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Difference Maker

People making a difference: Sheridan Conisbee

This founder of a nonprofit rescue organization finds homes for Bangkok's street dogs.

By Tibor KrauszCorrespondent / August 17, 2009

Sherry Conisbee saves Bangkok's feral street dogs, eventually putting them up for foreign adoption. Her organization's before-and-after photos document a remarkable series of canine rehabilitations.

Tibor Krausz

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Bangkok, Thailand

The "Seven Dwarfs" were left in a box beside a garbage bin last January. But that's when volunteers from Bangkok's Soi Cats and Dogs animal charity spotted them.

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If they hadn't, the seven black-splotched white pups, subsequently named after the seven dwarfs in the children's tale, would at best have ended up at a Buddhist temple – the routine destination in Thailand for discarded pets – reduced to a life of neglect and a diet of scraps. Or the little mutts, if they survived, might have joined Bangkok's estimated 300,000 disease-ridden and malnourished soi (street) dogs, trying to survive underfoot on the crowded roads.

Instead, thanks to Sheridan Conisbee – the British-born founder of Soi Cats and Dogs (SCAD), a nonprofit group working to improve the lives of Bangkok's stray and feral animals – the pups Bashful, Happy, Dopey, and the rest have since found welcoming homes overseas.

They've followed on the tails of some 700 other dogs rescued by SCAD and placed for adoption worldwide, a third of them in the United States, through SCAD's "Ambassadors of Love" home-finding program.

"A dog in need is a friend in need, no matter where it is," Ms. Conisbee stresses. "If we can't get them adopted here, we'll look elsewhere."

With her dimply smile and mischievous wit, Conisbee appears at first glance to be out of place amid the makeshift pens serving as temporary homes to rehabilitated strays.

Yet before you know it, she's gleefully cavorting with the canine residents at SCAD's small, leafy headquarters with its animal playgrounds and veterinary clinic. She pays no heed as her protégés, tongues licking and tails wagging, proceed to plant paw prints all over her stylish outfit. She barks playfully back at them.

Conisbee and her dozen helpers are the only friends these dogs have ever known. "They're sentient beings, not vermin on the street," she insists. "They have no pedigrees, but they have excellent 'pet degrees.' "

Thailand's soi dogs can make for piteous sights. Often hairless or disfigured due to disease or untreated injuries, they skulk listlessly or sprawl like discarded rag dolls. Dogs rounded up by municipal agencies are often sold clandestinely to Laos and Vietnam in the dog-meat trade, animal rights advocates say.

"The general attitude is, 'Not my dog, not my problem,' " laments Edwin Wiek, director of the Wildlife Friends of Thailand. "As with domestic violence, everyone sees the problem, but no one does a thing about it."

But SCAD does.

Aided by "dog aunties," who agree to watch over their neighborhood's strays, the group's volunteers locate the neediest cases. They delouse, vaccinate, and nurture the animals back to health and then find adoptive owners.

Foreign sponsors underwrite SCAD's "Three Mutt-keteers" program (a publicity campaign headlined by four rehabilitated strays – the jaunty Ruffos, perky Pawthos, suave Tailamis, and catty C'Atagnan).

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