The Face Behind the Rescue

Stumbling across a three-legged dog with maggots eating away at its face, Julia Underwood did what nobody else dared. She rescued it. Words and photos by Francis Xavier


On seeing an abandoned animal in Vietnam, most of us usually walk away thinking that it’s not our business or that “someone will save it”, but for Julia Underwood that is never the case.


I met Julia and Matthew Underwood while on holiday in Dalat, when Curtis King, the owner of Dalat Train Villa, took us to the old train tracks built by the French in Dalat that he is working on reconstructing.


With the weather perfect, we decided to walk to the Tiger’s Cave Waterfall. That’s when we saw the three-legged black dog. It seemed to be in pain, but was still climbing up and down the waterfall area pawing at tourist trash for food.


Approaching the animal, a ghastly smell hit us, and we saw it had maggots eating away at one side of its face, with an ear nearly falling off. As it was time for us all to leave, our common thought seemed to be: “There is nothing I can do.”


But not Julia. A few days later on Facebook I saw a long post about an epic rescue of a dog named Max. It was the dog I saw, and the person who made the rescue possible was Julia.


Julia is someone who never walks away from an abandoned animal. Her current dog is one that was rescued from the snow in Russia years ago after its back legs had been deliberately broken.


“After leaving Dalat, I asked my friend if she could contact an animal rescue group in Dalat to help with the rescue,” said Julia. “I was surprised. There were a lot of volunteers who helped for two days to find Max. When they found him they were shocked at his condition.”


Julia said that no-one would transport Max because of the smell of rotting flesh, but finally an ambulance agreed to take him back to The Pet Care Clinic in Saigon.


There the clinic’s owner, Dr. Nghia, had to perform the operation and treatment in the clinic’s yard, as there were worms jumping out of Max’s flesh. But after having tissue transplanted from his hip and two months of proper care, love, and visits from a dog psychologist, Max is now more or less healed and is a very happy, sociable dog.


The Lucky Girl


Months later, Vietnamese social media focused on the pictures of a skin-and-bone little dog in Ben Tre with her mouth horribly taped shut, and no flesh in the mouth area. It seemed impossible that the dog would survive. But a rescue team consisting of volunteers in two cars set out to find the dog.


One of the cars belonged to Louis Nguyen, a wealthy entrepreneur and the husband of the Vietnamese celebrity Tang Thanh Ha; the other one was Julia’s.


Initially, the locals were merely curious to see these city folk driving around and wading through mud just to look for a dog, but some began to help, and at about 8pm the rescuers received a phone call saying the dog had been found.


Louis immediately arranged for an Uber cab to take volunteers and a young vet to the location, at a cost of around VND5 million. Following Dr Nghia’s instructions, the 19-year-old vet carried out first aid on the dog, which was quickly named Lucky. Without doubt, Lucky would have died had it not been for the young vet’s work.


Lucky arrived at the clinic at 5am, with the immediate danger past. The wide attention this story received was reflected in the large amount of donations that were sent in.


What You Can Do


“How cool is it to see these young kids, not rich, being so helpful and caring about the animals,” said Julia. “Most of the donations we’ve got are from Vietnamese people although the website is entirely in English.”


Julia has carried out rescues by herself for many years, but has met other people with similar ideas and now works with A.R.C (Animal Rescue and Care) and liaises closely with Dr. Nghia.


“Dr. Nghia’s clinic is close to full capacity all the time, so we have to think of a way to help him too,” said Julia. “Like this amazing young vet who came to rescue Lucky, he’s only 19 years old, from a normal family that’s unable to get him a better education. Without good funding or an internship programme, he wouldn’t be able to study further and to start his own clinic.”


That’s why A.R.C.s urgent activities include promoting their charity, funding events, raising public awareness about responsibility and caring for animals, as well as collaborating with the Vietnamese community more to promote vet education and building proper animal shelters.


Happy Paws


During his time at the clinic, Max became attached to all the staff working there, especially one whose name is Anh. The first few times Julia took Max home, he sat by the door looking sad, thinking he was being taken away from his most beloved friend. But, getting more used to a house environment and fully healed, he is now a sociable, active and happy dog who is about to be placed for adoption.


Lucky’s snout tissues have grown back slowly thanks to treatment using the natural healing agent propolis. The raw bone is hardly visible now, so her snout has been saved, and everyone is hoping for her continued good recovery.


To help with the rescues you can donate to A.R.C. at, become a volunteer at the cat shelter or participate in their activities like the daily dog walk. For more information visit


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