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SOMEONE WHO STILL CARES


The plight of stray cats and dogs on the streets of Bangkok
story by CHOMPOO TRAKULLERTSATHIEN   Photos by SUCHADA HONGSA

Ten years ago, Areeporn Maharouy lived her life just like the meaning of her family name. The word "Maharouy", denoting tremendous wealth, reflected Areeporn's affluent lifestyle. And like other well-to-do people, she seemed to enjoy her well-heeled way of life.
Yet, life is uncertain. Everything is ephemeral and Areeporn now realises the simple yet hard-to-accept truth, and tries to live with it.
 
Once the owner of three luxurious cars, Areeporn now drives a rusty pick-up that looks indeed like a pile of scrap metal. Her fat bank account that kept her comfortable is now gone. Her annual trips to foreign countries are over forever. The one-time brand-name fanatic is now used to dresses bought at week-end markets. Instead of sitting in classy restauran ts she enjoys a simple meal of plain rice flavoured with fish sauce at home with 10 of her best friends who will never leave her, despite her hard Tships.

What brought her to this?
The answer is in her house, on the roads and in the temples — more precisely, it" is almost everywhere she goes.
Areeporn's life was totally changed when she heard the news of a "canine massacre'' in her community. In a bid to stop the barbarous bloodshed, she rushed to the "killing fields" only to find that many stray dogs had already been poisoned to death.
To her, seeing the helpless and innocent dogs dying so painfully was a heart- wrenching experience. The tragic scene prompted her to take immediate action to save the other vulnerable lives that were going to be the next victims.
"In my community , homeless dogs and dogs without collars were the targets. Villagers used cruel means to eliminate them, ranging from poisoning to beating them to death. When I knew, what, was happening to those dogs, I couldn't stand it. I felt so sorry for them: So 1 took the decision to adopt some of them and take them in. Most of them were sick and in bad shape," recalled Areeporn.
What saddened Areeporn most was the merciless slaying of the puppies, especially the female ones.
 
"Bitches are the first victims because they can breed twice a year, and female puppies are next. They re so pathetic. I promised myself that I won't let the same thing happen in my community ever again," she said.
 Ten years later, and Areeporn has kept her word. But the result is tar from her expectations. Not only are the stray dogs loathed by niost members of this com-munity, but Areeporn herself has also become disliked because of what she has done for these poor animals. So far, about 100 stray dogs and cats are in her care, with 10 staying at her house while the rest take refuge at the two temples in the vicinity.

"At first, I took 65 dogs to one local temple, and ask permission from the abbot to leave them there. I told him that I would feed them, take care of them and keep the temple clean. He allowed me to leave the dogs, but recently he told me to remove all the dogs from the temple with no reason. I just can't believe it. This land is so vast but there's no place for these animals to live, to breathe and to die naturally," she said, bursting into tears.
Taking all the dogs back to her house is out of the question since it is against the rules of the local community — a n eighbour once filed a complaint against her with the community committee, claim¬ing that her dogs made too much noise, so Areeporn doesn't want to cause any more problems.
"Previously the committee allowed me to keep some dogs on the con¬dition that they must not make a loud noise. I try my best to keep them quiet, but there are times when they fight and bark non-stop. I try to keep a watch¬ful eye on my dogs ... when they go out for their toilet trip I follow them closely and clean up after them. I would like to tell my neighbours that these dogs aren't a problem for the community — they have the right to live their life like we do," she said.
 Although Areeporn has successfully saved countless lives, she could not save what she once had. However, she is con-tent to sacrifice her happiness and eniovment in order to save lives, lives are overlooked by many. While die number of stray dogs under her supervi - sion is on the rise, her income cannot cover her expenses. She has sold everything she owned to keep her dogs' stomachs full, to pay for dog and cat food, medical bills, vaccines and other necessities.
"Now my once well-furnished house is empty. The only furniture left in my house is an old fan. But it's not for me, it's for the dogs that like to live in a cold room. No w my life is simpler. What I care for most is not my own happiness, but the welfare of the dogs. I no longer want anything for myself. You know, when I'm sick I never go to the doctor. I prefer to save the money for animal food instead," she said.
Though the female dogs have already been neutered, the population of stray dogs in her care has never been stable. More and more irresponsible dog owners turn up with no sympathy for her when they find out that Areeporn provides food and shelter for homeless mongrels.
"Some abandon dogs at the two temples where my dogs live. Others drop sacks containing five to six puppies in front of  my house occasionally. I have no choice but to adopt them. 1 would like to tell these people that I can't help all these pitiful animals on my own. As long as the BMA can't deal with the problem of , people in the community must join forces and help neuter them. Killing them, or simply throwing them in front of other people's houses, won't solve the problem," she said.
But recently Areeporn has found that the number of strays at the two temples is gradually reducing. One or two dogs go missing every day. But what initially seemed to be good news turned out to be shocking.
"I thought some kind people were adopting them. I was so glad. But I found out that these missing dogs were being killed as food. They were caught by dog hunters late at night. I put 'No Dog Catch¬ing' signs around the temple but it's dif¬ficult to monitor the dogs at night. All I can do is to pray for their safety," said the dog guardian.
Many people ridicule what Areeporn has done for 10 years — rescuing lives considered worthless by many people.

Some wonder why she had to sacrifice her affluent life tor die animals, and shoulder the seemingly endless burden. Others tell her to "let go" and ignore the problem.
 But Areeporn still cares. She gets up late at night to cook 10 pots office for her dogs and cats so they will have food to eat in the morning. And she prepares dinner for them in the late afternoon. When night falls, she lights mosquito coils around her house and at the two temples, to help make sure that all of her "children" will be able to sleep undisturbed. From time to time she has to take sick dogs to the vet, only to find that her dogs are refused treatment because she can't pay their medical bills right away.
"Many people I know think that I'm crazy. I also ask myself several times a day why I have to take responsibility for these lives, but when I look into their eyes, the answer is there," she said.
As long as the problem of stray dogs in Bangkok is not taken seriously by the authorities, Areeporn says that she can't stop taking care of them.
"One day, while sitting at a bus stop, I saw several homeless dogs foraging for food. Some were waiting eagerly to see if anyone would give them some food. Others were loolang for a kind person to take them off the street. Who will take these dogs to the vet when they are sick? Who will give them a loving hug when they feel lonely? But what I saw was a lady who walked past them and dumped leftover food in the bin. No one pays attention to these strays at all. That's why 1 never give up. I still have more energy to fight for them."

   



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