Thai Life

Phuket dog hero wins top award

PHUKET: THE valiant efforts of Gill Dalley, co-founder of Phuket’s Soi Dog Foundation (SDF), were recognized earlier this month when she was named the first Asia Pacific Canine Hero at The SPCA Canine Welfare Awards ceremony in Chengdu, China.

The award was established to recognize significant contributions for the betterment of canine welfare in Asia. Gill was singled out among organizations and representatives from 86 countries and awarded US$10,000 for her “tireless efforts in dog rescue, rehabilitation and adoption in Phuket,” the SPCA says.

But Gill doesn’t feel like a hero.

“I get embarrassed by these things because I’m just Gill, and I do what I do because I want to. I’m not one for shouting about it or blowing my own trumpet, though it is fantastic to receive,” she says.

Gill, 52, and her husband John, 61, have spent the past eight years sterilizing more than 33,000 animals in Phuket and have built SDF into the largest animal welfare organization in Thailand, an effort that has required huge commitment, and sacrifice.

Holidays are not really an option for Gill, hobbies and projects have been shelved and even her mum thinks she’s totally off her rocker and has run off to join a cult, Gill explains.
Gill lost both her legs to septicemia in 2004, which she contracted while rescuing a dog from a flooded water buffalo field.

The award ceremony acknowledged the hard work of Gill and SDF, and gave her a moment of reflection in the spotlight.

“I was very nervous…it surprised me because when they handed me the award I was a little emotional, which I didn’t think I would be, but when everybody was clapping I felt proud for Soi Dog and all the members who help,” she recalls.

But for Gill, the greatest reward is helping animals.

“I think I have seen everything possible that a human can do to an animal: petrol poured over them and set on fire, acid, machete attacks, jaws wired so they can’t eat or drink and dogs that have been shot. We have even heard of a dog being raped repeatedly by a foreigner. I have seen a lot that man can do to an animal and it still upsets me,” she says.

“Of course I have my good days and bad, but if you let yourself get too emotional then it becomes about you, but it’s not about you, it’s about the animals,” she adds.

It’s giving dogs a second chance that keeps Gill going.

She recounts the story of a dog called Pearl, who was brought to SDF recently after a violent attack where acid had been poured on it. The dog’s flesh was burned off over a large part of its body, but with the help of SDF, the dog recovered and was re-homed in Denmark. The new owner sent photographs of Pearl and a letter to Gill recently.

“I cried when I saw the photos. It was beautiful. It’s days like that keep you going and makes it all worthwhile because you have changed the life of an animal. In moments like that, we [SDF] are the richest people in the world,” she says.

And that’s not all the work gives her. Gill explains that instead of letting her disability get her down, it was getting back to SDF that motivated her to learn to walk with prosthetic legs.

“You can’t turn back the clock. There was nobody to blame for what happened, it was just one of those things. I lost my legs, that’s that and I worked very hard to walk again – it was the dogs that inspired me to do it.”

When Gill finds time, she wants to set up a charity for disabled Thais, since prosthetics are not readily accessible to all here.

If these aren’t the actions of a truly compassionate, selfless and heroic person, then it’s hard to say what is, but Gill maintains she’s no hero.

“I’m not a hero, I am just Gill doing what Gill wants to do.”

— Alexandra Andersson

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