At the beginning of January, I spent 10 days volunteering at the wonderful Soi Dog in Phuket. This was recommended to me by an old work colleague as her and her husband had volunteered there earlier on in the year (they also have two rescue dogs from there). I’ve grown up with dogs and always had them in my life. So spending 10 days at a rescue dog centre felt like it would be good for the soul.
Soi Dog began in 2003 and over the years has sterilised 80% of the dog population in Phuket, declared it rabies free and are working hard to fight to dog meat trade - how incredible is that? A lot of the dogs that arrive at the centre are in appalling states. Riddled with worms, mange, some had been hit by cars, abused by humans, pets that have been stolen for the dog meat trade - the list goes on. It’s heart breaking.
Each volunteer is assigned a “run” for the time they are there and yours truly was working with the teenagers. These were dogs aged between 6 - 12 months and had graduated from the puppy run. My first day was spent in the run and getting to know the 21 or so pups, when I say getting to know, allowing most of them to climb over me. Naturally with me being completely new, the little buggers saw this as an opportunity to run circles around me - almost like when you’d have a supply teacher at school. For example, trying to escape was a thing, so they’d try and find any excuse to get into the air lock between the two gates. This made exiting and entering the run a challenge and trying to time this whilst they were distracted with something else became a skill. And and also resulting in a dead right arm from having to lift them up from behind their front legs and steer them back into the run.
The majority of the runs at the sanctuary had some sort of hierarchy with one or two dominant dogs, and then shyer ones that would stay towards the back of the run. The dominant dogs would have to be treated with more respect than the rest of the run for example, being walked and fed first. Naturally fights will always break out, and the run keepers would literally come out of nowhere to put a stop to it. Luckily, with my lot being so young - they’re yet to establish any sort of hierarchy and haven’t really worked out how to fight yet, so most drama would be squabbling over leaves or rocks (both of which are a very in demand currency) or over who gets to dig in the hole that they’d been working on.
Most of these dogs hadn’t actually been walked before, so any time outside of the run was always interesting. Like I said, a lot of them always wanted to escape however, once they were outside in the big scary world encouraging them to walk became a challenge. A couple would happy do a few laps of the lake and some wouldn’t even leave the air lock. The key was to be as gentle as you could with them to encourage them out of the run and put the harness on and go where the dogs wanted to go - which was usually just around the benches outside of the run. Over the my time there, they increasingly wanted to go further and suddenly, going for a walk was what all of the cool kids were doing.
The point of having the volunteers there, was to get the dogs socialised to the point where they could then be adopted. Some will never get to this point, and because of their abuse, they’ll never fully trust humans and will spend the rest of their life at Soi Dog - which is why donations from sponsoring dogs is so important. The incredible team there also includes behaviourists who work with the dogs to get them used to being walked, being around other dogs and socialised.
My time there reinforced how much dogs were like humans. They are intelligent, gentle creatures with so much love to give. I gained so much personally out of those ten days and it helped with the process of detaching myself from my life back home and learning to slow down. I also noticed how reactive they were to my energy. If I was buzzy or agitated, they’d sense it. The energy in the run would become tense and thick and this is usually when “drama” would break out. Whereas, if I sat calmly with them, they would start to quietly play or nap. This makes me think about the energy we personally emit, and how we react to certain situations and how it effects those around us. And how being centred and present with the dogs was key to defusing a spat.
BIG LOVE ETC.