If you think it's a challenge to keep track of your luggage during a long flight, imagine escorting two dogs to a new Northwest home on a three-plane trip from Thailand.
That's what Bellingham veterinarian Karen Mueller did, capping a 10-day work trip to benefit Thailand's Soi Dog Foundation, which works to improve the lives of street dogs in the Asian nation. She and her husband, Karl, saw that basenji mixes Bella and Surin arrived safely to their new owners, a couple from Tacoma.
Karen, 49, operates Mueller Animal Chiropractic and helped start WeSnip, a Whatcom County organization devoted to dog and cat spay and neuter services. She is the group's former president and serves as the staff surgeon.
Question: Karen, what led you to Thailand?
Answer: I've made several ventures to Mexico (to help animals), but I had avoided all things Thailand because it had been a central hub of black-market wildlife trade. But I was captivated when Joy Moore (a volunteer who edits WeSnip's newsletter) sent out a blurb on-line and I read the Soi Dog Foundation's Facebook page. I told myself, "I gotta go!" Soi Dog rescues and rehabilitates street dogs and has a massive spay and neuter campaign. I worked eight days with that.
Q: How did you get involved escorting the dogs to America?
A: A newlywed couple from the Seattle area, Tiffany and John Hill, were honeymooning in Thailand when they saw how Bella had been attacked and severely injured by other street dogs near their hotel. Tiffany and John were real heroes and eventually participating in rescuing the dogs from the street and helping them, with the help of many other people.
Q: This sounds like a long story.
A: It really is! A woman from the United Kingdom, Lynnette Munoz, told the Hills about the Soi Dog program in Phuket. Bella and Surin lived temporarily with a foster family while the Hills returned to our state, but eventually a couple from Hills' home area agreed to adopt the dogs.
I unexpectedly became what's known as a "flight volunteer" to see the dogs to their new home. We took off from Phuket, changed planes in Seoul (South Korea) and San Francisco. At SeaTac, we finally united the dogs with a couple, Matthew and Sarah, and their 3-year-oldson Carson.
Q: Would you do this all over again?
A: I'd love to. Next time, I'd like to take our children (Joseph, 13, and Lainie, 10) because they love animals. When I made my first trip like this, to Mexico about 10 years ago, I knew I'd found a calling.
Q: How long have you been involved in WeSnip?
A: Our group founded WeSnip in 2008 and we've done more than 11,000 spay and neuter procedures. I've done most of them.
Q: What got you into the chiropractic side of treating animals?
A: I was seeing a chiropractor in Bellingham for my own back pain. He asked me if I knew about the (American) Veterinary Chiropractic Association and that sparked my interest. I was discovering how much my chiropractor was helping me, so the rest is history. I treat dogs, cats and horses.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.
Karen Mueller's website is muelleranimalchiro.com. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.