CHONBURI, Thailand: With tails wagging to a chorus of barks and yelps, more than two dozen dogs attached to wheels that support their disabled hind legs scramble along a rocky path, taking their daily exercise.
Mostly victims of accidents, the 27 dogs are being nursed back to health at a shelter in Thailand’s province of Chonburi southeast of the capital, Bangkok.
“It’s almost like they have no idea that they have a disability and once you put them in the wheelchair for the first time, it’s like there’s no learning curve,” said shelter official Christopher Chidichimo.
The shelter, run by a foundation called The Man That Rescues Dogs, was set up by a Swede who moved to Chonburi in 2002 and was so dismayed by the poor condition of strays that he started caring for them after work.
But its future is now in doubt, after the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 40 per cent drop in donations and slashed the number of foreign visitors.
“The donations are very important, and the volunteers and visitors are equally important, because they come and spread our message,” said Chidichimo, who is a sponsorship coordinator at the shelter.
The shelter spends more than US$1,300 each day to care for more than 600 dogs and feed 350 more that live on the streets.
Its volunteers also look after paralysed and disabled dogs, including physiotherapy sessions, but scarce funds have forced it to suspend a monthly campaign to spay and neuter strays.
Thailand, estimated to have more than 800,000 stray cats and dogs in 2017, could see their number reach 2 million by 2027 and 5 million in 20 years unless it takes some steps to control numbers, livestock authorities says.
For now, the disabled dogs in Chonburi enjoy their daily rambles.
“They are eager for us to strap them up,” said dog handler Phanuphong Borphuak, referring to the canine mobility aids.
“They run very fast, we humans can’t keep up with them.”