Pet owners of all ages flocked to the Phoenix Park on 4 September to meet Niall Harbison and show their appreciation for the work he is doing for abandoned dogs
On a glorious Monday evening, just as the sun was starting to dip in the sky, crowds started to gather around the Papal Cross in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Those unaware of what was happening might have thought they had stumbled upon a pilgrimage of some sort and they would have been right, in a way.
Every single person and animal was there to meet one man whose love for the street dogs of Thailand has created an enormous, like-minded community of dog lovers, keen to express their gratitude for the good he is doing and the joy he brings to their lives on a daily basis.
Niall Harbison is an Irish man living in Koh Samui and, despite achieving massive success as a private chef and social media entrepreneur in his earlier life, it is his work rescuing street dogs in Thailand that has provided him with his greatest inspiration to date.
He and his team feed up to 800 dogs a day and his heartbreaking yet life-affirming videos depicting the remarkable rescues, recovery and rehoming of dogs like King Whacker, Rodney and Hope have touched the lives of millions of people around the world and have been shared on some of the largest ‘good news’ websites and news platforms across the globe.
As a result, Niall’s following has grown exponentially and he is using this exposure to raise awareness about the importance of neutering dogs in areas overrun with stray animals and the extraordinary transformation that is possible when we show dogs basic human kindness and affection.
Irish Country Magazine was at the event and spoke to several people, some of whom had only come across Niall in recent weeks but were so moved by the stories, that they felt compelled to attend.
One man said: “My wife showed me the videos and I just found myself crying, looking at the dogs and what they went through. I wouldn’t have missed it.”
I’m speechless at the people who turned out for a dog walk tonight in Dublin.— Niall Harbison (@NiallHarbison) September 4, 2023
People told me they came from Kerry, Donegal and even one lady from Germany just to join 😅
There’s a lot of love and good in the world still 🥰🥰🥰 pic.twitter.com/WPL91FxC5a
Another woman was walking towards the meeting point with an elderly dog at her heels. When asked if she was there to see Niall, she replied, “Ah, of course I am. We all are.” They were moving slowly as her dog was 16 but she said she’d be at the top of the queue if she could and was determined to meet him, regardless.
The Co Tyrone native let followers know that he was running ten minutes behind schedule and when he emerged from a car, he was greeted by a round of applause before people immediately began moving towards him asking him to sign their copies of his new book, shake hands or take selfies to show their support.
Niall spoke to everyone, paying special attention to the dogs and children who showed up, because in his words, “Kids are the future for change for animals. Get them on board and excited and anything is possible.”
We were lucky enough to chat to Niall to find out how he is feeling since coming back to this side of the world:
You receive hundreds (and maybe thousands) of messages every day, but what has it been like to meet people face-to-face who have been so affected by you and the dogs you care for?
“I do get thousands of messages every day but I see them on the phone and it doesn’t always feel real or tangible. Getting to meet people in real life and them telling me their own stories (often challenging) about their lives and how the dogs help them absolutely left me speechless. Some people said a particular dog had saved their lives and got them through tough times.”
How long has it been since you were last in Ireland and can you put into words what the difference is between this homecoming and the last one?
“It was four and a half years ago was when I left. I think, normally, when I’d be coming back, I’d be lucky if one of my friends was free for lunch or a meetup. To see hundreds come out to the Phoenix Park to walk with me was a once in a lifetime experience. I thought there might be 50 people out for a walk, as the weather was so nice, but I simply couldn’t believe what I saw!”
What is your ultimate goal and how can we help?
“My ultimate goal is to cut the number of street dogs in the world from 500 million to 250 million. Its a huge and ambitious project but I am determined to do it over the course of my lifetime. The best way for people to help is to just follow along on Instagram or Youtube and just get involved in the mission as a dog lover. There are so many ways to help.”
The Lovin’ Dublin founder was in the country as part of a whistle-stop tour of the UK and Ireland to promote his new book, Hope – How Street Dogs Taught Me the Meaning of Life. A former addict, (Niall has spoken openly about his struggles with drugs and alcohol), the book is a tribute to the dogs that have changed his outlook on life and given him his most ‘rewarding’ endeavour yet.
Here he is on ITV’s This Morning being reunited with rescue dog Hope, who had been shot with a nail gun and slashed in the neck before he took her in, rehabilitated her and arranged for her to be rehomed in the UK:
Niall’s book Hope – How Street Dogs Taught Me the Meaning of Life is available to buy now and you can donate to this incredible cause here.