Overcrowded Thai dog shelter blames coronavirus for drop in donations

Bangkok (AFP) –


Cramped tooth and claw in a vast cages, hundreds of dogs pass the day sleeping, fighting, or waiting to be fed at a controversial Thai shelter that does not believe in adoptions and blames a drop in donations on the coronavirus.

Launched in 2013, "Aunt Ju's Shelter for Stray Dogs" has long relied on donors to feed more than 2,000 stray canines and 300 cats living under their care.

But there has been a massive decrease in donations in recent months, and they have taken to Facebook to appeal to animal lovers with photos of dogs in their crowded facilities.

"It may be... due to the COVID-19 outbreak that has made people donate less," caretaker Yutima Preechasuchart told AFP, during a recent visit to one of its sites in Pathumthani province, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from central Bangkok.

Hundreds of dogs are packed into humid rooms behind a rusted fence, where playful fights and territorial clashes occur as the shelter's employees attempt to clean the concrete floors with a hose.

Some suffer from gashes and are kept in small cages, where the staff redress their wounds with gauze.

The dogs go through more than 60 bags of food daily, costing between 20-30,000 baht a day ($600-$910), Yutima says, but current donations only gets them 30 bags a week.

She defended her shelter's policy of refusing to adopt them out.

"We cannot be certain that (the owners) will love them as much as we do," she says, and declined to elaborate on what plans her organisation has if they were to completely run out of food.

A non-profit based in Phuket said the conditions at Aunt Ju's were "ridiculously overcrowded" and questioned how hygienic the site can be with so many dogs crammed into a single, indoor room.

"If you don’t believe in an adoption program... then that's just hoarding," said Soi Dog Foundation's operations director Sam McElroy.

The foundation -- which found homes for more than 900 animals last year -- is itself in "uncharted waters", says McElroy, due to the province-wide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

Thailand currently has 2,220 cases of coronavirus infections, including 26 deaths.