"Gill was the biggest champion of strays," the man said about his wife. "She toiled day and night to provide a refuge for animals who had no one else to turn to."
When John and Gill Dalley decided to tie the knot in 1996, they chose Thailand as their wedding destination. After arriving in Phuket, they fell in love with the city and often came back to visit even after they got married.
"I had a dog, Gill had three cats. We got another dog after we got together. We did a bit of voluntary work at the local Dogs Trust kennel. Gill was the love of my life," John told Mirror. "We were opposites in a way, she was very outgoing, I’m not particularly. We complemented each other."
The British couple eventually decided that Thailand would be the perfect place for them to spend their retirement life. But one thing that always saddened them whenever they visited was seeing the poor conditions of stray dogs in the country.
"When we came here on holidays we talked about trying to do something about the horrendous problem that existed with stray dogs," John recalled. "In those days there were an estimated 70,000 stray dogs, the conditions of them appalling. Most of them were skeletal and covered in mange, on every street corner you’d see stray dogs."
Finally, in 2003, Gill and John believed it was time to make Phuket their permanent home while she was 44 and he was 53. Apart from making the big move, 2003 also became the year Gill lost both her legs while rescuing a dog from a swamp and contracting a rare form of septicaemia.
Once the couple was in Thailand, they decided to make it their life mission to help the stray dogs and cats in the country.
With the help of another woman they met, the couple co-founded the Soi Dog Foundation, which campaigned against the dog meat trade in the country. Both John and Gill had a vital role to play in the animal welfare law that made it illegal to eat dog and cat meat in Thailand, according to the Soi Dog Foundation.
"We have grown a lot. Thailand now has an animal welfare bill and the consumption of dogs and cats is now illegal," John told Mirror. "We helped put an end to the dog meat business and the trade of dogs from Thailand to Vietnam, as well as the local consumption and skinning of dogs for fur."
After helping prevent street dogs from being snatched and butchered for their meat, the couple became devoted troopers for stray animals that found their way to the foundation.
She showed her husband and her colleagues what it was like to really advocate for the wellbeing of stray animals.
"Gill was the biggest champion of strays. She toiled day and night to provide a refuge for animals who had no one else to turn to," John said. "There would be no Soi Dog Foundation without her."
While Gill was on her deathbed, John made a promise to her to keep carrying forward the great work she did for cats and dogs. Gill passed away from lung cancer in 2017.
"I made a pledge not to close our doors to animals that needed us," John said as he recalled the moment they shared in the hospital on the day she died.
He added, "Gill was pumped with morphine but suddenly sat upright... and then she just died in my arms."
After being awarded the Daily Mirror Animal Hero Award for their Outstanding Contribution, John shared, "This award should not be for me, it’s for Gill and Soi Dog and our supporters. Gill’s the bravest person I’ve ever met. If anybody deserves this award she does."
The Soi Dog Foundation continues to love and take in street dogs and cats that have nobody else to care for them.