6 years later: A return to Lanta Animal Welfare

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It’s well documented that I’m obsessed with my Thai dog, Lady, whom I adopted from Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW) while volunteering there in 2013. When Terra and I decided to head back to Thailand for our honeymoon, visiting LAW was a must-do, non-negotiable on my list.

While I’d joked with friends and family about bringing another dog home—and had, honestly, not totally ruled it out in my mind—Terra and I agreed that we’re not quite ready to up our pet count to three. We still travel quite a bit, and asking someone to watch not one, but two dogs plus a cat on top of watering my plants and making sure that our apartment doesn’t burn down is a pretty big ask. Plus, we have plans to renovate our apartment this year (stressful for pets) and yeah… that’s about it. But damnit, the LAW critters sure made a solid run at us.

We heard several locals mention how “things have changed” on the island over the last few years, mostly due to the completion of a bridge (it replaced one ferry-leg between the island and the mainland). However, to me, the most notable change is that there are simply fewer dogs and cats around. In 2013, stray dogs peppered the sides of the main road and could be found in packs on most beaches. This time, it took a full day before I saw what appeared to be a stray dog on the beach, and upon further inspection she had a collar and a tattooed number in her ear (meaning she’d been spayed at LAW). A cat that we met while walking home to our bungalow that evening also had a number in her ear. Color me impressed.

We visited “the center” twice during our time on the island, and while some things were the same (namely the enthusiasm amongst the volunteers), it was very exciting to see how the organization has continued to grow. The number of animals being cared for is significantly higher now than in 2013—to the tune of 54 dogs (vs. 32) and an even bigger bump in the number of cats. The facilities have been expanded to reflect this effort; the veterinary clinic now houses an X-ray machine (previously the closest one was about three hours away) and construction on a larger surgery room is under way. For anyone that has visited LAW in the past, the most obvious addition is the new Kitty City. I’ve always wanted to go to a cat café, and LAW finally gave me the chance. The café is inside a courtyard where the cats reside day and night. Quite the upgrade from the large room that we used to herd them into for a safe night’s sleep. What they don’t show you in the promo materials for the cafes in Japan and elsewhere is that you’ll have to guard your food from cheeky kittens who want a piece. It made for a fun game—how quickly can you eat that wrap before another cat finds its way to your tabletop? I loved it.

Kitty City

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We took two dogs on a walk each time we visited. We ended up with Clyde on both occasions– a small, cuddly, shit-stirrer that would bark at any Thai men that passed us. He was joined by Snooki on our first walk, who was scared of a cat that we saw in the forest, and by his sister, Bonnie, who wanted to carry a stick 3x her size the second time. All three dogs were sweet and reminded me just how much work both Terra and I put into Lady when she first came home. She had to learn how to walk nicely on a leash without pulling (or falling behind), to not eat trash off the ground (still working on that one sometimes), to not be scared of certain types of people (she was terrified of anyone who appeared to be homeless for a while there), and more. Looking back, it took some serious time and patience to help her transition to her new life, but dang—so worth it.

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I also got a chance to catch up with Junie, the founder of LAW. She shared that a lot of the dogs at the center now are not even from Koh Lanta, but from nearby islands and communities where they run mobile clinics. Junie originally set out to decrease suffering amongst the stray dog and cat population on Koh Lanta via sterilization and veterinary care. In 2018, those years of work have clearly paid off, and they’re able to stretch the resources they’ve amassed to help animals in communities that don’t have veterinary resources. It was so uplifting to hear that one woman’s vision and perseverance (along with a dedicated team) could make a tangible difference in a place where government resources and local support were initially, and often, impossible to attain.

As I thumbed through some of my favorite photos of Lady (I could, literally, do this for an entire day) Junie encouraged me to write a children’s book about her experience being adopted from LAW and moving to the United States. She thinks we have some great material to make into a book that they could sell in the gift shop at LAW. I’m excited about the idea, and so if you know any illustrators that are interested in donating their time to a great cause, please get in touch with me.

So for anyone that is still with me on this long post, I will wrap up by saying that I’m so glad we returned to visit Lady’s first home, and that I’m not ruling out another dog… in a few years from now.

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