Blain Hoskins is just one of the many volunteers who has helped improve the welfare of animals at our Thai centre. On the 10th September, he took on the Great North Run to raise funds for the continuing support of these animals. This is his story.
Last Sunday morning I stood, with 40,000 others, on a motorway in central Newcastle and as I always do at the start of the Great North Run, I felt myself well up with a mixture of pride, excitement and sadness. The tears I shed at the start line are usually for departed loved ones, grandparents, my dogs Zak and Ozzy, however on this occasion my thoughts were in Chiang Mai about how I can never repay the dogs at Care for Dogs for how they've changed my life and shown me my purpose. So the journey which was only 13.1 miles from its end, begun 5,500 miles and over 13 months ago.
My partner, Caitlin, and I had decided to travel through Southeast Asia in early 2016 having become stale in our jobs, feeling no passion for them, drifting from one payday to the next. So after a few months of saving, we both gave notice and booked flights for Bangkok. Having some time spare before we left and being the massive planner that I am, I started looking at our itinerary and specifically any opportunities for us to get close to some animals. This is where I found WVS Care for Dogs. Knowing we'd be in Chiang Mai shortly after we arrived, I arranged an induction for us both about a week after we arrived in Thailand.
When we arrived, we were at a very low ebb having been the victims of theft in Kanchanaburi on our trip north. All that was completely insignificant once we were welcomed by a hundred wagging tails and some of the most friendly staff and volunteers we could hope for. What was supposed to be a week-long stay in Chiang Mai turned into a month, such was our feeling of being home.
During our time at Care for Dogs we heard many heartbreaking stories behind how the dogs came to the shelter, tales of abuse, sickness, mothers caring for puppies on the street and even of the dog meat trade. It's impossible to single out any one dog's story I could recant to demonstrate the challenges most of them had faced before they found WVS. So instead, I'll focus on the spirit shown by these dogs despite it all.
Every one of the dogs we met had a special personality all of their own but a few of our favourites were:
Flip, who I think everyone's attention was drawn to because he was just so friendly. It didn't matter if you had been there a month or a minute, he would greet you with wide open eyes, a wagging tail and two front paws climbing onto your shoulders for a hug.
Lulu, a brown and white Thai mix but probably with a little collie in her. She was very smart, already knowing a few commands and learning some more during our brief time with her. For whatever reason she would be chased off by some dogs that hung around in a certain part of the yard meaning she would stay in her area most of the time and only a few other dogs would enter her area. I'm not sure if she had the best or worst of it with so much space but so few doggy pals.
Haru, a fox red girl coming to the end of her puppyhood. She was a rascal, a scallywag, a hooligan. Once she knew where I kept my treats in my bag she wouldn't leave it alone. Nothing made her happier than spinning me round trying to relieve me of my treats.
Kwan Jai, with her beautiful smile. Rarely have I met such a good natured, well behaved dog. She didn't seem to bark much at all and seemed in perfect happiness just by being with a human.
Kwak, with his coffee table-like appearance, who had apparently doubled in size during his stay. We soon found out why during feeding time. Whilst other dogs would face off over certain bowls of food, he would quietly sneak behind them and gobble it up by the time they'd decided who was going to eat it.
Cream - a girl with the softest long fur. She was such a little princess and she picked Caitlin as her lady in waiting. She would immediately go to her whenever we entered the run and was incredibly protective of her.
Fritzy - his story is perhaps the most saddening but also the one with the happiest ending. We learned he'd been at the shelter for many years and due to constant painful infections, and had to have his eyes removed. In such circumstances he could be forgiven for being somewhat grumpy. But he didn't let it affect him one bit. He knew his way around every inch of that run and he'd wander around with the other dogs and come greet people at the fence just like the others. When out walking with us, he would show an enormous amount of trust and simply follow our voices. Fritzy finally got a home of his own before we came home, a huge compound for him to roam with some other dogs.
I could go on and on about all the dogs, Flamingo, Job, Jai Dee, Martin, Duong Dee, Happy, Smile, Nancy, Dam Noi, Logan, Donna, Lewie, Som Jai, Fanta, Federal, Hans, Bai Tong, Coco, every one of them carved out a corner of our hearts reserved just for them.
I should also mention the staff at the shelter. Jamie, Ian, Ou, Guy and everyone else who made us feel so welcome and were always there to help and answer our endless questions. Supporting them were the most amazing team of regular volunteers who would ensure the dogs got their daily walk. Mike, Roger, Noelene, Sheila and Irene were an inspiration to us and heroes to the dogs they cared for.
Our travels in Asia lasted four months and took us to seven different countries before we eventually spent our final week back at Care for Dogs, also spending a week at Soi Dog in Phuket. Leaving Care for Dogs after our first month there was one of the most difficult things we've ever had to do. It was because of those dogs and those people that we resolved that it wouldn't be the end of something, but the beginning. We would continue caring for animals wherever we go. Nothing could possibly be more rewarding or worthwhile.
So when the ballot for the Great North Run opened a few weeks after we returned home, I couldn't resist entering and there was only one cause I was going to raise funds for.
The training went very well with no injuries and the final 13.1 miles of my journey were completed in a little under 1 hour and 50 minutes, bettered only by my much younger self on one previous occasion. The memories of Care for Dogs were spurring me on through those final few miles when my legs were screaming at me to slow down and my chest on the verge of exploding.
Quite fittingly, the day after I completed the Great North Run, Caitlin had a successful interview with Dogs Trust, where I've been working since March. We both hope to spend many years caring for dogs there. So to Flip and Lulu, Haru and Kwan Jai, and all the others, thank you. You've inspired us and helped us find our vocation in life. And thank you on behalf all the dogs we care for and all the dogs we will care for in the years to come. Were it not for your enduring spirit we may not be doing so much good work.
If you’ve been inspired by Blain’s story and would like to help support our Care for Dogs shelter in Thailand, please donate to his Justgiving page and help him smash his target and help animals in need!