Five years ago, when a hungry and wounded dog turned up behind a restaurant in Thailand where Michael Baines worked, he followed his immediate instinct to feed and care for her. He didn't imagine that this kind act would eventually lead to the hungry dog being one of about 80 strays he now tracks and tends to on a daily basis. Realizing that she was just one of many local dogs in desperate need of nourishment, he transformed his canine compassion into a powerful passion project.
Every morning on his route from home to work at Carrat, a restaurant in Chonburi, Thailand where he is the chef and general manager, Baines stops eight times to feed 30 different dogs. After the breakfast rush ends, he gathers leftovers for his second round, stopping eight or nine times to feed another 30-35 strays, plus six that gather outside Carrat. He feeds four to five more during one final stop on his way back home. That's about 17 stops and 80 strays total.
Image above via Thomas Engstrom
The dogs have learned to recognize the sound of his car and eagerly anticipate his arrival, though some remain scared of him after being abused for most of their lives. Thailand is rife with the roving animals, with as many as 300,000 strays in the capital of Bangkok alone, and people tend to see them as nuisances, attacking the ones they spot on the street. Baines explains, “Many people see an animal here and will hit the dog with sticks, stones and machetes, and use knives or kill them with guns.” There's only one small city shelter, and the dogs there aren't typically provided with proper care.
So Baines has become a traveling one-man sanctuary, offering not just daily meals, but monthly powder to safeguard against worms, ticks, and fleas. He gives antibiotics to the sick animals and gets them spayed and neutered. Though he doesn't have space to house them all in his own home, he sometimes keeps the particularly ailing strays at his restaurant while finding them adoptive families, which has been 100% successful each time thus far. Plus, he has nine of his own dogs–including Coke (pictured at the top), who needs a wheelchair for his broken spine (from being hit by a car) and was actually nursed back to health by Baines himself.
Though Baines is certainly saving many of the strays' lives, he insists that they're supporting him, too. He says, “The dogs keep me going–my own dogs and the street dogs…They make me happy.” And he hopes to teach that same compassionate approach to the rest of the community. Ultimately, his goal is to make the project a full-time mission with the aid of additional volunteers, and he wants to encourage more people to adopt mutts as he has, rather than purchasing purebreds. “One of the best feelings,” he shares, “is when you have an old dog who has been abused all her life and you can actually touch them and hug them. It can take two years, but when it happens, it is amazing.”
All images via Michael Baines and Anna Tjernstrm unless otherwise stated.