Gill Dalley, co-founder of leading Asian dog charity Soi Dog, passed away at the age of 58 in February 2017, after a short battle with cancer. She left behind a loving husband, a family of volunteers, dogs whose lives had been changed forever, and the tale of an amazing life that is now being told in a book.
Just Gill: The Story of Gill Dalley, co-founder of Soi Dog Foundation is now complete and on pre-sale, available to order on the Soi Dog online shop; it will be sent out in mid-June 2020. All royalties will go to Soi Dog Foundation, to keep funding their fight against the dog meat trade.
Below, find a tribute to Gill published on Dogs Today shortly after her passing in February 2017.
Who was Gill Dalley?
Most people look forward to retirement as a time for leisure, rest and relaxation; however, John and Gill Dalley had something else entirely in mind when they moved to Phuket, Thailand, in 2003. Having holidayed on the paradise island several times, they were aware of the growing stray dog population.
John, Gill’s husband and president of Soi Dog, recalls, “In 2001, an incident occurred that had a profound effect on us. We always stayed at the same hotel and we met a Swiss lady, who was accompanied by a dog she had befriended during her extended stay at the hotel. She was leaving the next day and asked us to keep an eye on him for our last couple of days. The dog slept outside our room that night, but the next morning was gone.”
When they discovered that the dog had been beaten to death by the hotel staff, they resolved to help the Thai dogs, and moved to Phuket in July 2003 after John’s company offered him early retirement. Gill and John soon joined forces with Dutch retiree Margot Homburg, who had begun sterilising street dogs in her neighbourhood with her own money, having already registered the Soi Dog name as a foundation in the Netherlands.
Soon the three were working on a larger-scale spaying and neutering programme to humanely control the street dog population, running mobile clinics with the aid of volunteers and mainly at their own expense, acting as both dog catchers and nurses.
It was only one year into their new life, in 2004, that Gill lost both of her legs, endured damage to both arms and very nearly lost her life. While rescuing a dog from a flooded buffalo field, she developed an infection that led to the amputation of both legs below the knee.
“It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that without Gill there would be no Soi Dog today,” John says. “When she lost her legs in 2004, I was fully prepared to end it then. Gill would have none of it. I well remember her head doctor in Bangkok, who was a Sikh, telling her that none of the medical team understood how she had survived, and he believed she must still have a purpose to fulfil. Gill’s response was: ‘I do.’
“Another doctor back in 2004 told her that double amputees in Thailand rarely wear prosthetics because they are too difficult and painful to use. He also said to her, ‘I think you will be different.’ Once she had taught herself to walk, she told me to get rid of the wheelchair, as she would never use again.”
Life was not easy: Gill’s stumps would often hurt and blister. And yet, she refused to use the wheelchair after getting her prosthetic legs. It was stored away for 12 years, only coming out in the last month of her life.
Losing her legs wasn’t the only terrible blow Gill had to endure that year: three days after her discharge from hospital, the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami struck on Boxing Day, killing her dear friend and Soi Dog volunteer Leone Cosens. Far from stopping Gill, this strengthened her determination to fulfil Leone’s dream – establishing a shelter.
With Margot leaving the charity due to ill health in 2006, and John focusing mostly on the efforts to stop the illegal dog meat trade, Gill took the lead in expanding Soi Dog’s sterilisation programme, working tirelessly to establish the shelter and hospital.
John says, “The current shelter, cat hospital and, most recently, the new dog hospital, were all designed and exist because of her, to provide a refuge for animals who had nobody else to turn to. She toiled night and day for three years to design and supervise the building of what is Asia’s largest and most modern hospital for dogs.”
Focused on saving as many dogs as possible, and improving the lives of those she could not take on, Gill never sought fame – but well-deserved recognition came regardless. She won the Canine Hero of the Year award at the 2011 Animals for Asia conference in Chengdu, China, and was the first nonAsian by birth to be named Asian of the Year by Channel News Asia Singapore.
Today, the Soi Dog Foundation is the largest foundation in Asia working with stray dogs and cats, registered in seven countries and employing nearly 200 staff. Its main aims are achieving 100,000 sterilisations per year and ending the Asian dog meat industry – an incredible feat for an organisation that started with three determined retirees with a mobile clinic.
“The stray dogs and cats of the region have lost one of their greatest champions,” reads a Soi Dog statement about Gill’s death. “Sadly, despite fighting bravely for the past few weeks, she faced a battle that even she could not overcome.”
But Gill’s dream is far from over. John and the other Soi Dog volunteers are already hard at work to keep her legacy alive: the charity will continue to focus on its policy of CNVR (collect, neuter, vaccinate and return) to humanely control the stray dog population in Thailand, working to get authorities behind the scheme by proving its effectiveness over culling.
Other projects include a hospital in Bangkok, converting a large truck or bus into a mobile hospital, and expanding its work into neighbouring countries. And, of course, Soi Dog will keep fighting to end the Asian dog meat trade, carrying out investigations on the illegal practice and working with politicians and communities to change the attitude towards dogs – so that they can be seen as the faithful companions they really are.
Images courtesy of Soi Dog Foundation.