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No such thing...

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...as an ugly puppy.

As a typical Thai household, we have the prerequisite half dozen or so dogs, but in our case we have the room and are able to provide them with permanent world-standard living facilities. They have an acre to run around in, clean kennels, good food mix and plenty of water. They get nails clipped, fed, bathed, combed, brushed, and most importantly hugged and loved - loved with words that mean a lot to them and to us. We take pictures, post them online, and talk at night about our "children."

Last night my wife asked me to turn off "12 Years a Slave" right where the abuse began. "I can't stand it," she said. We spent the rest of our pre-retiring for the night with the dogs, then turned off the lights and went to sleep.

Living in freedom, having a choice, being surrounded by caring people and companions, feeling that you have love and comfort, shelter and yes, the most basic needs met like food to eat...seems to be a God-given right to all men and animals. Yet, it is not. Caged and chained, both man and animal are often forced to experience the worst of conditions and sadly, the worst of intent.

I took our female Chinese Shar Pei to the vet yesterday for a pre-op check. Her left eye needs operating on to prevent damage to the cornea. That's coming up on Monday. One animal taken care of. But as I pet her and listen to her throaty breathing, I am reminded of how fortunate both of us are to be able to share this kind of life.

Throughout the world, both man and animal live in shackles - some physical, some emotional - to satisfy the global market in slavery of both. Unless you are the caged animal or the caged man, woman or child, it is impossible to truly perceive what degree of depression, of hopelessness and eventually irreversible dejection in inscribed into the hearts of these victims of greed and opportunity to make money or to gain influence. It is to work toward elimination of opportunities to create such misery that various state and private agencies, as well as NGOs, are set up. They combat lack of awareness, fight misconceptions, expose wrongdoers and campaign for collective action to fight slavery and illegal trade of sentient beings.

Their mission is a challenge at best. But it's a challenge taken up by concerted efforts around the world, including in tourist havens like Thailand where both human and animal trafficking are a sad reality of daily life.

One of those organizations operating in Thailand is Freeland Its mission: "FREELAND is dedicated to making the world free of human slavery and wildlife trafficking by increasing law enforcement capacity, supporting vulnerable communities and raising awareness." Awareness is one of the most basic keys to setting up a beachhead against the kind of ignorance that gives so much support to opportunism. When people are informed, when basic communication and undeniable truth reaches their doorsteps, attitudes do change. Most people do want to do the right thing, to preserve the greater environment - existence, so that we can all take advantage of it and live useful, rewarding and productive lives. So they are ready to sit down and listen, to exchange ideas and to contribute. And there is a great deal to talk about.

As only one example of how greed and disregard for the law can go, last year a pet shop owner in Bangkok was arrested after authorities found hundreds of protected species of animals at his shop and a large warehouse. Unbelievably, the animals included a rare white lion and over a thousand other animals ranging from " birds, meerkats, tortoises, peafowls, monkeys and other species believed to be from overseas and Thailand. Police also found a hornbill and a leopard cat that are protected by Thai law." The 41 year-old shop owner faces about four years maximum in prison, but given the laxness of Thai law may well get away with minimal detention. Locally, such pet shop owners and others in their illegal network market their products and services at the famed Weekend Market (JJ Market/Chatuchak Market) in Bangkok, where it is relatively easy to push illegal products, including animals.

Freeland is also involved in countering human slavery, and as part of its initiatives has helped set up "Thai TIP-Net” to reduce human trafficking in Thailand. "The network weds civil society and Thai law enforcement in a practical manner on four levels: improving the capacity of Thailand-based civil society groups to identify and process useful tip-offs on human trafficking; facilitating constructive and targeted communication between civil society groups and Thai law enforcement about their tip-off reports; mentoring and supporting Thai law enforcement through a combination of tactical and strategic training packages and; encouragement of sustained Thai government counter-trafficking enforcement through recognition of performance and best efforts at achieving prosecutions and good victim care." Freeland's website can be found at http://www.freeland.org/.

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