Recently, I had a lengthy conversation with a Dutch friend who is very fond of pets and even opened a training center for them at her house. That center is called "Nienke LuckyDogs." Currently she is staying in Chiang Mai. Her name is Nienke Parma,.and I've known her for many years.
Can you tell me about yourself before you came to live in Thailand? I'm also curious about your motivations for taking care of pets.
High school 1st year; I was 12 years old when a class mate asked me if I would like to join her at a dog and cat kennel about 10 kilometers away, where she sometimes worked during her school holidays. I said yes, and that was the start of my life-long passion for working with cats and dogs.
Initially I worked at this kennel once in a while, but that quickly turned into every free minute I could find, weekends and school holidays. At age 14, I even moved in and stayed for about three quarters of a year (poor mom and dad, I certainly wasn't the easiest child they could have imagined).
The owner of the kennel, whom I called 'my second mother' was really tough. She didn't take no for an answer and definitely didn't like whining and laziness. If I did not do my school work first, I was not allowed to work in the kennels or join her in the grooming room. And I just loved helping her combing, bathing, or plucking the dogs. She was one of the last old-style groomers who still plucked coats that were meant to be plucked, such as the coats of most of the terrier breeds, and refused to shave or cut them. Shaving these coats would change the hair structure and it could add to an itchy skin. I inherited this from her and practice it till now, after all these years, I'm still very reluctant to cut coats that should be plucked or thoroughly groomed. My second mother was a fervent smoker, which unfortunately I also inherited for about 25 years.
In 1980 the kennel burned down which ended this chapter in my life quite abruptly. I was about 16 years old then.
At age 18 I failed my last year of high school. Instead of doing the year again, I followed my, then, boyfriend to the far-East where we traveled around for about half a year through India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. My parents were devastated but could not stop me. This trip made an enormous impression on me. All these different things, talking in another language, which was primarily English, and experiencing and learning from other cultures; I think my interest in different cultures has its roots here.
During this round-trip I decided to finish my high school, realizing that my parents made a good point. And, naturally, my parents were delighted with that decision.
Through my work at the dog and cat kennel, my wish was to do 'something with dogs and cats'. In fact, I would have loved to run my own dog and cat boarding and training kennel. But, my parents feared that this line of work would not support me sufficiently in life, with me ending up in continuous hardship and financial problems. They rather saw me following a study before starting a full-time job, and in that way increasing my chances of a better-paid job later in life.
However, the only things that I knew at that age was that I liked working with animals, was interested in environmental issues, and liked helping people in need. I disliked the idea of having to stand in front of a classroom with kids, like me at that time, in the middle of their puberty or to become a veterinarian, as for that you needed to learn 'difficult words', such as Latin and old Greek words. There was nothing concrete in my mind.
Finally, it was the assistant dean of the school who suggested the Forest and WaterManagementCollege, nowadays called the Larenstein International Agricultural College. At the end of first year the students needed to choose whether they wanted to study Western or Tropical Forestry or Western or Tropical Water Management. As I had become quite interested in other cultures I chose for Tropical Forestry, which brought me to Laos for half a year in my third and practical year and to the Philippines for my Final Thesis, where I stayed for 8 months.
After graduation I fell a bit into an empty hole. With my study the main idea was to find a suitable job in the Tropics or sub-Tropics. However, many organizations require considerable working experience, which of course as a just graduated person, I did not have. Luckily there was one organization in the United Kingdom that considered 1 year work in a (sub) Tropical country, which included the time spend there during the study, as working experience. This organization was Volunteers Service Overseas or VSO for short. Via them I came to work at the Watershed Management Office of the Royal Forest Department in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I understand that you have been to many countries before you lived here. Tell me more about your work in Thailand and the training center for pets that you have founded.
Although another great experience, I realized that the Royal Forest Department is a Governmental Organization and I feel much more comfortable working at a grass-roots level together with the people. Local people have so much knowledge that I do not know yet. Just only take their knowledge of all edible and non-edible plants with their medicinal properties!
During the first year in Chiang Mai I met a man and fell in love. Not a Thai, but an Italian who did not wanted to live in Italy. That was a bit of a bummer as I really wouldn't have minded a move to Italy.
It was he who came up with the idea to open a dog training school in Chiang Mai. My old passion was immediately awakened. And after talking with pet-shop owners, veterinarians, breeders, and attending dog shows, we decided to give it a try.
However, caring for living beings not only means providing them with food, water, shelter and love; they need daily care and understanding. I did not want to make unnecessary mistakes in this and then cause harm to the animals. Therefore, I decided to increase my knowledge by following courses that taught about general health care, pathology, nutrition, dog behavior-development and –modification, dog language, and dog training techniques. Unfortunately, there was nothing of this kind in Thailand, so I turned to Holland, where I also did a practical term at a veterinary clinic and a local shelter.
As most people, we started up training dogs according the traditional method: that is concentrating on behavior you do not want and correcting it accordingly by giving a tuck on the choke-chain, and forcing the dog in the position you want. Although, we both tried to be very gentle with the dogs, I noticed the reluctance and sometimes fear in them.
I do not remember how I came across the concept of positive reinforcement and clicker training, but at a certain point I did and I was sold. What a gentle way of teaching a dog what you would like him or her to do.
Although I also can give agility, scent and trick training, I primarily concentrate on behavior and obedience, as there is a huge lack of knowledge. Many pet dogs are under-socialized or not socialized at all and spoiled-rotten, with many behavior problems as a result varying from unruliness, excessive barking and/or jumping to aggression issues. Therefore, my training classes concentrate much more on educating the owners, than on teaching the dogs the basic commands.
This lack of knowledge of dog behavior development and –language also leads to many people, especially children, being bitten by dogs.
When after hearing the dreadful news of a 3 year old child fatally mauled by the family dog, the idea of developing a dog bite prevention program sprouted.
It took, however, another five years before the program called "Professor Paws – living safely with dogs" was finished, and only after the collaboration with a teacher and educational coordinator from a local dog rescue organization was sought. Without her professional help the program may still have been in on the drawing table.
The aim of the program is to givethe children knowledge, so that they will have the ability to make informed choices and understand dogs' behaviour, thus decreasing the high number of reported bites children are receiving, and how abuse and neglect can do serious harm to both the animals and people they come in contact with. The lessons include the dos and don'ts and how to safely interact with dogs, basic understanding of their language, how to fulfill their basic needs and care, and prevent over-population. Optional is a field trip to the local shelter or to LuckyDogs boarding and training center.
During the years I've work with dogs I have been writing articles for both a local English monthly magazine and an English newspaper for about two years each. And several articles have been placed in monthly Thai dog magazines and local magazines. It was always great to see these articles placed, but how dreadful are these deadlines!
As I observed the anxiousness on the faces of the dogs when training them according the traditional training methods, I also saw recurrent illnesses, especially skin disorders. Since I did not get satisfactory answer form the veterinarian, I started research about the dog's diet, which made me soon switch to a raw food diet. Many of the skin disorders disappeared, skin and coat improved considerably, teeth became white again, bad breath was gone, many dogs became slender with better developed muscles, and the huge amount of stinking dog poop changed into small hardly-smelling heaps that was gone within a day or two. Also on behavior level dogs improve with the hyper one becoming calmer and the lazy ones a bit more active, in some cases almost puppy-like.
2007 was a hell-year with many dogs sick of vaccine side-affects, and two of cancer. This made me dive into the vaccine subject, and from what I've found out it left me shocked. Puppies are vaccinated at a too early age, with too many vaccines at one time and too little time in between the jabs. This leads to immediate side-effects, such as lethargy, fever, appetite loss, behavioral change, swelling of the vaccination spot, swelling of the face, softening of feces, etc., or to long-term side-effects such as auto-immune disorders, generalized demodectic mange, hypo-thyroidism, bone-disorders, cancer.
It can really make me angry knowing that if only the vets would change the vaccine protocol a little, they can prevent many of these side-effects.
Nowadays my main focus is still on educating the public. Education on how to take proper care of their dog, which includes knowledge on dog behavior development, dog language, dog training, but also on how to keep the dog in optimum health by giving it species appropriate food, minimize vaccinations, giving the dog sufficient physical and mental exercise, and providing it with clear guidelines. By doing this I hope I can add to the well-being of many pet dogs.