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Tsunami crisis benefits Thailand strays

HUNDREDS OF dogs were saved by officials and animal rights activists while rescue workers were scouring the Andaman Sea coast for the victims of the Boxing Day 2004 Asian tsunami that left 230,000 people dead or missing along the Indian Ocean rim… and in a bizarre way the disaster led to a better life for many of Thailand’s stray dogs.

While human survivors in Thailand complain that red tape makes it hard for them to resume normal life, the deadly waves brought better care to the dogs and cats that escaped.

"The tsunami crisis is an opportunity for abandoned animals to be taken care of," said Roger Lohanan, head of Thai Animal Guardians Association helping stray pets get treatment and new homes.

A U.S. C-130 military cargo plane even flew 120 cats and dogs to Bangkok to find new homes. They had been rescued from Phi Phi Island, where the backpacker movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed.

Another 64 starving ‘tsunami dogs’ were rounded up around a makeshift morgue at a Buddhist temple in nearby province of Phang Nga, where some had been nibbling corpses, officials said.

In Phuket, the city's animal shelter, called ‘Mid-Road Dog's House’, Thai slang for strays, has more than 400 abandoned dogs.

The tsunami devastation brought the Guardians Association a rush of contributions from animal lovers.

As reported previously by OUR DOGS the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) promised 2 million baht ($50,000), Lohanan said.

But stray dogs are a problem all over Thailand and Lohanan said donations his organisation received would be spent on abandoned animals in other parts of the country if the projects were approved by the donor.

"Many Thais buy dogs as a fad. When the film ‘101 Dalmatians’ was showing, it was a Dalmatian fever and a few months later many of them were left on streets”

Bangkok alone is estimated to have at least 120,000 strays on it streets.

In areas of Phuket where they pack together, animal activists say, aggressive stray dogs have attacked people, bringing fears of rabies, especially during the very hot March-May period.

"Before the shelter existed in Phuket, strays were taken from the streets and either poisoned or slaughtered,' said Phuket chief veterinarian Sunart Wongchavalit, who started the 1.6 acre (0.6 hectare) dog shelter last year.

However, whenever city officials poison or slaughter some of the island's 2,000 to 3,000 strays, controversy erupts, as killing is a sin to Thailand's Buddhist majority.

So Phuket authorities plan a law obliging owners to register and insert identification microchips in their dogs, Sunart said. Owners would be fined if their pets were found abandoned.