It’s that time again where we make the annual trip up into the attic in search of hastily packed away decorations from the year before. Where festive tunes and carols fill the radio stations, determined to get you in the mood, even if it is too early. And of course, it’s the time in which practically every child has already finished composing their letter to a certain Mr. Claus, in the hope he will make their dreams come true on Christmas morning when they wake. So far, same old Christmas routine.
Another thing that appears not to have changed over the years is the staple gift request from many a child: a puppy. Every year, many parents get swept up into the Christmas spirit and look to impress their children with a fluffy new family member. But the stark reality soon descends once the Christmas season draws to a close and the January blues set in. It is only then that many stop and realise that they are just not equipped to care for “man’s best friend”, no matter how much love and loyalty they may give.
Which inevitably leads to a nightmare for rescue charities, who are inundated with calls and drop offs, as well as strays who have been abandoned, for which they then have to care for and try to re-home. Is it any wonder that almost forty years ago, Clarissa Baldwin, who served as the chief executive of the Dog’s Trust in the UK before stepping down in 2014, coined the phrase “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”?
It is a sentiment shared by Michael J. Baines, who feels if you make a commitment to owning a dog, it should be for the duration of their life, or yours. It is easy to see why he would take this view. I recently sat down for an interview with him, to hear his inspiring story.
Fourteen years ago, he left his native Sweden behind for the picturesque surroundings of Thailand. An accomplished chef, he quickly found work in a restaurant and settled into his new home. However, life took a different turn for Michael a few years later. And it all began with a chance encounter with a malnourished dog.
“I was managing an open air restaurant and one evening a dog showed up behind the building. She was skinny, had eye infections, multiple wounds and infections in those wounds. Many things wrong. She made me see dogs in a different way and I just could not stand to see her or any other dog in distress if I could help it. So I reached out to try to help her.”
According to World Animal Protection, around 75% of the worlds dogs are strays. It is a huge problem in Thailand, where it is not uncommon to see many just roaming the streets, weak from starvation and infection. Fast forward five years from when he first encountered that dog to now, and Michael currently feeds about 80 street dogs every day, as well as caring for his own dogs at home, of which he has ten, and more in a near-by foster home he has set up. He has selflessly adapted his entire schedule around caring for these dogs, a job which many of the local people commend him for.
“I wake at around 5am and take my ten dogs out for a walk. At about 7am I am home again, and I prepare food for my dogs, the dogs at my foster home two doors away, and for the street dogs. My routine is the same most days”.
He feeds the dogs a combination of dry foods such as chicken and rice, mixed with a home-made broth. But feeding these animals is only one thing that Michael has to contend with on a daily basis. Medicines and clinical care are usually a necessity. As we chat via Skype, he fills me in on a dog he recently rescued, who required emergency surgery following a scuffle with another dog.
“She got bitten by a bigger dog on her back. Some people in the area where she was found took her in and cared for her, but they were moving. So they contacted me and asked if I could take her. We named her N̂ảtāl (Thai for Sugar)”.
Her wounds were so severe and had become so infected that she required surgery to remove a collection of maggots that had burrowed deep into her skin. But thankfully, it was a success, and once she has healed, N̂ảtāl will travel to America, to start a new life with a loving family that Michael has found for her.
It’s all in a day’s work for Michael, but this is not easy. And it certainly doesn’t come cheap. Not only does he volunteer his time to helping these dogs, but he often funds most of it himself. Even to the point where, apart from a bed, he has hardly any furniture in his home. By his own admission, he is not a big spender, as it all goes to the dogs.
“Since May, I have saved over 45 puppies and dogs, and almost all of them are sick. So I take them to the clinic and I will probably spend maybe ฿ 500,000 (€13,283) there this year. So it is a big cost, and you know, donations are a great help”.
In April, a documentary aired on Michael’s Facebook page that he uses to promote his work. It brought him more to the attention of the world, and as a result he has seen a spike in donations. Realising that people were more likely to give when they saw him doing more with the dogs, he decided to cut back on the time he spent in his restaurant in order to do even more. Up to that point, he had been working exhausting sixteen hour days; eight hours with the dogs and eight hours in the restaurant. He now spends 2 hours a day at the restaurant, cooking and ordering stock, while his staff looks after everything when he is with his dogs.
“I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to stop with the dogs’. So I decided to open my restaurant for breakfast and lunch only. Since the video released, there are more eyes on me now, and people would naturally expect me to do more if they are going to donate”.
Despite all the incredible work being done by Michael, the problem with stray dogs in Thailand still persists. So what does he think is the best way to tackle it? For him, it is not a dog problem, but in fact a human problem. He feels the government should introduce harsher laws that push for microchipping and neutering programmes to help combat the issue.
He is also hugely critical of night markets, where puppies are kept in cages and can be bought for as little as ฿300 (€8). As a result, many parents buy a puppy as a gift for their children, only to dump it six months later when it has grown and they can’t cope. It is something we can relate to here in Ireland, what with the issues mentioned above surrounding dogs as Christmas presents.
Ultimately for Michael, the message is simple: “It is the people dumping these dogs. Education and knowledge are key. If they taught the people here the value of life and that dogs are not disposable, it would fix the problem”.
If you would like to help Michael in his efforts to help the stray dogs of Thailand, please make a donation at the links below: