In the spring of 2019, the photojournalist Justin Mott watched as a stray dog was rushed into emergency surgery at the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, Thailand. “He was brought in, severely gashed near his neck in what appeared to be a machete wound,” he remembers. The wound was likely a deliberate act of animal cruelty.
It was the second time in as many days that a dog had arrived at the sanctuary with such a wound, but thanks to the team at Soi Dog, he survived the trauma. He was put on pain medication and antibiotics. The shelter also gave him a name: Hebe.
“I was raging with anger at humanity, thinking how someone could do this to this poor innocent dog, but I was also amazed at how quickly the veterinarian team started his path to recovery,” Mott tells us. In that moment, he saw the best and worst of humanity, side by side. It’s a feeling he had many times throughout his time documenting life and recovery at the Soi Dog Foundation.
The non-profit sanctuary for dogs and cats works to end homelessness for animals, animal cruelty, and the dog meat trade throughout Asia. In Thailand alone, they vaccinate and spay or neuter tens of thousands of dogs. On any given day, shelter volunteers and a full-time team of veterinarians, caretakers, physiotherapists, and behaviorists work around the clock to care for around 800 dogs and 200 cats. They receive no government funding and rely entirely on donations.
“The center runs off a large staff and an even larger volunteer program,” Mott explains. “Many of the dogs will be adopted; some will be released back onto the streets if they are healthy, and some will be so severely injured that they will live out their lives at the center. They are all well-fed, nursed, and loved by an amazing staff.”
Mott visited the Soi Dog Foundation as part of his long-term, self-funded project Kindred Guardians, which tells the stories of everyday heroes working to protect animals in need. “I spent most of my time with the dogs that were common visitors to the physical therapy unit,” he says. It was here that he met Aiw Wongla, a dedicated veterinarian nurse, a dog named Fanumpa, who was learning to use a wheelchair, a playful girl named Coachella, and Madahva, who will likely remain at the shelter for the rest of her life so she receives the ongoing medical care she needs.
Mott also spent time with Jocasta, a dog who came to the shelter as a puppy, paralyzed in both hind legs. “He was one dog who stood out to me because of his shy but friendly eyes,” Mott says. The team at the shelter spent four months working with Jocasta and helping him to walk again. Ultimately, it was discovered that the puppy had severe brain damage, and he had to be euthanized to end his suffering, but he didn’t die alone. In his time at the sanctuary, he went from being timid and non-responsive to asking for belly rubs and affection.
Every animal’s story is different, but they all have a chance at a happy life, without fear or pain. Following Mott’s visit, four-year-old Coachella survived and thrived. She now spends her time playing with volunteers and the other dogs at the sanctuary; in the words of shelter staffers, “everything excites her.”
Hebe, the remarkable dog who came into the sanctuary with a gaping wound on his back, has also made a full recovery. He arrived shy, but with time and care, he learned to trust people again. He is now two years old and can be found walking and cuddling with volunteers or having a bath on hot days. Best of all, he is ready to be adopted and have a family of his own. If you would like to adopt Hebe, please check out his adoption page for contact information.
Every chapter in Kindred Guardians is funded by Mott, and he donates all the images to the organizations that inspire him, including the Soi Dog Foundation. To help hundreds of animals like those in his pictures, you can make a donation to the sanctuary or sponsor an animal. Madahva, whom Mott photographed, is one of the dogs available for sponsorship. “The people I met at the sanctuary truly embody what Kindred Guardians is all about,” the photographer tells us.
All images and captions © Justin Mott