Island redemption: Stray human saves himself through stray dogs

A stray Northern Irish entrepreneur is now looking after stray dogs in Koh Samui, but only after nearly drinking himself to death.

Niall Harbison founded successful Irish social media companies Simply Zesty and Lovin Dublin before selling them for seven-figure sums, according to Belfast Live.

Niall moved to Brussels at an early age where his father was a diplomat and later moved to Dublin and where he worked as a chef before he went on to cook on some of the world’s most luxurious yachts.

Through his up-and-down career, Niall, now 43 years old, says he suffered from bouts of depression and alcoholism. After a move to Koh Samui two years ago, he went on a drinking binge that put him in the ICU for three days.

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Niall told Belfast Live…

“It was two Christmases ago. That was kind of the catalyst moment to rethink everything. I had too much time on my hands.

“I always had an issue with drink and it just came to a head at that stage. I nearly drank myself to death. I literally ended up in the ICU in the hospital and it’s a kind of cliché, but it was a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment.

“I always loved dogs so I kind of just wanted to tackle this problem and try and fix it.

Having turned his back on the demon drink, Niall realised he needed something to be passionate about and feeding the thousands of dogs on Koh Samui was exactly that.

“I feed about 650 now every day through volunteers and I’m trying to build it up into something a lot bigger across Thailand.

“I started with just three or four dogs on my own and it grew from there. I think it’s capturing people’s imaginations because there’s so much doom and gloom around.

“I live on Koh Samui, a small enough island and there are 10,000 stray dogs on this one island alone – they’re everywhere.”

During his time as the head of Dublin food and entertainment guide Lovin Dublin, Niall had a reputation for being outspoken and wrote a number of controversial opinion pieces. Now having moved away from a life of constantly working, he could never go back.

“The reason I left Ireland was that it was always difficult there with the long winters and dark nights.

“There’s not much else to do and all your friends are drinking. It’s just the culture.

“I moved to Thailand to get a break from that, but it doesn’t really matter where you are. If you’re an alcoholic you’ll always find drink.

“I had too much time on my hands and no focus in life. I had nobody to really keep an eye on me so I just went off the rails completely.”

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.

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