Thai temple is not a saving grace for dogs and cats

A cat found in the Thai temple. This post was filed by Shannon Walajtys, International Fund for Animal Welfare Emergency Response officer working with a small team of rescuers on the ground in Thailand.

A small gray dog with soft squinty eyes drags herself towards me as if to welcome my arrival at temple. She must pull herself past at least 50 other dogs to get close enough for me to pet her. I kneel down and extend my hand to say hello and I realize she has no back legs. As she lowers her head to allow me to pet her, I gaze out into what seems like a never-ending sea of neglected dogs and wonder how she manages to maintain her trust in humans in the midst of such chaos.

When most people think of a Thai Buddhist temple, images are conjured of sacredness and compassion. However, nothing could be further from the truth two and a half hours outside the bustling city of Bangkok. At the temple of Wat Saen Kaew, hundreds of animals lead lives of misery and despair and in hope of escaping the deplorable conditions there.

Located on the sprawling temple grounds, a large U-shaped building incarcerates an estimated 800-1,000 cats and dogs. After passing through the gates, I’m immediately overcome by the stench of feces and garbage that has accumulated over many years. Accompanied by members of the organizations, SCAD Bangkok and Kinship Circle, who were called in to help with the treatment of animals, I found myself surrounded by dogs of all sizes, many of which were suffering from chronic medical conditions.

I climbed a steep wooden ladder to the second floor where the majority of the animals were housed. Finding a place to step where there wasn’t an animal or feces was difficult. There, I saw the gut-wrenching scene of hundreds of dogs and cats; many of which were crammed into small crates that hung from the ceiling by wire over a large fetid swamp. It was apparent the cats lived in constant fear from the dogs running and barking below and on top of cages that obviously had not been cleaned in months. It was common to see up to six cats housed in a 2-foot by 2-foot cage.

The situation at this temple has been a welfare concern for many years but has been exacerbated by the flooding of Bangkok that forced the relocation of the dogs from the downstairs of the compound to the upstairs. This has led to excessive crowding and in turn the inability to provide humane care by the four caretakers on site. The Thai Royal Army has been called in to assist with cleaning parts of the facility.

During our visit, we attempted to encourage caregivers to remove the cats from the upstairs and create a cat-only housing facility downstairs where there was sufficient space. This would provide the dogs upstairs with more room to move about as well as lessen the stress for cats.

I hope to assist the temple in the upcoming days to suggest other much-needed avenues to improve the welfare of animals in their care but change is hard to come by as issues involving temples remains a thorny subject for political and religious reasons.

--Katherine Polak, DVM, MPH - IFAW Thai Flooding Rescue Team Member

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