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We speak with Helen, Public Relations Officer & Fundraiser at PACS - Phangan Animal Care for Strays.
Helen, thanks for meeting with us today. How did it all begin with PACS?
PACS was started in 2001 by a lady called Shevaun. She’s a vet herself. She was travelling, she landed in Koh Phangan, and she noticed that a lot of the animals weren’t in the best of health. At that time there were also a lot more stray dogs.
She wanted to see what she could do to help. She started asking her friends back home in the same profession if they could send materials and supplies. Asking local people if they wanted their pet treated for a small donation. Then she could use that donation to help the strays as well.
Three years ago we had a bit of change. We changed for PAC to PACS (Phanganist Animal Care to Phangan Animal Care for Strays). So, that means we only deal with strays now. We had the arrival of private veterinary clinics on the island for owned animals. So, this has meant the loss of a revenue stream in effect but given us more time to focus on the animals that need us most.
What impact do you think PACs has had on the community of Koh Phangan?
Local people tell us that they’ve noticed far fewer dogs on the street so that gives us confidence that our neutering projects are working. We also feel that there’s been a bit of an attitude change generally on the island - it’s more positive towards dogs. If you think back to before PACS was here and before vets were here, there was rabies and big packs of dogs on the island. It must have been quite intimidating. This was over twenty years ago. So, within living memory for a lot of the older Thai people.
Now, we have a lot of local people bringing animals to PACS, bringing food for the dogs and being really supportive. We hope that people are becoming more aware of how to deal with street dogs on the island. When people come for a few months, they think they are doing the dogs a favour by taking them to their bungalow. But, the dogs get used to living with them and to being fed twice a day. Then, when they leave, they are left to fend for themselves. They would have been better leaving it in it’s territory and feeding them there. Long-term stayers we feel understand this now but we need to keep saying this because there are new people are arriving everyday.
That's great. It's good to know the right way to do things. If people find they are chased by stray dogs, what can they do?
A lot of people mistake chasing for attacking. Don’t make eye contact. Eye contact for dogs is aggressive. Unless it’s your pet dog. If you’re running away you set of their prey drive. Stop and behave calmly. Allow the dog/dogs to sniff you. If it’s on a regular route you use, maybe you can start to throw a treat out when you go by.
Dogs become familiar with the sounds of motorbikes. They will get to know the sound of your bike and associate it with a positive.
What gave you the idea for to start working for PACs?
My husband had been volunteering already for a year. I was a little bit worried about doing it at first because of the emotional side. But, someone was leaving from the PR and fundraising side. So, I thought I would step in and I’ve been doing it ever since a year and a half later. It’s so rewarding.
What have you learnt through working at PACS?
I’ve learnt that actually Thai people are much kinder towards animals than people first think when they get here. When you get here and you see all these mangy animals on the street, you can think people don’t care. However, in the west, we round them up, put them in shelters and then they are killed if they're not rehoused in 30 days. A lot of street vendors, even if they don’t have a lot of money, will feed strays. Thai people will also bring stray animals in to us too.
It’s a don’t judge a book by it’s cover when you come to Koh Phangan.
What can people expect from volunteering at PACS?
If people are coming just for a day or two they can help by socialising animals and there’s always lots of cleaning to do with anything to do with animals.
They can also keep their eyes open for dogs that they see around the island, save our telephone number in their phone (+66 89875 7513). We had whatsapp too! They can call us 9-5 Monday - Friday if they see any animals with health problems.
What are your hopes for for PACS for the future?
I hope that one day PACS will be more of a neuturing clinic for strays but much more focused on re-homing because I hope that we will have the population under such control that we would have the time to do this. At the moment we deal with about one and a half thousand cases a year and naturally there aren’t enough adoptions to deal with that number.
Finally, leave us with the PACS philosophy…..
PACS isn’t the just the core team at the clinic, PACS is the whole community. It's everyone who is involved in taking responsibility for the welfare of stray animals on Koh Phangan.
Helen thanks so much for speaking with us!