Thailand: Canine ambassador makes case for street dogs

Tibor Krausz
Oscar with ‘best friend’ Joanne Lefson.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – Oscar flew in a hot air balloon in Namibia. He rode an elephant in Nepal. He dined at the Taj Mahal in India.

He explored Angkor Wat in Cambodia and barked at the Sphinx – the world’s biggest cat – in Egypt. In Rome he got in trouble for swimming in the Trevi Fountain.

Yet it hasn’t been just fun and games for the South African mutt, who is halfway through his six-month, four-continent “world woof tour” of 32 countries. A one-time street dog, the Benji look-alike is headlining a publicity campaign to highlight the plight of the world’s millions of homeless dogs.

Oscar is a trouper,” says Joanne Lefson, the intrepid canine’s owner, who five years ago saved Oscar from euthanasia at a pound by adopting him. “This tour is his mission to tell people, ‘Woofs like me want you!’ ”

A professional golfer with a degree in zoology, Ms. Lefson mortgaged her house in Cape Town, South Africa, to finance the trip. She obtained traveling papers for Oscar and won’t take him anywhere he’d be quarantined. To make it easier on Oscar, Lefson does most traveling overland.

“He’s my best friend and we’re very close,” she says during a stopover in Bangkok before leaving for Vietnam, then China and the Americas. “As long as we’re together, Oscar doesn’t care where he is.”

In every country en route the pair visit animal shelters to publicize their work.

“People don’t see street dogs as special, but they respond to Oscar,” Lefson says while Oscar, sniffing, befriends some rehabilitated Thai strays. “A dog can enrich your life, but consider adopting one from a shelter.”

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