While browsing through Facebook one day in 2016, Janis Rosenthal was shocked to see a story about a puppy in Thailand who had been maimed and lost his front legs. It just so happened that Rosenthal was a supporter of and donor to Soi Dog Foundation, a charitable animal welfare organization in Phuket, Thailand. Rosenthal quickly emailed John Dalley, president and co-founder of Soi Dog, to ask if he could help.
It was around the same time that Watchdog Thailand, an animal welfare enforcement organization, reached out to Dalley after being contacted about the same case. Watchdog Thailand rushed into action, taking the dog to a local vet, but they were ill-equipped for the emergency. That’s when Soi Dog stepped in, arranging for the puppy, named Cola, to be flown to an advanced veterinary clinic in Bangkok.
Cola’s front legs had to be removed. “They saved his life,” Dalley said, adding that Cola was in very critical condition and had a lot of blood loss when first picked up.
One of the vets had a degree in engineering and had made prosthetics for dogs, and agreed to make them for Cola.
Dalley visited Cola at the clinic about a month after the incident. “They opened the door and as soon as I put my hand in to stroke him, his tail wagged,” he said.
His wife Gill, co-founder of Soi Dog, met Cola when the vet was fitting Cola’s prosthetics. Cola ran up to Gill when she first walked in. They were both double amputees, and that seemed to be an added connection. “Gill sat on the floor with him and they really jelled,” Dalley said. “It was love at first sight.”
The Dalleys planned to bring him to Phuket. They adopted Cola as one of their own, so he never went into the Soi Dog shelter.
That shelter became an important part of what the Dalleys worked so hard to build since retiring to Thailand from the UK in 2003. They married there in 1996 and decided to make it their home. But stray dogs were everywhere and they wanted to do something to help.
Soi Dog initially began in 2002 under Margot Park, a Dutch expatriate who started helping the stray dogs in her neighborhood in Bangkok. She gathered and brought dogs to her local vet to have them sterilized. She moved to Phuket in 2003 around the same time as the Dalleys, where they joined forces.
In 2004, Gill ran after a tranquilized dog who bolted into a flooded field. Fearing the dog would ultimately drown, she waded in to save him. Three days later, Gill started to feel very sick. At first, she thought it was the flu. Soon she had pain in her legs that was unbearable. “I literally watched as her legs turned from skin color to gray,” Dalley said. While Gill waded in that field, a rare bacterium entered her skin and she contracted septicemia.
She was admitted to the hospital and after four days was flown to Bangkok, spending about a month in intensive care, in and out of a coma. Dalley was told his wife had a 1-in-10 chance of surviving, but she made it, after losing both legs.
Gill returned home in a wheelchair. Four days later, the Indian Ocean tsunami hit, which killed thousands including Gill’s best friend, a dedicated Soi Dog volunteer. Even in her wheelchair, Gill was of service helping people search for relatives and counseling them. She soon went back to helping dogs, many of whom were displaced due to the disaster. Soi Dog held mobile clinics where volunteer vets and nurses helped round the clock.
Soi Dog was put on the map after the tsunami. A larger international organization wanted to help and was looking for groups to become member societies. “They gave us a two-year recovery grant that enabled us to employ two full-time vets and a team of dog catchers so we could expand,” Dalley said.
Soon the Dalleys and Park went their separate ways, and the Dalleys continued on with Soi Dog, expanding its mission.
All of this work is what helped save Cola’s life. When his original prosthetics were uncomfortable, it was as if fate had brought the Dalleys to help him. They ended up working with Bengt Soderberg, who was Gill’s prosthetist. Soderberg fell in love with Cola and designed the dog’s new prosthetics, including his most recent set made with carbon fiber blades.
Cola took to his prosthetics pretty quickly. “It’s amazing how adaptable dogs are,” Dalley said. “When Gill got her prosthetics, she was using parallel bars and then these three-pronged walking sticks. It took a lot of time. Once Cola had them on, he was going through the motion of walking. He was literally trotting instantly.”
Gill passed away from cancer in February 2017, and spent the last year of her life designing and building a vet hospital dedicated to the stray dogs. “She built that and expanded the runs,” Dalley said. “We either have resident or in treatment more than 1,000 dogs and cats. The number of sterilizations increased. We now have six mobile teams. Last month we passed a quarter of a million animals sterilized and we are now sterilizing more than 8,000 a month.”
Soi Dog also was involved in introducing Thailand’s first animal welfare bill.
“I would like to see an end to cruelty and abuse of all animals,” Dalley said. “I also want to see the day when there are no more unwanted stray dogs and cats, which is what Soi Dog is working toward.”
Rosenthal, the woman who wrote Dalley after first seeing Cola’s photo on FB, now serves as president of Soi Dog USA. Having been involved with animal welfare for more than 30 years, she truly believes in the organization’s mission. She was able to visit Cola in Thailand and calls him “one of the happiest dogs I have ever met.”
Cola is the youngest of Dalley’s pack of eight dogs and four cats. He’s very friendly and loves everyone he meets—and spoiled! “He knows how to get his way,” Dalley said.
Today, Cola has three pairs of prosthetics. “He loves to be able to run, jump and chase the other dogs and he’s at pace with them,” Dalley said. “It’s amazing how quickly dogs adapt.”
“There’s no reason not to adopt a handicapped dog,” Dalley said. “A three-legged dog will get around like any other dog. It can take more work in terms of a three-legged dog or one like Cola but they tend to adapt very well. You will find they are very affectionate—as if they appreciate that you adopted them.”
Soi Dog Foundation recently won the Rescue Organization of the Year Award from the Pet Philanthropy Circle. At the event in New York City on Oct. 18, 2018, after online and in-person voting, the organization also won the People’s Choice Award.
For more, check out this short film on Cola, “Love Will Always Triumph Over Evil,” which won the Charity Film Award People’s Choice Award in 2016.
For more information on Soi Doi and to find out how to sponsor a dog, click here.
Feature image: Soi Dog Foundation