs at our shelter. For every dog that’s adopted, we can take a new one to our shelter. Last year we found new homes for 202 dogs and cats, and this year, 180 homes were found!
Furthermore we operate a rescue-service. We regularly take in sick or injured dogs for treatment. On average, we have approx. 20 – 30 dogs staying at the shelter for medical treatment. Last, but not least, we have organized an educational program named “Professor Paws”. We work with local schools to enable school classes to visit our shelter, sensitizeing the kids and teachers to the homeless dog situation. Last year, we also started a school project in a temple where we introduced a group of students to basic dog care and organized spayings, vaccinations and feeding. The students even organized various fundraising events (e.g. movie nights or bake sales) to help raise funds for this project.
We are also currently developing future school-temple projects as well as dog-care workshops for dog owners in surrounding villages. “
As you see Amandine and fellow co-founder Karin Hawelka are as irrepressible as they are inspirational. Perhaps to some people establishing an animal rescue simply feels like the most natural thing on Earth. Brave souls!