I was excited and nervous and hot. Very very hot. Like 100+ degrees in the shade hot.
I stepped out of my little gold rental car in front of the office and received an overwhelming welcome! 40 pounds of black flying fur, wiggling, waggling, licking and dancing around in front of me. A dog! A shiny black dog with love in his heart.
We made friends instantly. He was a tsunami survivor who had adopted the office and the volunteers and employees it housed two years before I arrived.
I snuck him bites of cake and sausages. I made sure his water bowl was full.
I worried over him and reminded people to feed him.
On night 4 he followed me to a restaurant, across an extremely busy street (I looked away to avoid seeing him smooshed by a truck), and proceeded to charm scraps off of tourists.
MILO. Named by someone for his chocolatey resemblance to the instant Thai coffee drink.
When I left that July Milo was still shiny, happy, playful and if not owned individually, at least well cared for communally. I heard he was still rotating homes for the night depending on who was in town and who was on home leave or vacation.
A year and a half later I happened to see him in a photo on face.book. A thin and scrappy version of himself. It was suspicious to me but I chose to believe that the people he loved and trusted for a span of 4-5 years would continue to take care of him. It was beyond my imagination that when they all left for their various countries and closed the office doors, they would just leave Milo sitting alone outside.
I am embarrassed to say that another year passed. I saw another photo of Milo on facebook.
Now a shell of his former self. Eaten by mange, tail drooping, gray faced, homeless, ribs poking through dehydrated skin.
The details are massive. Saving Milo was a process that lasted from January - September 2010.
I put myself at odds with former officemates over this. But I simply don’t care. A dog is a pet. A dog is not a wild animal who can be cared for and made dependent and then left to his own devices on the street. A dog does not “like to roam” never knowing where his next meal might come from. Never experiencing a loving stroke from an owner. Slinking from shade tree to shade tree. Painfully pulling his wasted body to the scarce puddles on the side of the road.
I called Soi Dog Foundation last January and they picked Milo up outside his former "home." Long ago closed up and fenced off to house a daycare. The photo below breaks my heart. For almost five years this was a safe place for Milo. A covered porch to shelter him from rain or sun. A bowl of fresh water. A driveway of cars filled with friends to bring him food and affection.
Milo’s story is one that has a very painful middle but a happy ending. One story for all of the millions of heartbreaking dog stories in tourist destinations all over developing countries. Stray puppy is born because careless owners did not spay and neuter. Puppy’s mom is hit by car. Puppy finds high season long-term tourist to beg from and becomes accustomed to being “owned.” Tourist leaves eventually. Puppy/dog has no survival skills. Rainy season sets in. Dog becomes covered in mange. Dog either dies a slow painful death from skin disease and hunger or is hit by a car and left for dead in the road.
Milo somehow survived these cycles. Barely.
On top of the mange and dehydration, Milo was suffering from liver damage. (Caused by the questionable things he was eating to try and fill his belly.)
Milo's story just came to a close!! His family found him!
Rob and Sandra were Milo’s first best friends. Tsunami volunteers who knew Milo for a full year before I ever even arrived in Bang Niang. They too had assumed that years later, when the office closed, someone would take him or arrange a home for him.
This fall Milo took a big journey. The biggest of his life. He moved to England to live with his family. To stroll the country lanes, chase balls on the beach, and monitor sheep.
It didn't take long for him to learn about the couch and adapt to a family life. The wonder of walking with your pack. The soothing peace of regular meals. He is finally what he was meant to be – a pet. Somebody’s beloved pet. A pet who is once again young and glossy and full of life. He KNOWS he is a pet and he waits diligently by his garden gate to watch whenever anyone goes out.
I played a part in this story. But so did others. First a wonderful Thai woman who cared for Milo for his first few years and then Soi Dog Foundation who looked beyond the fact that Milo was “just a dog” and cared enough to get involved. Finally Rob and Sandra who spent a lot of time and money to get Milo home.
You can adopt an animal to almost any country in the world. Bringing an animal home to the U.S. is the easiest scenario. Island nations like the UK are harder, but it can be done. Please don't travel to another country, earn the love and trust of an animal, only to leave him/her to a slow and painful death on the street.
If you are in Thailand and need help getting your pet home you can contact Soi Dog Foundation.
For Rob and Sandra. Thank you. I wasn't sure I'd see a happy ending. Thank you for being wonderful human beings. Milo deserves you and you deserve him. You restored my faith.