A backpacker stranded on a remote Thai island during the lockdown ended up bringing four rescue dogs back to the UK – and kept one as a pet.
Mark Jeffries, 26, spent two years working as an electrician in Australia and travelled to Bali at the start of the year as the scale of the coronavirus became apparent.
He was shocked to see people wearing masks in January, but still wanted to go travelling after his visa expired in Australia in March, and flew to Thailand to volunteer at an animal welfare charity.
But days after arriving at the end of March, a strict lockdown was implemented on Koh Lanta and the island was closed.
Mark had a blissful four months living in a bungalow on the beach with nine-month-old pup Poppy as a companion, and decided to bring her back to Edinburgh with him.
And he also brought back three other dogs to their new homes in England – which nearly got lost in transit.
Three-legged pooch Tippy, Max, a dog who had been attacked with a machete, and Flea, named after an infestation, are now living in loving homes in the UK.
Mark said: “It was a four day journey to get back, with four dogs.
“I had to get up at 5.30am to make sure the dogs were ready to go, then there was a 20-hour taxi journey to Bangkok Airport.
“We had to stop every two or three hours to let the dogs go to the toilet and feed them, it was chaos.
“The taxi driver took me to his house for nine hours and let me have a shower and freshen up and the dogs could have a leg stretch.”
The journey involved flying from Bangkok to Qatar, then on to Amsterdam – where the dogs went missing as they had been taken to the wrong side of the airport.
From there they were picked up in the car and took a ferry to Harwich, Essex, where Tippy, Max and Flea were reunited with their new owners.
Mark’s mum, Jill, 51, had been eagerly awaiting him and Poppy joining her in Corstorphine, Edinburgh, after he arrived in Britain on July 13.
And although Mark is happy to be with his mum, he said he would prefer to be in Thailand.
He said: “I’m glad to have got the dogs back and got them settled, but when I was there I had a small bungalow on the beach, and Poppy would be there while I was at work.
“Somebody wanted to adopt her so I had to make a decision was that going to happen, or was I going to bring her back to the UK.
“I miss everything about it.
“When the coronavirus stuff first started my mum was worried about me, but then she realised being on an island was probably safer.
“She was really excited to get me and Poppy back, now it’s a fight over Poppy every day.
“Poppy is by my side all the time because she was with me every day.”
The pooch was rescued from the street where it was feared she would not survive due to her friendly nature, and brought to Lanta Animal Rescue, where Mark was volunteering.
Friends and family raised £3,000 to allow him to bring Poppy back, and to cover costs and help the charity.
And Poppy is now enjoying going for walks with Mark’s other dog, Lexi, a ten-year-old Border Collie rescue dog.
Mark said: “There are so many dogs waiting to be rehomed.
“Poppy was brought in with two other dogs, and they both got adopted.
“It was her first night on her own so I brought her back to my bungalow, and a night turned into a week.
“Somebody else wanted to adopt her so I had to decide if I was going to keep her for myself.”