Diana, from Frankfurt, moved to Phuket two years ago to set up the Phuket Dog Resort, a hotel for dogs near Tonsai Waterfall.
After coming to Thailand once or twice a year for the previous 14 or so years, Diana made the decision to pack up her life in Germany – where she worked in an office job but also fostered dogs for the local rescue centre – and move to the tropics for good in April 2012.
“My idea was to open [a dog hotel] in Germany first. But there are a lot of regulations, plus every town has a minimum of 10 dog trainers and three dog hotels; there’s no need. If I wanted to do this job in Germany it would be expensive, and I would have to work 50 years to get my money back.”
Diana initially looked at setting up the business on Koh Samui (which she had visited many times before), but decided there were more expats, and would therefore be more business, on Phuket.
“Most of my customers are expats on visa runs, business trips and holidays back home.”
Diana has loved all animals since way back, aside from spiders, which she’s terrified of. She grew up with her family’s pet German Shepherd, Asta, which born around the same time she was. She also had rabbits and guinea pigs growing up, though she is allergic to cats and can’t touch them.
“A lot of people tell me I should open up a hotel for cats, but that’s impossible [because of the allergy],” she says.
As well as the many dogs staying at the hotel, there are also five dogs Diana has taken in over the years. Three of them came from Koh Samui, were taken to Germany and then to Phuket; one came from Spain and another was found in Phuket. And that’s more than enough to keep Diana busy for now, she says.
“I’ve been working 16-hour days since I moved here – preparing the food, cleaning, cleaning up, tidying rooms and walking the dogs.”
But as well as running her busy business – there’s room for up to 25 dogs – she’s also helping the island’s soi dogs.
Every day she visits Thalang Hospital and several spots near Nai Yang Beach where she has established “feeding spots”. Here, she feeds the dogs and they eventually get used to interacting with humans. Once they’re comfortable with people, Diana arranges for the Soi Dog Foundation to visit to sterilise them.
She’s rescued heaps of sick and injured dogs, often taking them for medical care which she pays for herself, and then fosters the dogs until she finds them a new home.
A Facebook group “Feeding Phuket’s Street Dogs”, with members from around the world, raises funds for Diana to feed and care for strays. In addition, all the profits from the dog hotel, plus a lot of her own money, go to providing food and medical care for dogs in need.
Diana’s also an experienced dog trainer, and runs one-on-one training sessions, group training sessions and puppy school. She also prepares her own dog food, which she started doing in Germany when her dogs had problems eating canned and dry food.
With such a huge workload, Diana’s lucky her 13-year-old daughter Myriam is happy to help her mum out. Diana admits Myriam’s got a rather unconventional after-school job of cleaning up after the dogs but the pair work as a great team.
“I know she’s very proud of what I’m doing,” Diana says.
“She always says it’s great of me to help the dogs.”
Diana’s also fortunate to have German tourist Jasmine Napolitano currently volunteering at the centre.
Jasmine was travelling South East Asia and stopped in Phuket to do Muay Thai about eight months ago. She met the trainer who would become her boyfriend, and decided to stay in Phuket, getting a volunteer visa and work permit in the process.
So, as a large part of her time is spent helping stray dogs, what does Diana think is the solution to the island’s street dog problem?
One word, she says: Sterilisation.
But Diana says stopping the sale of dogs at local markets is another essential step. She says that people who buy a dog often decide later they don’t want it any more – either it bites or it’s an inconvenience – and then the dog ends up on the street.
Then comes the main problem: the dumped dogs aren’t sterilised and they start breeding, she says.
But for now, Diana will just keep doing her bit to help at a local level – helping get dogs sterilised and rescuing and feeding any she sees in need.
Diana’s passion for the animals is very clear to anyone who visits her, and her face lights up when she talks about the dogs she’s rescued.
“I’m probably a little bit stupid – farang ting-tong,” Diana says with a laugh.
“But I just love the dogs so much. I can’t pass a dog that’s just lying on the road after an accident, or one that’s starving. I can’t see the dogs suffering. I’m probably too kind, but I enjoy it.”