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Volunteering at Headrock Dogs Rescue, Thailand
International travel with a humane purpose.
Verity Cattanach Poole

Set amidst swaying coconut palms not far from the quiet beaches of Bang Saphan on the Gulf of Thailand, Headrock Dogs Rescue (HDR) is a small operation powered by the will and drive of Britishborn Verity Cattanach Poole and her husband, Suthep Samkuntod (Thep), a native of Thailand. The couple has dedicated their lives to sheltering, healing and rehoming the area’s abandoned dogs, which are, unfortunately, legion.

The number of dogs in HDR’s care varies, but rarely goes below 70, and many are puppies, who are regularly dumped at the shelter compound or at a nearby Buddhist temple (HDR also cares for the temple’s many dogs). HDR is an open shelter; while puppies are kept safe in pens, juvenile and adult dogs have space to run and sort themselves into groups. Each day is packed with tasks: The dogs need regular bathing and brushing, along with eye and skin treatments, medications, and feeding. Their sleeping areas, food bowls and the puppy pens need to be cleaned. Equally important, they need human kindness and attention, which are critical to their transformation from anxious and traumatized to frolicking and joyful.

To do this good work, Verity and Thep rely on the help of volunteers, many of whom are in the country on backpacking trips. Or professionals such as John Thai, a Belgian photographer who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty in the service of animals. Thai makes an annual donation of his time and skills to humane causes; in the past, he’s volunteered at the Iberian Wolf Recovery Centre in Portugal and the Elephant Nature Park sanctuary in Thailand.

“NOT ONLY WAS IT EXTREMELY AWARDING SEEING DOGS WHICH WERE SOMETIMES CLOSE TO DEATH BECOME PLAYFUL AND HAPPY, THE EXPERIENCE TEACHES YOU THAT ALL DOGS, WHEN TREATED WELL, CAN BECOME GOOD NATURED.”

—DEREK HALL, HEADROCK VOLUNTEER COMMUNICATIONS

Earlier this year, he spent a month at HDR, documenting their amazing work. As he says in his online journal at johnjourney.be, “As a dog photographer, I want people to remember their companions at their most vivid moments. Running freely with barks of joy, shaking off the excitement, wrestling with playmates, or just going for that one so-irresistible mud bath.”

His photographs of the Headrock dogs certainly capture those moments, as well as many that celebrate the caregivers’ gentleness, compassion and joy in their duties. The gratification they get from their work is clearly evident in Thai’s photos.

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Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

Photography by John Thai