Jay, Inca, Boston, Vegas, Kane and Tokyo rushed over to the gate and lined up. A hand reached into the pile of tongues, tails and paws and pulled two dogs out of the pen. The pair wriggled with excitement as volunteers led them out for a stroll around a lake at Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand. During the outing on a recent afternoon, the dogs stretched their legs, sniffed the plants and eyed the resident duck. But the walk also had another purpose: The street dogs needed to learn how to be pets, an important step as they moved from a life outdoors to the animal shelter to a permanent home, often in the United States.
On August 19, the world will observe International Homeless Animals’ Day, or IHAD. The International Society for Animal Rights created the event in 1992 to raise awareness about the millions of cats and dogs — like Jay, Inca, Boston, Vegas, Kane and Tokyo — that don’t have a home or a human family to care for them. On this day, rescue centers, shelters and animal-welfare groups in more than 50 countries have organized such activities as dog dock diving, a dog/owner look-alike contest and pet photo shoots.
“Children can participate in IHAD by walking shelter dogs, grooming shelter animals and spending time with them,” said Susan Dapsis, president of the International Society for Animal Rights. “This will bring much happiness to the animals and prepare them for their journey to a new home.”
Of course, organizations and individuals devote their time and resources to stray animals every day of the year. At Soi Dog Foundation, on the tropical island of Phuket in Thailand, volunteers and staff members work with dogs and cats that have never eaten out of a bowl, worn a collar or curled up on a couch. To become adoptable, the animals need to learn such basic skills as how to bond with people and, for dogs, how to walk on a leash.
“The dogs will pull you in the lake if you’re not careful,” Soi Dog volunteer Ian Munday said during a guided tour of the facility.
Fortunately, many of the more than 560 dogs and 200 cats living at the shelter are quick learners.
On a hot day in early July, a kitten plopped down in a volunteer’s lap as if it were a beanbag chair. A kitty with a black mustache played patty-cake with a guest’s toes. In an outdoor dog run, an 8-month-old named Goody stood on her hind legs and opened her paws, as if asking for a hug. Marie-Ann, a chubby beagle, rolled on her back, hoping for a belly rub.
After a quick dip in a plastic pool, Chloe pranced over, her beige fur coat beaded with water. Her brother, Yoda, bounded after her. A few weeks later, the siblings would fly to Washington, just in time to celebrate International Homeless Animals’ Day in their new homes.
Make every day International Homeless Animals’ Day by helping stray dogs and cats in your neighborhood or around the world. Here are a few suggestions:
• Volunteer at a local animal shelter or rescue center. Duties might include walking, playing with and grooming the dogs. At some organizations, such as the Baltimore Humane Society and the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, you can read to a dog or cat.
• If you are on vacation, such as in Thailand or Mexico, take a break from sightseeing and volunteer at a local shelter. If you are too young to volunteer, see if the staff leads tours so that you can learn about how they help animals.
•Lead a donation drive. Shelters always need food, cat litter, toys, treats and more. Make colorful posters to promote your event. Ask local businesses and your school if you can post your signs inside. Or pin a notice on a community bulletin board.
• If your parents approve, post a photo of a dog or cat in need of a home on Facebook or Instagram. (Contact a local shelter for cute candidates.) Or make fliers with photos of the animals and display them in your neighborhood. Include the name, age and gender of the dog or cat, plus the contact information of the animal shelter in charge of the adoption.
• Pay to sponsor a dog or cat in a shelter. At Soi Dog Foundation, you can pick your dog — Dreambun, Genius or Jamie, for example — and receive updates on your “pet.”
• If you see a wounded or sick stray, snap a photo and note the location. Then reach out to an animal rescue league for help. Remember to never approach an unfamiliar animal.