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The Founding Of A Thailand Dog Rescue An Interview With Amandine Lecesne Of Care For Dogs

Founding any animal rescue is not for the faint of heart. Founding a rescue in a foreign country filled with unfamiliar regulations and different cultural perception towards animals is downright intimidating, at least to almost any rational thinking human being. Yet without brave souls willing to take on such a task countless more animals in the world would suffer. Not to mention that serial volunteers, such as myself, would be without opportunities to help, at least without diving head on into founding an organization ourselves.

This summer marks the third anniversary of Care for Dogs in Chiangmai, Thailand, my favorite place to volunteer. Within their shelter walls I have whiled away hours socializing dogs one day, then the next day, I've escaped to spectacular gold-covered, Buddhist temples (wats) to help capture dogs for their spay/neuter program. I am eagerly counting the days until I can return and do much more. As a result of the gifts they have given to both me and to the animals of Northern, Thailand, I wanted to learn more.

Indeed, I wanted to get a peek inside the mind of one of those extraordinary folks who boldly go where even the most foolhardy rescuers have never gone before У establishing a rescue from the ground up. What makes these most intrepid of rescuers tick? Is it a passion for red-tape and astronomical odds, or is there more to it? The following is an interview with Amandine Lecesne. Amandine is one of the co-founders of Care for Dogs.

How did you get your start in animal rescue?

"I grew up in the Alps in France and I remember watching the deer out my window and loving their grace. I learned a profound reverence for nature's families. At thirteen, I stopped eating meat out of respect for animals and at 17, began dreaming of starting a shelter. Though I never set out to complete my dream, years later, when the opportunity presented itself to start Care for Dogs, I jumped on it!"

What brought you to Thailand?

"I moved to Thailand in 2005 to work as a teacher and to do some volunteer work. I hadn't found a passion yet, and I wanted to explore options. I had worked as a counselor and, once in Thailand, started working with immigrants. But once here, I couldn't overlook the hundreds of street dogs limping, scrounging for scraps in trash, being kicked and hit, birthing litters on street corners, starving, walking around with tumors or open wounds, scratching fleas off, losing energy from the bloodsucking ticks riddling their bodies, and dying either from traffic accidents or of diseases. Helping the street dogs became a priority and it has been an incredible joy to see some of these creatures find safety and protection and even start wagging their tails again!"

What made you decide to start an animal rescue in Chiangmai?

"We set up a shelter/animal rescue group in Thailand primarily because there was such a tremendous need for one. Although all countries have a need for shelters/spay campaigns/adoption programs, etc, Thailand is one of the only countries whose overall human population really wanted to help reduce the stray/suffering dog population without resorting to eating dogs, but they just didn't have the funds/knowledge to go about doing so in a kind and loving manner. It was obvious to us that there was both a really desperate need for an animal rescue group/shelter as well as a desire from the community to see such a program be put in place."

When and how did you go about founding Care for Dogs?

"I developed an intimate friendship with Karin Hawelka who was as passionate about caring for the street dogs around our area as I was, and was as hopeful that, if we started a shelter, we could potentially attract enough financial support to really make a difference in the dogs' lives. Though our rescue work started much earlier, our shelter officially opened June 2006. We've been expanding our efforts and impact ever since! "

What is your job like there?

"Unlike Karin who stays and maintains the shelter operations on a daily basis, I go back and forth between Thailand and the states (I go back to the US in part to work, in part to continue my studies). When I'm in Thailand, my job consists of giving vaccinations, bringing dogs to the vet to be spayed, cleaning wounds, administering ivermectin to dogs suffering from mange, putting IV lines in for dogs who need extra hydration, responding to emergency calls, helping with adoptions, deworming street dogs, doing heartworm tests (and giving the appropriate treatment if they test positive), caring for newborns, and often (unfortunately, too often) caring for dying and/or severely ill dogs. . .

What I enjoy doing the most, though, is going around the familiar temples and parking lots on which many dogs roam. I like checking in on the doggies to make sure they're healthy, being looked after by neighboring street vendors, up to date on their vaccinations and deworming, free from ticks and fleas, as well as spayed/neutered. I love calling out when I arrive and having 4-7 dogs who know me come rushing out of bushes, corners, under benches, to say hi and eagerly receive kisses and belly rubs! These dogs are truly the loves of my life."

What does your family think of your Care for Dogs work?

"My family has been extremely supportive of the work we do. They've had the opportunity to come to Thailand and see the issues first hand and therefore understand our inability to turn a blind eye to the animals' suffering."

What is the best rescue story you've seen, and the saddest?

"The saddest has to be Sunshine. She was born on a parking lot along with 8 other siblings. I'd been able to spay her aunt but her mom had evaded my attempts and had soon become pregnant. When Sunshine was born, a shop owner nearby told me that he was worried the puppies would get run over when they started exploring the area. We didn't have a shelter set in place at the time, so I couldn't take them in. Once they reached 4 weeks old, the shop owner's predictions came true and two puppies were run over when they attempted to run around and play. Although I was staying at a guesthouse, I took the rest of the puppies in and put up fliers to find homes for them. I managed to find families for 5 of the pups but one never got adopted. I moved into a home and held onto this puppy. She was the light of my life and earned the nickname "Sunshine".

One of my friends would come around and play with her. He was so attentive to her that, a few weeks before my departure back to the US, when he asked to take her home, I had no hesitations. She was too young to have been spayed yet so I left him money for the surgery (as he had none to spare). I gave him enough flea/tick products to last for a long, long, time. I'd already explained the importance of spaying/treating for heatworm/getting rid of fleas/ticks and he'd promised to stay on top of everything in order to keep her healthy. I gave him my e-mail address so he could stay in touch and ask any questions he wanted, and promised to be back in town within a year.

When my plane touched down on Thai soil the next time around, I was eager to go see them. I was dismayed, however, to find that Sunshine had never been spayed and that she'd already had a litter of puppies. Ever since, she'd been weak and had been suffering from an unknown illness. She'd never been taken to the vet. I took her in my arms and she collapsed. Crying, I took her back home with me. The ride back to my house was almost an hour long, and throughout that hour, I never stopped pulling ticks off her emaciated body. She was bruised. Her ribs were showing. She was in pain and, when I'd hold her too hard, she'd try to bite. This was a devastating transformation from the little fluffy energetic ball I used to know.

I took her to the vet only to find out that she was anemic from e-canis (a tick-born illness). She was so weak the vets refused to spay her. She got progressively worse despite a heavy treatment of vitamins, doxycycline, love, good food, and tenderness. Several weeks later, she fell ill with distemper and had trouble breathing. She died shortly thereafter. The worse thing about her death and pain was that it was all preventable. It's sad to realize that ignorance can be just as harmful as cruelty, at times. I miss her dearly. To this day, the sun doesn't seem to shine as strong without her in this world.

One of the best rescue stories we've seen, however, started in September of 2007. It was at that time that several concerned children of an old lady that had recently passed away contacted Care for Dogs and explained that their kind elderly mother had been taking street dogs into her home for years. Although she'd had good intentions to provide a safe home for each of the rescues, she had felt pressured by her neighbors to keep them quiet and had resorted to locking them up in covered up cages so as to stop them from seeing anything that would alarm them, including each other.

Unfortunately, she knew, that a sad reality was that if the dogs barked too much, they could be poisoned or taken and sent away to the meat market by annoyed neighbors. When we got to her house, we were shocked and horrified to witness 14 dogs being kept in a constant state of loneliness and boredom. Although some were "fortunate" to be imprisoned with another dog, some were completely isolated in their own small dark space. Some of the dogs were at various stages of blindness, apparent from their white eyes and a couple were quite old and frail. All of them, though, were completely terrified of anything outside of their tiny 2 x 2 cell.

When they first arrived at the Care For Dog shelter, many of the 14 dogs were unable to leave the security of a corner or the darkness under a floor of a hut for quite some time, cowering with their tail between their legs. With our volunteers' help and patient understanding, slowly but surely, they all emerged into the main area of the shelter and started getting some much needed play and socialization. Although the dogs have not all fully recovered from their neglect, we hope that some day, with the love and affection they continue to receive on a daily basis that they will! We're incredibly grateful to have been a part of these dogs' rescue and have enjoyed helping each of them start wagging their tails again."

What are your goals for Care for Dogs?

"Our main priority is on spaying. Sterilizing is the only effective preventative method to reduce the number of unwanted street dogs. We are currently spaying between 400-500 dogs a year, though we hope to increase those numbers even further. We are also striving to see that every dog has a loving and forever home. To date, we have found homes for over 500 animals!

In general, we strive to work with communities so that families adopt stray dogs instead of purchasing purebreds, give them a stable and caring home, pet their dogs instead of hit them, spay/neuter them before reproductive age, and take them to the vet whenever they fall ill. Until that process is achieved, we will continue to work hard with communities, temples, schools, and families, to teach animal compassion, relating, bonding, and understanding."

What volunteer opportunities exist at Care for Dogs?

"Individuals who wish to volunteer with us have the opportunity to come socialize our dogs by playing, grooming, bathing, or walking them. Many street dogs have never had the constant love and support volunteers can provide them! Our dogs, in turn, are always fond of newcomers who have a passion for helpers. They can sense good intentions and will eagerly jump on the occasion to be paid attention to.