BANGKOK — Stuffed inside small cages, they stare and whimper at visitors or lie helplessly still. In every group of big dogs and adult cats, or small puppies and kittens, some are collapsed on the ground, short of breath or even dead.
It’s these scenes inside a City Hall animal shelter in Bangkok’s Prawet district that have motivated a network of animal rights organizations to push for an end to what they call “the strays’ hell,” claiming that about seven-in-10 of the hundreds of dogs and cats rounded up across the capital have died of various diseases contracted there.
But however troubling the situation may appear in photos and videos showing distressed, ill and dead animals; top city officials insist this week that they are receiving adequate care.
“We have enough personnel at the Prawet shelter,” Siwa Maison, director of city’s veterinary unit, said Thursday. “There are five veterinarians. They’re [taking care of] the animals every day.”
He nonetheless acknowledged there have been some issues with disease at the shelter, but said it’s something they have under control.
“The strays normally don’t have very good immune systems to begin with, because they don’t regularly get vaccinated. There are some already sick animals coming and spreading diseases here,” he said. “But the shelter has quarantine measures. We put the sick ones in separate cages.”
It’s the latest unnecessary atrocity to private animal welfare groups, who have battled with city officials since last month after the administration announced it would step up efforts to round up strays, citing historically high levels of complaints. After threatened by litigation, City Hall in late November said it would end the roundups and consult the groups on future policy.
All animals going in there will only die. It’s a shelter without any welfare. It’s a den of diseases.
Watchdog Thailand estimates about 400 dogs and cats had died in just two weeks while they were working inside the shelter in November. They say there were about 700 animals still inside before they pressured City Hall into stopping.
Bhurita Wattanasak, the group’s founder, said Tuesday that it’s the first time they will be able to work alongside the authorities to improve animal welfare, and their urgent goal is to make Bangkok’s sole public shelter sanitary enough and better equipped before more animals are put there.
“The Prawet shelter is not capable of caring for the animals. … When they get sick, they will be left to die without being treated,” she said. “Everyone closely following issues of the Prawet shelter calls it the strays’ hell. All animals going in there will only die. It’s a shelter without any welfare. It’s a den of diseases.”
Bhurita said her newly formed network, including groups called The Hope Thailand and the New Life for Animals Foundation, decided to remove hundreds of the animals, whether sick, healthy or dying.
Most were sent to be evaluated by Watchdog veterinarian Patharanan Sajjarom, who said she had to close her private clinic for almost a month to treat the Prawet shelter animals, all of which were severely dehydrated and festering with diseases in a way she’d never seen in 11 years of practice.
“Dogs and cats from the shelter had distemper, coronavirus, parvovirus and parasites,” she said in an interview Tuesday, the first day her own clinic was able to reopen. “It was already difficult treating one disease, but some tested positive for up to three diseases.”
“If they were human, it would be like having influenza, which is already bad, but then you also have dengue and hepatitis B. We rarely see this kind of combination, whether in pets or strays,” she continued.
Photos and videos inside the shelter provided by Watchdog show sick animals packed inside metal cages, while the more healthy ones roam loose in a shoddy-looking den. Dying kittens and puppies are laid out in rows receiving treatment that likely came too late. The images also show scores of test strips confirming the diseases.
It wasn’t the first time a government animal shelter became a charnel house. In May, a Khaosod reporter unearthed a mass grave at a shelter in Nakhon Phanom province after animal activists leaked disturbing images of the animals inside. They alleged that thousands of animals rounded up due to a rabies scare died there under insufficient care.
And Patharanan said the Bangkok shelter poses more serious health risks to animals if no preventive steps are taken.
“A disease den this huge shouldn’t have existed in Bangkok,” she said. “They can spread, and they can mutate. Like feline coronavirus causing [feline] herpesvirus is something that happened just a few decades ago.”
“Diseases accumulate inside the Prawet shelter. If new animals are taken there, they’ll definitely be infected. They can’t be treated because the germs are in there, in the animals,” she said. “It’s like a killing field, as if the animals were rounded up to be killed with biological weapons, letting their bodies killing themselves.”
While Watchdog founder Bhurita said conditions have been poor ever since the Prawet shelter opened decades ago, Deputy Gov. Thaweesak Lertprapan said in an interview yesterday that, despite some health problems, the overall situation was greatly exaggerated by the animal groups.
“I can assure you that we take a very good care of the animals in there. We provide them food, water, and clean their cages and dens every day. They’re regularly vaccinated for rabies and ticks or fleas,” he said. “I had to say that many dogs that are caught or sent there are already not very healthy. … The big problem are those with distemper. They are taken there, die, and spread the disease to the ones already in there.”
“I admit that there are some cases that got infected inside the shelter,” he added.
Thaweesak said the animal rights groups happened to visit the shelter at the same time a few “poor-looking” animals were sent there, which outraged them and provoked them to unfairly accuse the shelter of mismanagement.
Both Thaweesak and city vet Siwa said the shelter has been regularly disinfected and sanitized, but Watchdog’s vet Patharanan said their measures may be inadequate.
“Parvovirus can survive [outside a body] up to six months if not being disinfected with a highly concentrated antiseptic, the kind that can even be harmful to humans if inhaled,” she said.
Although he denies the reality described by the animal welfare network, Thaweesak said the administration would set up a special committee to oversee policies regarding stray animals in the capital which would include members from the network.
“We told them that once the committee is set up, we will organize a big cleaning day at the Prawet shelter. We’re ready to open it for everyone to see,” he said. “We also received funds to upgrade the shelter, and we’ll definitely work on that.”
Despite her skepticism about working with the authorities, Bhurita said she was glad they could reach terms. She vowed to keep pushing to improve conditions at all government animal shelters nationwide.
“We’d like to change things in Prawet. When that’s done we’ll move on to another shelter in Thap Than district,” she said, referring to a major animal shelter in Uthai Thani province. “I don’t have a lot of confidence, but as we got in we’ll fight in every way we can.”
Bhurita said her network would meet with city officials on Jan. 8 to discuss future policies. Thaweesak however declined to confirm if they would attend.
Warning: More disturbing images below.