Niall Harbison turned his back on a life many would envy to lead a simpler life in Thailand, but the plight of the stray dogs on paradise island Koh Samui inspired the multi-talented entrepreneur set up a foundation and care for them.
Lovin’ Dublin founder Niall Harbison left life in Irish media to care for street dogs in Thailand
Thailand’s street dogs are providing inspiration for Irish media entrepreneur Niall Harbison’s next big endeavor; his “most rewarding” yet.
“Beyoncé”, “Ryan Gosling” and “Ella” at the beach on Saturday 22 July. A little photo dump of their day out. Check with them this morning and apparently, they’ve been going on about it to the other dogs ever since they got back. Source: Instagram/niall.harbison
A move to Thailand to “take it easy” turned into a rescue mission
After traveling the world as a chef surrounded by luxury, Niall Harbison’s career took many exciting turns including setting up and selling on social media companies Simply Zesty and Lovin’ Dublin, before he settled on the paradise island of Koh Samui.
Originally from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, Harbison moved to Dublin in the late 1990s to train as a chef at Cathal Brugha catering college. After completing his training, Harbison got a job at the Michelin-starred Peacock Alley and worked there during the early Celtic Tiger years, becoming head chef at just 21, setting him up for his next career move.
A ski season cheffing in the French Alps was to lead to jobs on yachts along the French Riviera, but as Harbison’s experience grew, yachts got bigger, and via “good fortune”, he got a private cheffing job on the mega-yacht of Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen. The 126m-long Octopus boasts two helipads, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a cinema, wine bar and a mini marina with a yacht and submarine. The onboard recording studio was used by Mick Jagger and Bono and U2 among others.
While at sea, traveling from Alaska to Tahiti and anywhere in between, cooking for a crew of 40 until the yacht owner would return, Harbison pondered his next move.
“Social media was at its cusp at the time and I thought it would be a good idea to get involved. So I returned to Dublin to start an online PR and social media agency with Lauren Fisher in May 2009. After growing the company, Simply Zesty, to over 30 employees and offices in London and Dublin we sold the company to UTV in 2013.” he told The Irish Times earlier this month.
In 2013, Harbison launched Lovin’ Dublin media and marketing company and sold the business in 2018 before deciding to move to Thailand to take it easy for a while and remote work on various ventures from there. Continued below…
Source: The Irish Times
Harbison started with one street dog and grew organically. Now he looks after 80 dogs in his direct vicinity. Source: Instagram/niall.harbison
In Thailand there is a huge street dog problem. In many cases the dogs are abused or malnourished. Sometimes they are injured in car crashes or dumped as puppies. Source: Instagram/niall.harbison
The pandemic lockdowns crippled Koh Samui’s tourism-based economy
Koh Samui is a popular tourist spot, but when Covid-19 hit in 2020, the island’s economy was decimated.
People there didn’t get government support so many returned to their villages on the mainland, and there were hardly any tourists on the island. While Europeans were still visiting resorts in their own countries, strict quarantine and lockdown restrictions left the island eerily empty.
Normally there are over 40 million tourists annually in Thailand, but there were less than 300,000 last year. During Covid-19, Harbison started feeding local street dogs, of which there are eight million in Thailand. He told The Irish Times:
“Luckily we don’t have rabies here on the island. I started with one street dog and grew organically. Now I look after 80 dogs in my direct vicinity.
“I spend mornings and evenings feeding them and then there are visits to the vet in between. In Thailand, as people who have visited may know, there is a huge street dog problem, and in many cases the dogs are abused or malnourished. Sometimes they are injured in car crashes or dumped as puppies. I follow the same routine mornings and evenings.”
Harbison is planning to set up a foundation and is looking for suitable land for a sanctuary for sick dogs. “It’s a massive commitment, but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’m currently sponsoring most of the endeavor myself, but am also getting funding via online donations. When I set up the foundation, I will pay staff to help me. Currently, I have volunteers helping me.” Costs can exceed €5,000 ($5075) per month, as vet visits are expensive, but Harbison says it’s worth it.
“Obviously it’s difficult to get away now. If I’m away for one rotation, the dogs will miss me, so I’m here all the time,”
Harbison says the food and weather are “absolutely perfect” and “A meal costs around €2. You can live in utter luxury here, and eat out every day for a fraction of what it costs at home. I’m excited that tourists are slowly coming back, though it’s been nice to have the place to ourselves.”
Once his schedule allows, Harbison said he looks forward to returning to Ireland. “In the meantime, there are a few Irish people here you can have a bit of a laugh with. After all, we are the best laugh.”
Scroll down for photos and definitely check out Niall’s Instagram for loads more.
Source: The Irish Times
Harbison is planning to set up a foundation and is looking for suitable land for a sanctuary for sick dogs. Source: Instagram/niall.harbison
“It’s a massive commitment, but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.” says the former media entrepreneur. He’s currently sponsoring most of the endeavor himself, but also getting funding via online donations. Costs can exceed €5,000 per month, as vet visits are expensive, but Harbison says it’s worth it. Source: Instagram/niall.harbison
This article was originally published on 27 July 2022.
HELP NIALL SAVE KOH SAMUI’S STREET DOGS
“I currently look after 80 street dogs by giving them food, medicine, vet care and sterilising the dogs to help stop the flow of puppies. I fund the project myself ($2000-3000 per month) as well through donations I have raised here. Feeding them is a small part that only costs about $30 per day but it is the vet, medicine and sterilising bills that quickly add up. To sterilise one dog costs around $50 all in. Every penny donated goes directly towards helping the dogs. I donate all my time for free and I also cover any banking or platform fees to ensure it helps the dogs directly. I am working towards having a facility and more people in an organisation to really help more dogs at scale so every penny helps.” Niall Harbison. Click to learn more and now you can help..