Written by Kathryn Snowdon
Every great feat begins with that first step. No matter what the human achievement or endeavor, it always begins with that one impetus, that drive to achieve something that’s bigger than ourselves. For Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary founder Gemma Ashford, it all originated from an encounter with a little puppy named Tigerlilly.
Back in 2007 Gemma went to Sangklaburi, situated near the Burmese border in rural Thailand, to work as a teacher at the local children’s orphanage.
‘Tigerlilly was one of a family of five I fed regularly on the street,” Gemma said. “One morning I came across her lying at the side of the road. This tiny little girl was so emaciated, weak and she was struggling to stand.’”
Upon taking her to the vets, she was diagnosed with Canine Distemper – a condition that is lethal to all but 2% of puppies that catch it. Nonetheless, despite all the odds, round-the-clock care and being carried around everywhere in Gemma’s camera bag, Tigerlilly recovered wonderfully – casting doubt on her original diagnosis. She became Gemma’s first patient, her first success and the first resident at the now established Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary in Sangklaburi.
The sanctuary currently houses 50 dogs, with this number fluctuating constantly as more cases are brought in every day. It’s not only canines that receive treatment; in the past we’ve looked after cats, rabbits, goats and recently a lesser bamboo rat. Here are just a few of our patients. Click on any of the images below to see it at a larger size.
While it is estimated that there are approximately 3,000 dogs living in Sangklaburi, the nearest veterinary hospital is four hours away, meaning that when an animal is injured or unwell, few people have the resources or inclination to make such a long journey to seek professional medical care.
Now, however, since the establishment of the Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary, there is a place for ailing animals to come for basic medical treatment, care and love. Gemma is not a trained medical practitioner, which means that she is completely self-taught on how to treat sickly animals.
It is only on the rare occasions when a volunteer vet visits that we can implement a sterilization program. Through these, we have been able to sterilize more than 500 dogs. This means that the sanctuary has not only been able to directly save hundreds of lives through discovering and treating pyometra cases before they become too far advanced, but the number of animals that have been indirectly saved due to preventative births can be approximately calculated below:
An unspayed female dog, her mate and all of their offspring, plus the offspring’s puppies, if none are ever neutered or spayed add up to:
Just like Tigerlilly desperately needed Gemma in her hour of need, the dogs of Sangklaburi need the Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary; there is no alternative. Without the sanctuary, more dogs will die on the side of the road through carelessness, neglect and sometimes deliberate cruelty. Our presence cannot disappear.
The sanctuary – like its inhabitants – has survived the impossible already; it all began when a caring teacher took pity and decided to help a sick and helpless puppy. Now this pup is all grown up with a bright and happy future ahead of her; just think how many dogs’ futures can be saved so long as the sanctuary’s doors are kept open. The future is hopeful for dogs in Sangklaburi as long as the Baan Unrak Animal Sanctuary is alive and strong.
The Bann Unrak Animal Sanctuary has a desperate cash shortfall at the moment and the Harmony Fund has offered to help. Though most of us will never experience the hardship of being the sole resource for sick and injured animals in this part of rural Thailand, we can make a difference.
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