Lost legs rescuing a dog in 2004
PHUKET, Thailand––“It is with profound regret and unfathomable sadness that we announce the passing of Gill Dalley,” the Soi Dog Foundation announced on February 13, 2017.
“The inaugural winner of the Canine Hero of the Year award at the 2011 Animals for Asia conference in Chengdu, China, and the first non-Asian by birth to be named an Asian of the year by Channel News Asia Singapore,” in 2008, “Gill passed away after a short battle with cancer,” the Soi Dog Foundation said.
Retired & said “Phuket”
Married in Phuket and frequent visitors for several years afterward, Gillian and her husband John Dalley were a bank employee and a chemical engineer, respectively, in Yorkshire, England.
The Dalleys retired together to Phuket in 2003, bought a home near a newly built country club within a short walk of the ocean, and as they often told media, expected to spend the rest of their lives golfing and scuba diving.
John Dalley acknowledged going diving just once. Neither Dalley ever swung a golf club. Instead, they discovered streets full of homeless dogs, and became acquainted with two fellow expatriates, Leone Cosens and Margot Homburg Park, who were trying to help the dogs.
“You see these dogs suffer & want to help”
“We had a dog back home, but I wasn’t particularly involved with animal rights,” Dalley told visitors. “But you see these dogs suffer, and you want to do something to help them.”
Cosens, a native of New Zealand, had moved to Phuket with her husband Tim Cosens Jr. in 1992. Together they operated a “guest house” at Yanui Beach, which might have been described as either a large bed-and-breakfast or a small hotel.
A cofounder and director of the Phuket Animal Welfare Society, Leone Cosens later “was fired because she was treating and sterilizing too many dogs!” recalled Park.
Park, originally from the Netherlands, helped Cosens to start the Soi Dog Foundation in 2002, intending to introduce high-volume free and low-cost dog and cat sterilization to Phuket, including a neuter/return program for street dogs. The organization grew through an early merger with Atigiro, an organization of similar purpose founded by Alison Montgomery of Hong Kong.
What’s a soi dog?
The term “soi dog” in the Thai language means a street dog.
Historically and traditionally, the overwhelmingly Buddhist human population of Thailand have tolerated a large street dog population, but have relocated problematic dogs to temples and, more recently, to pounds run by local governments. There, because killing dogs is considered unacceptable in Buddhist teachings, but resources to feed stray dogs are scarce, most died of starvation and neglect.
That changed for the worse in the 1980s, when Vietnamese refugees resettled in eastern Thailand developed exporting surplus Thai dogs to Vietnam to be eaten into an industry of considerable size.
The Soi Dog neuter/return program, modeled after the Indian national Animal Birth Control program, was meant to curtail both the abandonment of dogs at temples and the export of dogs to slaughter.
The Dalleys helped Cosens and Park as volunteers, including in returning sterilized street dogs to wherever the dogs had been found, where most had regular food sources and would live out normal street dog lives, controlling the local rodent population and consuming refuse, without birthing more puppies.
The Dalleys’ lives abruptly changed in October 2004 when a dog who was unexpectedly groggier than most after being sedated for sterilization bolted into a muddy water buffalo pasture. Sinking into the muck, the dog was at risk of drowning, until Gill Dalley waded in to retrieve him.
The seriously polluted muddy water harbored an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. Within days Gill Dalley was critically ill. Both of her legs were amputated below the knee to keep the infection from spreading up into the rest of her body, where it would have killed her.
Gill Dalley was still struggling to recover when on December 26, 2004 the Indian Ocean tsunami slammed into Thailand. Unleashed by the third largest earthquake ever recorded on a seismograph, the tsunami killed from 230,000 to 280,000 people in 14 nations. More than five thousand people were killed and another three thousand people disappeared without a trace along the Thai southern peninsula. Whole Phuket neighborhoods were obliterated.
Leone Cosens, then 52, rushed to the aid of nine British guests at the Cosens’ Yanui Beach guesthouse, who had reported flooding. Unaware that the high water was the result of a tsunami, Leone Cosens apparently ran right into the highest wave. Her father-in-law, visiting from Slidell, Louisiana, which was hit hard just nine months later by Hurricane Katrina, found her remains in a nearby rice field the following day.
Margot Park and John Dalley initiated rescue efforts on behalf of injured and displaced animals, but Park found herself treating more people than animals, while John Dalley helped to recover, identify, and wrap the human dead.
Gill Dalley struggled into her wheelchair and soon was directing the Soi Dog Foundation relief operations for both humans and animals, including sending out appeals for help.
“As I was learning to walk again, I thought of the dogs who still needed my help,” Gill Dalley often said. “Pure joy for me is changing an animal’s life.”
Along with other animal charities in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, and even Myanmar, the Soi Dog Foundation mounted an extensive aid program serving all of the victims many days before the major international charities were on the scene––and did not stop after outside help arrived. As the urgent need to help humans diminished, the Soi Dog Foundation escalated efforts on behalf of animals, including rapidly enlarging the spay/neuter program that it had already began.
But then Park fell ill, leaving Phuket in early 2006.
Gill and John Dalley rose to the challenge.
The Soi Dog Foundation had originally been incorporated in the Netherlands and Thailand. Adding fundraising affiliates in the United Kingdom and the U.S., the Dalleys expanded into Bangkok, the Thai capital city, through a merger with a slightly older charity, Soi Dog Rescue, founded by expatriate Sheridan Conisbee.
When the Indian Ocean tsunami hit, the Soi Dog Foundation had sterilized 1,470 dogs. It has now sterilized well over 100,000, and has recently extended spay/neuter services to Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the capital city of Myanmar.
(See The view from Phuket, Thailand: Jeff Young, DVM is right!, by John Dalley.)
Stopping the dog meat traffic
The Soi Dog Foundation programs have grown in other ways, as well––for example, taking the lead in animal rescue operations during the floods that immobilized much of Bangkok in October 2011.
Encouraging the Thai government to begin cracking down on the illegal export of dogs to slaughter in Vietnam, the Soi Dog Foundation has since 2012 accepted responsibility for the care of dogs rescued by border inspectors. Relieving the inspectors of the responsibility for either feeding the dogs or making euthanasia decisions has contributing to cutting the dog export volume by more than two-thirds, the Thai Veterinary Medical Association estimates.
Rescuing dogs from the traffic
In addition, recounted veteran foreign correspondent Tibor Krausz in a January 2015 profile of the Soi Dog foundation, “In the northeastern province of Sakon Nakhon, a hot spot for the underground dog meat trade, Soi Dog pays rewards to locals for tips on dog thieves and works with local police in arresting them. The charity also has its own task force, which has intercepted dozens of trucks with cargoes of stolen dogs bound for Vietnam’s booming canine meat markets. The unit has uncovered illegal butchers, tanneries, and holding centers, shutting them down and freeing scores of dogs.”
Building on that success, John Dalley in 2014 joined representatives of the Animals Asia Foundation, Change for Animals Foundation, and Humane Society International in helping to broker a deal to suspend transborder dog traffic among Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Supervised the Soi Dog clinic & shelter
Gill Dalley, working quietly and mostly behind the scenes, spent most of her time overseeing the Soi Dog Foundation sterilization clinic and 4.5-acre flagship shelter near the Mai Khao village, a former animal control shelter close to the Phuket airport.
The facilities employ four full-time veterinarians, more than 20 other paid staff, and frequent visiting volunteers, housing about 400 dogs at a time.
“Many rescued dogs are sent to the Soi Dog shelter in Phuket to be rehabilitated, and hopefully adopted to people in the North America, the U.K. and Europe,” recounted Iskhandar Razak of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after a January 2016 visit.
Gill Dalley told Razak that she hoped to achieve 500 dog adoptions per year.
“When you take them in, you need a plan to get them out,” Gill Dalley said. “500 a year out means you can bring in another 500 a year.”