LOVES DOGS: Jaimee Conn gives dog Blondie some much-needed hugs at the Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand. Photos Soi Dog Foundation

I FIRST heard about Soi Dog Foundation through Facebook. Soi is a Thai word meaning street. I followed the amazing work the non-profit organisation was doing for the homeless dogs and cats of Thailand, and when I read that volunteers were always needed at their sanctuary in Phuket, I knew I had to go.

I didn’t know what to expect, but Soi Dog Foundation was very helpful in providing details of exactly what the volunteering would entail, and even had suggestions for accommodation located along their morning and afternoon pick-up-drop-off routes. Most volunteers stay in Nai Yang, which has a beautiful beach and a decent selection of restaurants, bars and shops.

The sanctuary in Mai Khao, in the island’s north-west, has hundreds of dogs segregated into large enclosures called runs. I was placed in the DMT (Dog Meat Trade) 1 run and given a folder containing information about the dogs.

I soon learned all 18 dogs’ names and became familiar with their individual personalities.

As the name would suggest, some of the dogs in my run were rescued from the horrendous dog meat trade; others were from the Phuket government dog pound.

My job as a volunteer was, essentially, to love the dogs. This meant walking them, brushing them, patting them, and just spending time with them. This socialisation helps to get them ready to be adopted, usually to homes overseas. A few dogs in my run left for better futures in the United States while I was there, and although it was hard to say goodbye, I was happy for them.

Most of the dogs in my run were already very friendly. However, there were a few that didn’t trust me at first, as they hadn’t been treated well by humans in the past. Every morning, I looked forward to seeing happy, furry faces greeting me at the run entrance.

Volunteers at Soi Dog Foundation are encouraged to spend time at the Phuket government dog pound, where extra hands are sorely needed and dogs are desperate for affection.

During my stay, I went a few times to help clean enclosures, and walk some of the dogs.

Due to Thailand’s main religion of Buddhism, it is not standard practice to euthanise dogs at the pound – or any animal, for that matter – as it is generally against their beliefs. This sometimes leads to animals being killed by indirect, inhumane methods, such as a dog “choosing” to eat poisoned food.

I was also a flight volunteer for Soi Dog Foundation. This meant that when it was time for me to leave Thailand, three lucky dogs and a cat flew with me to the US, where I was continuing my travel, to start their new lives. It was a long journey but we got to Seattle safely, where the animals’ lovely new families were waiting to take them home.

The staff and volunteers at Soi Dog Foundation are dedicated to helping the stray animals of Thailand who have no one else to turn to, and it was a privilege to be a miniscule part of a truly remarkable legacy.

In 2017, Soi Dog Foundation found homes for almost 700 animals. In the same year, the organisation treated more than 4000 sick and injured animals. To date, it has saved more than 16,000 dogs from the dog meat trade, and, because of its vaccination programs, Phuket is the only rabies-free province in Thailand. Not bad for an organisation that relies solely on donations.

My time spent at Soi Dog Foundation was extremely rewarding, and it was a huge bonus to meet so many kind, like-minded volunteers from around the world.

As volunteers are welcome at the sanctuary Monday to Friday, the weekends are left free to explore the island. Even on weekdays, there is still plenty of time to enjoy happy hour or sunset cocktails at the beach after a busy day at the sanctuary.

Soi Dog Foundation is also a great place for cat lovers, as the sanctuary has a separate area reserved for cats, who love human company. The only vaccinations I required for visiting Phuket were for Typhoid and Hepatitis A.

Before booking an animal volunteer trip, it is important to research whether a volunteer project is ethical, as some organisations exploit animals under the guise of caring for them.

While some projects require a volunteer fee, which pays for your accommodation and food, be wary of scams.

Soi Dog Foundation does not take any money from volunteers, however, it may request a small fee for their optional morning pick-up and afternoon drop-off service. For more information please visit www.soidog.org or email volunteering@soidog.org.