Packs of dogs roam freely and happily among the elderly elephants. Most of these canines are owned by the sanctuary’s staff and are part of the family.
Nearby, hundreds of dogs are contained in outdoor runs. Some are sweet, some are aggressive. All of them were rescued from the streets of Bangkok after floods left them homeless and injured.
“Many had rotted limbs and needed amputations,” said Tracy Harachi, who traveled to the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand last December with her husband Nate Yoffa. “One dog gave birth while clinging to a cement wall, submerged in water ... her tail rotted off.”
Harachi, a professor at the University of Washington and Yoffa, who works for a software company, went to the park to lend care to elephants who were rescued from inhumane and abusive work conditions. But they encountered something unexpected: hundreds of dogs and cats who survived Thailand’s devastating floods in 2011. The founders of Elephant Nature Park gathered up the animals and brought them to the 150-acre park via small boats. At one point, they had 500 dogs. There are around 40 dogs per run.
“It was completely overwhelming,” Yoffa said.
In addition to feeding and caring for the animals, the nonprofit provides free vet care and spay/neuter services to the nearby villages.
Yoffa and Harachi spent time with many of the dogs, including a shepherd mix named Steel. She was hit by a car and put in a metal cage to die, as euthanasia is not permitted in Thailand. Steel lost both of her hind legs, and now gets around with a set of wheels and a specially built tile floor.
One dog in particular caught their attention: a young, sweet pup named Bua Kao, which means “White Lotus.” She had been at the park for a year. Harachi says she would have taken any of the dogs home, but they decided to rescue Bua Kao, who they renamed to B.K. She was most likely someone’s pet, as she is a purebred Kintamani Bali Dog.
“I can’t bring an elephant home, but we could bring a dog,” Harachi said.
B.K. arrived on Orcas in early January, but it took until May for her to finally feel comfortable. She was scared of everything – even a leaf on the ground caused her alarm. She also had a hard time with her new pack members: lab/ridgeback mix Jasmine and Australian shepherd Joey.
Harachi and Yoffa have been adopting older dogs for years. B.K. is their first young canine.
With the help of Orcas trainers KT Hendrie and Lesley Liddle and lots of positive reinforcement, the dogs seemed to have worked out their differences. Now they can all ride in the car together and don’t fight over food. And Takeshi, a cat rescued from Cambodia, rules the roost, bossing everyone around.
Harachi travels to Cambodia up to four times a year to do social work. Her next trip is in June and she will drop off dog supplies at the Elephant Nature Park. She and Yoffa will be returning to the park next December.
“It’s a comfortable existence for the dogs, cats and elephants that live together,” Harachi said. “But it’s not like an American shelter where someone will walk in and say ‘I want to adopt a dog.’ The 300 dogs there are likely staying where they are.”
The Elephant Nature Park
During their time at the nonprofit sanctuary, they fed, bathed and cleaned up after the 35 elephants who will live out their final days in a safe environment. Volunteers from all over the world come to the park to help out. It also hosts tourists who want to interact with the animals. For more information, go to www.facebook.com and search for “Save Elephant Foundation.”
Elephants in Asia have a history of being used for logging, which generally means a life of violence and abuse. Training methods include stabbing and poking. Some of the elephants are blind from being stabbed in the eyes. It can be a long life of abuse for the elephants, who live up to 60 years. Most of the animals at the park are geriatric and have serious injuries.
“Many of the elephants have significant emotional problems,” Yoffa said. “It takes a while for them to relearn how to be part of the herd and exist in their matriarchal society.”