Saggy skin, protruding bones and constant hunger pains. Exhausted legs after days and miles of endless searching for a scrap of food. People constantly mistake your face for one that wants to be loved, for that of an aggressive attacker, receiving outright cruelty as a result. Boiling water thrown at you, violent attacks, constant attempts on your life either by attempting to bag you up and throw you away or by slowly pouring boiling oil over you as an attempt to kill you.
It is estimated that there are 120,000 stray dogs in Thailand and that’s without recording the number of soi cats. Some travel alone, some travel in packs, and some are taken in by loving people and nursed back to health. But for most of the soi population, this is their unfortunate and harsh reality.
There are various organisations across Thailand, working hard to try and help Thailand’s Soi animals. By caring for, rescuing, rehoming and neutering as many animals as possible, they are aiming to relieve the strain on the soi population by minimising the rate at which it grows so that those having to live a life on the streets, can do so healthy and happily.
During my time in Koh Lanta I visited a place doing such a thing, Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Centre. The animal centre is a non-profit organisation whose story began in 2005. Founded by Junie Kovacs, a Norwegian and Hungarian expat, Junie noticed that there were just too many abused, injured and starving animals on Koh Lanta and couldn’t stand back and watch them suffer. Her journey to becoming one of Koh Lanta’s most important community members began with the opening of Time for Lime cooking school (as well as the restaurant and beach bar famous for its lime-flavoured concoctions!) she started not only as a way to share her passion for good food but as a way to fund the Animal Welfare Centre which after years of hard work she was able to open in 2010.
Since then Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Centre has sterilised and treated over 8,000 animals and many of the animals they have cared for have been rehomed to caring and loving homes across the globe. (You can follow adoption stories, as well as general updates, by following their Facebook page.)
The centre is run by three members of staff and passionate volunteers dedicated to making a difference. The centre receives no funding and relies on the profits from Time for Lime cooking school, the funds received from the volunteers to do so, and people such as you and me, to help enable them to continue their work giving these animals a second chance.
As well as their live-in volunteers, they also need daily volunteers to help walk the dogs. Which is why as soon as I heard about this centre, I strapped on a helmet, hopped on a scooter and set off to see them. After a quick hello, we were handed two dogs, (Rufus and Doris) and a carrier bag containing dog bowls and water. Unfamiliar with the area, we chose a random direction and went for a wander. Both of the dogs were friendly and playful, however, Doris wasn’t such a fan of walking. Meaning every few yards she’d flop down under the shade of a tree and refuse to budge. It could have been the language barrier, it could have been sheer sass, but all of the “Here girl, c’mon. C’mon Dorris!” wouldn’t get her to give more than a cheeky smile and a cock of the head followed by a blank expression.
Rufus, however, was the opposite.
He loved walking and would happily trot along like a dressage pony with the occasional sideways walk thrown in. He was the strangest yet most adorable dog I have ever met and I absolutely fell in love. So much so that I wanted to adopt him, but unfortunately busy work schedules meant that if I took him home he wouldn’t get the attention he deserved.
After our walk we went back to the centre where one of the volunteers gave us a tour around the centre. He was well informed about the centre, its ethos and the stories behind each of the animals. The passion that each volunteer had for making Koh Lanta, and its surrounding islands a better place, was clear and the stories shared about how most of the animals came to live at the Welfare Centre broke my heart.
But it was amazing to see the progress in which each of the animals who were dealt such shitty hands before, were now making. Shy dogs afraid of humans were becoming increasingly confident. And you could really see that the centre provides a place of sanctuary where not only an animals physical wounds can heal, but their emotional ones too.
By the time the tour had finished I was exhausted. Between the boiling mid-day hot sun and the dogs dragging us around, it was time to get a much needed drink and a bite to eat. So I left with a saddened yet hopeful hearts, and the biggest attachment to Rufus.
So if you ever find yourself in Koh Lanta, do me a favour and pop in to give Rufus a cuddle (If somebody hasn’t already fallen in love and taken him home) and lend a hand?
I promise it’s worthwhile!
Alternatively, if you’re not in or heading to Thailand, you can make a donation on their website.