PHUKET — The founder of an organization responsible for rescuing stray animals and drafting Thailand’s first ever animal welfare law received a prestigious award from the British monarchy earlier this month, though the man himself played down his own role in a recent interview.
“This is the work of 17 years, with thousands of donors and volunteers,” Soi Dog foundation’s John Dalley said. “It’s nothing I could have done on my own.”
He added, “The mission will continue until long after I die, which is to see no more stray dogs and cats in Thailand.”
Dalley, 71, was made the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or MBE, on Oct. 10 for his campaigns on animal protection in Southeast Asia. The foundation he founded helps sterilize and reduce stray animal populations in Thailand, as well as drafting the animal welfare law that came into effect in 2014.
His citation was named in Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours List, which also bestows out various honors and awards on other notable citizens of the Commonwealth. It is the third highest royal decoration handed out by the British monarch.
Dalley, who hails from Leeds in the UK, started Soi Dog in 2003 after retiring on Phuket with his late wife, Gill, with the intention of golfing, scuba diving, and helping stray dogs they saw there while on vacation.
“There were thousands of starving dogs, and nobody was doing anything about it,” he said.
The pair gave their all, risking – and losing – limb for their cause. In 2004, Gill lost both of her legs rescuing a dog in a flooded field, when a rare bacteria entered via her skin and almost killed her.
“She turned from pink to blue. She nearly died, but we managed to save her arms,” Dalley recalled.
Just four days later, the pair who had flown to Bangkok for hospitalization were back on Phuket. The 2004 tsunami had just struck, and Soi Dog worked around the clock trying to save animals from the devastation.
By Dec. 2019, Soi Dog had sterilized 500,000 dogs and cats, half of them in the last two years. Today, Soi Dog has eight mobile teams, six of them in Bangkok, and also work in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Chonburi.
Dalley drew up the country’s first animal welfare law on the drafting board in 2014, and he is one of the few foreigners to have ever addressed the Thai Parliament.
Although Dalley proposed that the maximum penalty be used to punish animal cruelty – a punishment of two years in prison and a 40,000 baht fine is now in the books – enforcement of it is rare.
“Nothing like that’s ever happened. This law isn’t taken seriously yet, especially on Phuket,” Dalley said. “It’s just wanton cruelty. People cruel to animals are also often cruel to humans and children.”
One of Dalley’s dogs, Cola, had both her legs hacked off by a man with a ceremonial sword because she had been nibbling on his boots. The man only got three months of probation, Dalley said.
Just recently on Phuket, an Australian man beat a dog with a metal bar and paid off the dog owner, who didn’t pursue the case. An Irishman threw a dog out of a car during a storm, and was slapped with a 3,000 baht fine.
In the most recent reported case, a Chinese woman was convicted by court in Krabi province for kidnapping stray cats for tortures – pulling out their nails and locking them in a refrigerator. The woman’s sentence of six months in jail was suspended.
“This should not be the case. This should go to court; you shouldn’t be able to buy yourself out of it,” Dalley said. “If nobody pushed, nothing would happen in most cases.”
Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the organization currently has a dearth of volunteers since many were foreigners who walked dogs and flew dogs overseas to adopters.
Soi Dog continues their work of capturing, neutering, vaccinating, and returning stray animals; the organization is stringently against putting dogs into government animal shelter facilities, which leave unneutered dogs to reproduce and die behind bars.