A Kiwi teen’s idyllic holiday in Thailand turned to a nightmare after she was set upon by pack of stray dogs while running alone at a popular beach.
Sarah Calley, 16, narrowly escaped a mauling at the teeth of 12 feral dogs and only escaped by diving into the sea, where she was forced to tread water until the animals lost interest.
The Christchurch teenager, who had hopes of becoming a vet, said she now lives in fear of dogs.
During a holiday in January, she had set off on an early morning run along the stunning golden sands of Nai Yang when she felt a jolt of pain and spun around to see a stocky brown dog had bitten her on the bottom.
The pack leader was quickly joined by another 11 dogs, who “came out of nowhere” to give chase and send Calley running along the beach screaming for help.
“I kept hearing them snapping behind me and I was screaming, ‘someone help me’, but there was no one on the beach,” she said.
The dogs bit her twice more before she dived into the sea. One of the dogs bit her on the ankle as she plunged into the water.
There Calley waited it out until another tourist helped her back towards the hotel.
Yet – just five metres from the hotel grounds – the brown dog circled back for a second attack, forcing the limping Calley to slam the hotel gate in its face.
“I was hysterical and yelling that I was bitten but hardly anyone spoke English,” she said.
Her screams of “No, no, no” as she fled into the hotel courtyard carried to her parents’ room where they had been enjoying a sleep-in on the second day of their holiday.
As Calley rushed to them, it was hard to “get their brain around” what had happened, mum Moira said.
“She was standing their dripping wet, she had her phone in her hand, she was really hysterical and she had blood running down her legs.”
Because the holiday had been organised as a surprise for Calley and her sister Michaela, the girls had not had a rabies shot and so Moira took her daughter to the shower to clean the wounds, while her husband rushed to reception to organise a taxi.
Taken to a nearby hospital, Calley was given several painful injections, including rabies shots.
Her skin had not been torn open but she had deep puncture wounds on the back of her leg.
These were treated at medical clinics “of varying quality” every day during the rest of the two-week holiday, with her rabies treatment completed in New Zealand.
The bites also made it uncomfortable for Calley in the days after as the family flew to Cambodia and she was also unable to swim for the rest of the two-week trip for fear of infection.
Calley said she had developed a fear of all dogs but was trying to overcome it to reach her dream of becoming a vet.
Calley’s drama comes after the New Zealand Herald last month revealed the deceptivedangers that can lurk on a trip to Thailand.
Since 2009,150 Kiwis in the Southeast Asian nation have requested overseas medical assistance from the New Zealand Government – the highest number of requests made from any country.
But while Kiwis might be more often alerted to risks, such as having their drinks spiked or being injured in an adventure activity, rabies remains prevalent in the country.
A week before Calley was attacked in January, the dogs also bit five other tourists, according to a report in the Phuket News.
Southern Cross Travel Insurance Chief Executive Chris White said claims for animal bites, particularly from dogs and monkeys, were not uncommon.
“A number of popular destinations for New Zealanders, such as Thailand, Samoa and the Cook Islands, are home to animals that may appear domesticated,” he said.
The Worldwise Travellers Health and Vaccination Centres website said tourists should consider a rabies vaccination before travelling to Thailand with children having a particularly “high-rate of exposure” because of their eagerness to pat dogs.
Calley said Kiwis travellers should definitely be wary of stray dogs overseas because while they may appear friendly, they can suddenly turn aggressive.
“Especially in the mornings, this is their hunting period. And don’t run because they might see you as prey,” she said.