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Thai-based group's dogged determination spares strays from black market

  • dogcages.jpg

    Smugglers round up strays on the streets of Thailand and send them to countries where they are killed and eaten. (Soi Dog Foundation)

  • Marlboropic.jpg

    This dog, Marlboro, is one of the lucky ones. Rescued from the streets of Phuket, it is bound for a permanent home in San Francisco. (Fox News)

It’s a real dog’s life for some canines in Thailand, where many of man’s best friends are left to survive on the streets with nobody to care for them.

As many as 2 million strays in Thailand, known as "Soi Dogs," or street dogs, are a common sight for visitors to the nation known as the Land of Smiles. The dogs often suffer from disease, abuse and injuries from car accidents. 

And it can get even worse for them. Street dogs are often grabbed by smugglers who traffic in the lucrative black market in dog meat.

But some people have made it their duty to save these dogs. The Soi Dog Foundation is at the vanguard of protecting these animals and finding them new homes, often in the U.S. John and Gill Dalley, who hail from the United Kingdom, have been running the Soi Dog Foundation for several years, overseeing growth to more than 50 full-time staff, including veterinarians who care for thousands of dogs every year.

“A lot of these dogs have a lot of health issues but we try to get them well before offering them for adoption.”

- Katherine Polak, Soi Dog Foundation

Funded completely by donations, 90 percent of which come from abroad, the Soi Dog Foundation is taking aim at the smugglers who send trucks packed with hundreds of dogs through Laos and onto Vietnam to be sold in markets where some are boiled alive before becoming somebody’s meal.

“I contacted all the large organizations I could, but nobody seemed to be interested in the issue and it wasn’t until our organization had grown, which was in 2011, that we decided we had to do something to stop this because it was out of control, and the cruelty had to be seen to be believed,” John Dalley told Fox News.

They finally had success in shattering the dog trade to Vietnam by using the issue of the spread of rabies by transporting dogs across borders to get the attention of the authorities. Southeast Asian countries had jointly pledged to eradicate rabies in the region by 2020 and this gave dog lovers the issue they could tap into to stop the smuggling.

Now Vietnam doesn’t allow dogs to be transported across their borders, a decision that has managed to destroy most of the smuggling. But the Soi Dog Foundation has now discovered a new smuggling route through Thailand and Laos to China, so their work goes on.

The dogs that they save from the smugglers or are dumped on the streets by their owners are sent to their center on the Thai vacation island of Phuket. There they are examined, treated if necessary and, with luck, sent to new homes.

“A lot of these dogs have a lot of health issues, but we try to get them well before offering them for adoption,” Katherine Polak, director of animal welfare at the foundation, told Fox News.

Most of the dogs that are made available for adoption are mixed or Thai breeds. Many people in the predominantly Buddhist country have pets, but mutts and Thai breeds are often eschewed in favor of purebreds.

Revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej has tried to increase the popularity of Thai dogs. He owns one Thai breed dog called "Thong Daeng," or Copper, which came from the litter of a stray. Adulyadej even wrote an affectionate biography about her in 2002 that deals with Thailand’s many social issues. The book has been reprinted several times because of its popularity.

His efforts have sparked a growing interest from people abroad in taking these stray dogs as pets. About 30 are sent abroad every month to new homes.

Each dog is accompanied by a volunteer, and the ticket costs around $350 plus $130 for the crate.

“A lot of people in America have an affinity with Thailand from visiting here and have seen the difficulties many dogs have on the streets," said Cristy Baker, the foundation's adoption manager. "They see photos of the dogs on our website and want to help them.”