Adventures in Shelter Medicine

Shelter Medicine Resident Dr. Katherine Polak’s last blog post from Thailand, where she provided assistance to an emergency shelter to help dogs affected by this year’s severe flooding.

Dogs Leave to Find Their Forever Homes

Bangkok Temporary Shelter Closes

As I help load dogs into a truck destined for the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, I can hardly believe that a month has passed since I left Florida for Asia.  During my time in Bangkok, I have grown quite fond of each of the dogs that have called the Thai Watana Panich (TWP) shelter home since November.  I am emotional, to say the least, to watch these amazing animals leave the shelter as they make their way on their journey towards finding their forever homes.

During my stay at the shelter, I have been involved with the daily care (cleaning and feeding), medical treatments, and sterilization of the 200 dogs on-site. I assure you that this was no easy task!  Daily activities in the shelter included medicating upwards of 50 dogs per day, providing chemotherapeutic drugs for transmissible venereal tumors, implementing infectious disease control protocols to keep animals healthy, and assuring that all dogs were current on vaccines.  Towards the end of my stay, the shelter began sending animals to a new dog sanctuary being constructed in northern Thailand at the Elephant Nature Park and to a local shelter run by the organization Soi Cats and Dogs (SCAD) where they will be placed in an adoption program.  Recently the temporary shelter has since closed and all of the bamboo and tarps hauled away that once made up the facility’s structure.

One dog in particular touched me and will be hard to soon forget.  This lovely dog, given the appropriate name of ‘Sickie’, was a Thai street dog that had a near brush with death at the shelter.

Given the presumptive diagnosis of a blood parasitic disease, Sickie became acutely anemic (decreased red blood cells) and began exhibiting signs of severe respiratory distress.  Her gums were pale white and she was unable to rise.  The veterinary staff consisting of two amazing vet nurses and myself quickly rushed to Sickie’s aid and provided her with much needed intravenous fluids and appropriate medications.  Within days Sickie was back to her normal self lounging in the hot Bangkok sun or following staff around, begging for treats.

During my time in Asia I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to tour several wildlife sanctuaries including the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand located in the town of Cha-am and the Chu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station in Chu Chi, Vietnam.  I was able to observe and learn of innovative and practical enrichment and facility design ideas that I can use when consulting with shelters in the US.

While my travels have come to an end, I still can’t help but think about all of the amazing animals and people that I had the opportunity to work with.   While I hope that they benefited from my presence at the shelter, they truly will never know what I learned and gained from them!


Dr. Katherine

Katherine Polak, DVM, MPH
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Resident, First-Year
Puppies at the temporary shelter
Veterinary students bathing puppies
Giving Sick dog fluids
Sickie, a favorite of Dr. Polak's
Disassembling the bamboo shelter runs
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