One aspect of Bangkok life that strikes new visitors is the ever-present street mutt. Known as ‘soi’ or alley dogs, they freely roam and breed throughout Thailand’s capital. The strays often resort to instinctive pack behavior and congregate in areas where they are regularly fed by food hawkers or residents.
In a city of more than eight million residents, many view the estimated 300,000 homeless dogs as an innocuous presence. Unlike packs that terrorize urban spaces in other cities, soi dog attacks are uncommon. Here, close interaction with humans has resulted in relatively benign strays.
Bangkok street animals have largely escaped mass eradication through poison or gas (Unlike some other mega-cities in the developing world), a loose reflection of the country’s predominantly Buddhist tradition. While teachings forbid the unnecessary killing of any living being, it perpetuates abandonment of unwanted pets on temple grounds.
For the dogs, this is both a blessing and a curse. They receive nourishment but little else. Many suffer from severe mange, badly healed injuries, or tick infestations. Some sport cancerous growths or endure other serious diseases.
It took one of these very animals to inspire one woman. Five years ago, while on a sabbatical in the fishing village of Bang Saray, British expat Sheridan Conisbee noticed one particularly sad-looking dog. Scabs and infections covered its hairless body. It limped about on swollen and bloody feet, and its eyes were almost crusted shut.
Realizing its helplessness, Conisbee treated the dog’s skin condition herself. During a subsequent visit, however, she discovered that the dog’s health reverted to its poor state. A proper medical check-up revealed that the creature, now fondly known as Boy, also suffered from a venereal tumor, heartworm, and ingrown eyelids.
Boy’s plight opened Conisbee’s mind to the possibility of helping other soi dogs. Despite limited funds, she created Soi Dog Rescue, an organization with the simple mandate “to work towards a better life for Bangkok’s stray dogs.”
Public and private groups have worked on reducing the pet population issue for years. The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) publicizes that it plans to sterilize and vaccinate 100,000 abandoned dogs each year, but given the enormity of the issue, tangible results have yet to be realized.