Those who know me well, or rather, those who have spent at least five minutes with me, know that I am a huge animal freak. Yes, freak. I once tried to bring my cat to a bar to introduce her to my coworkers. I orchestrated an international dog-napping and hung out with a puma every day for a month. Animals are a huge part of my life, and so when Kiera and I were looking for a volunteer opportunity in SE Asia, we knew that we wanted it to be with the furry guys. A quick Google search turned up Lanta Animal Welfare—a spay and neuter clinic linked with a cat and dog adoption center on a beautiful island in Thailand. Yep, that’ll do. And so we applied, made a deposit to guarantee our spot, and four months later, here we are as newbie volunteers.
If I’ve learned anything from the past year plus of traveling, it’s that sometimes I idealize certain scenarios and am a bit disappointed by the reality of how things turn out. This time around, however, I did my best to reign in my expectations. Would I get to cuddle with dogs and cats all day every day? Yes. Would my fellow volunteers include at least one ridiculously good looking single Norwegian man who shares my love for dogs and cats and wants to start a rescue together back home? Probably not. Would there be lots of clean-up duties revolving around poop? Of course. And so the first five days on the job have been quite enjoyable.
The goal of LAW is, first and foremost, to serve as a sterilization clinic. While cats have always been present on the island, the dog population boomed after the 2004 tsunami. Workers came from all over Thailand to rebuild and they brought dogs to guard construction sites. Unfortunately, once building was complete, the workers returned home and abandoned the unsterilized dogs on Ko Lanta, thus leading to uncontrolled breeding. Eight years later, there are an estimated 3,000 stray and unsterilized cats and dogs on the island. LAW has made a huge dent by sterilizing and treating approximately 6,000 animals to date, but there is plenty more work to be done. By sterilizing all of the animals on the island, the stray cat and dog population will diminish and the number of abused, starving, and injured animals will decrease as well.
In addition to the clinic, LAW also serves as an adoption center for 60+ cats and dogs with varying back-stories. Some came with terrible injuries inflicted by local people (several dogs had hot oil poured on them, causing severe burns) while others were brought in after being hit by a car, found in poor health near abandoned restaurants on the beach, etc. The goal is to always return the animal to its original owner or location (in the case of a stray) but if the health risks are too great for the animal, they become a part of the LAW family. Ideally, all of the animals that currently call LAW “home” will find permanent placements either in Thailand or abroad, thanks to a very well-orchestrated international adoption program. Now that Sinco is living happily with Adam in San Jose, I’m ready to adopt a dog to be mine alone. And so, I am using my time with LAW as an adoption trial period, where I get to test drive each and every one of the 30 dogs on-site to see which one is the best fit for my San Francisco lifestyle. The choice will not be easy, but I can say that there is already a very clear front runner. Once you see her photo, you will know why!
It’s mind blowing how many small tasks go into the upkeep of the facility. As a new volunteer there is a lot to learn, but I am excited and up for the challenge. If you’re interested in learning more about Lanta Animal Welfare, please watch the video below and check out their website, www.lantaanimalwelfare.com. I’ll be posting photos of adoptable animals in the PHOTOS section, and would be happy to escort one home for you if you decide to take the plunge!