If you’ve been following my Instagram then you will probably know that I’ve come back to Thailand finally. The last time I was here was in 2015 when I visited for the very first time with two friends of mine. That trip was somewhat monumental to me in that it showed me how much of a big world was now available to me and that I could experience it all, if I wanted.
In the months and years since that first trip, I kept saying to myself I would like to come back to Thailand. I wanted to experience more of it; volunteer with animals again and do lots more yoga. At the time though, my work automatically, as always took centre stage. Then caring for my very best friend took over from that even. I knew that adventure was waiting for me, I just didn’t know when I would be able to give it my time.
After the passing of my dear friend Eva, I think I was guided back to travelling. I needed a break from home. From my work and my life in Ireland. Living with such soul-destroying grief as I was/am experiencing, I just could get myself on the path to healing by staying in Galway.
So I booked a one-way flight, volunteered my time to an animal shelter (Lanta Animal Welfare) in the south of Thailand and flew at the start of this year. I had many conflicting emotions at this time. Was this the ‘right’ thing to do? Was this going to help how I was feeling? how I was healing? Indeed, I wondered should I even be making such big decisions during such grief? I didn’t know the answers but I knew I wouldn’t find them in Ireland.
I’ve been here in Thailand for two months now and I feel like I both landed fresh off the plane yesterday AND that I’ve been here for months more than I have. On arrival from Ireland, I flew straight to the south of Thailand and made my way to Koh Lanta. It’s here I began my trip and my process of healing by way of looking after street dogs with a charity named Lanta Animal Welfare.
The trip over was long and tiring and the icing on the cake was my backpack never made it to Krabi with me! Although a little panicked, What if it never arrives?! I’ll have no clothes! And the pet supplies which I brought with me (donated by Millbry Hill in the UK and Petworld Ireland) might never make it either. Freaked out but mostly tired, I headed for my diggs for the week. Tired and sore, I slept for a good nine hours upon arrival. Thankfully my bag arrived a day later so I was delighted and relieved!
Mornings at Time For Lime looked like this!
For my first week in Thailand, I stayed at Time For Lime at Klong Dao Beach on Koh Lanta. Owned and operated by Junie Kovaks, the lady who founded theLanta Animal Welfare (LAW) also, the place is both a beachside bar and restaurant, has nine beautiful bungalows and boasts the best cookery classes on the island. Profits from Time For Lime pay go towards the cost of running of the animal shelter also so staying there was a no brainer! Nestled between each of the nine bungalows on site are some cat houses, the cats at Time For Lime wander about all day, meet the tourists, pop in and out of the rooms and even take little naps with you! There is also one Lanta Animal Welfare dog living at Time For Lime named Lipe. Lipe just loves to go on walks with the people who stay at TFL.
After a week of mooching about the beach, doing yoga, relaxing and eating great food, I moved to Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW) at Relax Bay. I visited a day earlier to check the place out and take the tour. Instantly I was greeted by the lovely host as well as a plethora of cats and kittens! I moved in the next day and was shown to my room in the volunteer’s accommodation.
The following day I started my first shift. Each of the volunteers at Lanta Animal Welfare work a six hour shift, six days a week. We work either morning or evening shifts with one night shift each week. When we do the night shift, we sleep actually in the centre, close to the kennels. In the night time, it is our duty to keep the animals safe and quiet. The Muslim Call to Prayer starts at about 5am. It is played all over the island over the Mosque’s loudspeakers and well, the dogs just love to howl along to this! And as cool and somewhat charming as it sounds to be right in the middle of a howling wolf pack, we need to keep this to a minimum so as not to wake the staff, volunteers and neighbours.
I look after and work with the dogs rather than the cats and they have welcomed me into their wolfpack for sure!! The dogs are split into 6 different packs and each pack is kept separate tot he others. Each of the 40 or so dogs here have huge personalities and it’s been an absolute pleasure and experience to get to know them all.
Before LAW was established, Koh Lanta, like most islands here had a huge stray animal problem. When Junie first came here and set up Time For Lime, she looked after a small number of animals living at the back of TFL. Lanta Animal Welfare was born. As the stray dog problem grew, as did LAW and so 10 years ago, the new site and buildings were established at Relax Bay which is where they stand now. Junie along with LAW has improved the stray animal population here by 90% and the island is very different from when she first arrived. Indeed, it is very different to any islands here in Thailand that I have visited. You don’t see as many stays and much most resorts have animals live onsite too.
As the stray dog problem grew, as did LAW and so 10 years ago, the new site and buildings were established at Relax Bay which is where they stand now. Junie along with LAW has improved the stray animal population here by 90% and the island is very different animal landscape from when she first arrived. Indeed, it is very different to any islands here in Thailand that I have visited. You don’t see as many stays and most of the beach resorts have animals live onsite now as pets.
L to R: Nin, Becks, Bella and Posh
Top: Little Coconut. middle: Little Coconut and I. Bottom: Jess fitting Emily with her new harness! One of many, kindly donated by Petworld Ireland.
Each of the animals that arrive at LAW is vaccinated and sterilised and have a tiny tattoo inside their right ear so they can be recognised again. At LAW they do try to adopt out as many animals as possible but some are naturally wild and live on the streets and in the dense jungle. These animals are put back, where possible as they are used to this nomadic life and are happy to be fed by locals and resorts.
LAW veterinary staff and volunteers also travel to other local islands and do mobile sterilisation and adoption clinics. They have been known to sterilise up to 400 animals in one, five-day mobile unit. Very impressive work from their resident and volunteer vets and vet nurses!
I’ve really enjoyed my time at LAW. The whole experience flew by quite quick. Dont get me wrong, the work is hard, dirty, smelly and sweaty but the rewards are worth it!
On my first night shift, there were two emergencies. The first was a cat brought in by a Thai couple with no English. The cat had been attacked by dogs and was in a bad state. We managed to get the info we needed from them and get a vet to see the cat. Not even 45 minutes later, another man arrived with a tiny kitten who had been viciously attacked by another cat. This poor thing was lying in a bucket, barely breathing, cold and covered in blood; my heart sank. The emergency vet here, Andrezj managed to stabilise both cats and both are now fine.
On my second night shift, a dog came in with a suspected Cobra bite. We carried him in from the truck, blood everywhere and his owners in complete shock. When Helen, the vet arrived she actually recognised the dog as a puppy she treated years ago named Coconut. As a puppy, an actual coconut fell from a tree and landed on his back, doing major damage to his spinal cord and legs. So here he was again, back at LAW as another emergency. Helen soon stabilised Coconut after determining that he must have been hit by a car and not bitten by a Cobra!
Lots of the animals come in with major problems. There’s Andrzej (the dog, not the Vet) who had been slashed either side of his neck with a machete. Nin who had been shot in her face, neck and back. Toots who had been stabbed, Sanchez who had been attacked by a pack of beach dogs, Danú (who I named after the Celtic Mother Goddess!) the wild jungle dog who was on Chemotherapy and Noodle who was a Tsunami survivor to name a few!
L to R: My gorgeous old boy ‘Poky’, troublemaker ‘Posh’, little ‘Coconut’
L to R: Handsome ‘Aladdin’, gorgeous ‘Chilli’, one & only ‘Bella’
L to R: Chang Mai ‘Cola’, stunning ‘Andrzej’, baby ‘Mougli’
New arrival Leo had a huge chunk of his neck missing when he arrived. He had been chained up as a puppy and basically never got unchained. As he grew into the big German Shepard he is, the chain continued to cut into his neck. The vets have done amazing work getting him on the road to recovery and we hope he will get adopted to a new family when he’s well enough.
People ask me how I manage to cope with such gruesome sights, and believe me – there’s been pretty awful stories. Between the torture, abuse and neglect, these animals have seen it all. And yet all they do is show love and effection. It is hard, there’s no doubt about that; but over time and with persistence, patience and a little fresh cooked chicken, they do start to trust you and they do start to communicate! Once you have seen the recovery and the turn around in these animals and you see how happy they are to be helped, you know just how worth is it is. It makes the bad stuff disappear.
I think that dogs who love us and show us kindness even after they have suffered badly at the hands of inhumane, appalling humans they are a testament to just how powerful love and forgiveness can be. They can teach us so much about ourselves and really help put us on the right path.
Bella formally known as Beulong <3
While at Lanta Animal Welfare there have been a few doggos who have left special prints in my heart. One who outshined all others was Bella or Beulong as she was affectionately called by Scott, LAW’s resident dog catcher and whisperer! Bella was living as a street dog and was being badly abused by local people and kids. She came to the centre and was treated for Cancer and went into remission. Although by the time I arrived, Bella had been adopted (she was waiting to fly home to Sweden) we really did hit it off. She is a feisty little madam who really didn’t take shit from anyone. She was a gorgeous black mixed breed with a ridge of hair right down the centre of her back, this I gather is due to her having Thai Ridgeback in here genes somewhere.
Bella knew she was my favourite, I would always be there to walk her. We would go to the beach and play in the sand as well as through the forest which she loved as she would look for monkeys. The day before she flew to Sweden, I bathed and de-ticked Bella then she stayed with me in my room for her last evening. She was delighted! I knew she was going to be an amazing pet to her new family as she just loved the comforts of a home.
My entire time at LAW has been a rollercoaster. In the first few weeks, the heat and the work take a bit of getting used to. Learning all the animals names and stories feels like it may never happen and with basic accommodation and a big group of volunteers to meet, it can be a little overwhelming but it becomes second knowledge very fast and before you know it, you’re finishing up and leaving!
Hanging out with Arthur!
Myself, Tzia, Nicola, Annelese and Emily at one of my two ‘leaving parties’ at Ta Tha Ta’s!
I am now missing LAW in a huge way, I am missing my wolf pack. I am so glad that I decided to start my trip this way and work with them. I knew that I would be good at it, but this experience has definitely made me think more about just how much I love woking with dogs.
Not forgetting that I also made some super friends while at the centre. Certainly a few I will be seeing again in the future. Working and living as a team makes these friendships form into your little family away from home, which for each and every one of my volunteer crew, I’m thankful and blessed.
Volunteers at LAW and centres like this do the most amazing, rather selfless work. The hours are long and the work, as I said is hard, dirty, sweaty but hugely rewarding. They are the real superstars of LAW. Coming from all over the world, all ages and backgrounds; they are the ones who make the magic happen and care for these animals night and day through the kindness of their hearts.
Top: Myself and Puk, business woman & manager of Happy Veggie Restaurant. Bottom: The most amazing spring rolls and Phad Thai in all of Thailand from Happy Veggie, Koh Lanta!
Top: Tzia and Andrzej. Middle: Beach with Bella. Bottom: Little Coconut.
Sophie in her new collar. One of many kindly donated by Millbry Hill.
Down time from volunteering involves miles of gorgeous beaches!
Whole awesome volunteer crew having Easter Pancakes!
Volunteers and staff members all out for my Goodbye Party!
Lanta Animal Welfare is a non-profit charity based in south Koh Lanta, Thailand. LAW are dedicated to improving the lives of all animals, relieving pain and suffering. At Lanta Animal Welfare, they believe passionately that we all have a responsibility to protect the animals around us. LAW strive to raise awareness of the hardship of homeless, sick, and injured animals, the benefits of adopting an animal in need, and their mission is to end the homeless animal crisis.
V O L U N T E E R – Lanta Animal Welfare are always looking for volunteers to help them out on a month basis. Working with both cats and dogs, volunteers are asked to give a minimum of one month. As well as this, LAW are always looking for volunteer vets to come down to the island to volunteer too which is a great idea for both newly certified vets to gain experience as well as seasoned vets to educate. If you are interested, get in touch with the volunteer co-ordinator here ASAP!
D O N A T E – LAW receives no government funding. A monthly gift from YOU, however big or small is the only hope for survival for the many thousands of dogs and cats on Koh Lanta and the surrounding islands. Can you help?
€50: You will provide life saving care to a sick or injured animal
€25: You will provide the best start in life for a puppy or kitten
€15: You will provide a better life for a stray by covering the cost of one sterilisation
Monthly Donations support LAW year round, most importantly during low season when even more animals are abandoned, many of whom are sick or injured and in urgent need of help. Monthly donations ensure they get the care they need. Click here to donate.
A D O P T – The LAW centre is always operating at full capacity. This means they urgently need to find people who are willing to adopt one of the beautiful dogs or cats in residence. They have over 30 dogs and 60 cats of different sizes and personalities, both puppies/kittens and adults. All show tremendous love for humans and are in great need of your time and affection. If you want to take an animal home, LAW can help with the whole process, whether your home is in Thailand or in another country. Click here for more.
F L I G H T V O L U N T E E R S – With many of the animals at LAW already adopted and getting adopted by the week, this means they are in desperate need for Flight Volunteers to get the animals back to their new homes. Flight volunteering for Lanta Animal Welfare is super easy and will cost you nothing. LAW arrange everything for you including all paperwork. You will feel amazing knowing you helped to take an animal to their deserving forever home! Click here for more info.
Find and follow me on Instagram & twitter at @Saibhegan
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