Our final stop in the Thai Island-hopping instalment of our travelling adventures took us to Koh Lanta, South-East of Koh Phi Phi. While we had heard great things about Lanta in itself, and we did find delicious food and beautiful beaches, our visit was centered around visiting somewhere very particular. For those of you who have been fortunate enough not to be subect to a half hour monologue from me previously, I spent several years working at a dog and cat rescue centre back in London, and it remains something very close to my heart. Because of this when my friend Hannah told me about Lanta Animal Welfare after her visit last year, poor Alex had no say in the matter, it became a non-negotiable stop in our trip.
Lanta Animal Welfare was founded by Junie Kovacs, who moved to Koh Lanta originally to open a cooking school. However upon arrival she was shocked and distressed by the huge number of stray, starving animals on the island and the high euthanasia rate as a result. Junie made the amazing decision to convert her cooking school into a restaurant, and used the proceeds to set up an animal sanctuary and vet clinic in 2005. Now known as Lanta Animal Welfare, the sanctuary has had a huge impact in a relatively short space of time, and has grown to include housing for up to 40 dogs and 50 cats (although they have so many cats in need coming into the Centre they are normally over capacity), and are dedicated to searching for forever homes for these animals looking for a second chance. Lanta Animal Welfare remains the only veterinary clinic on the Island, carrying out their work with absolutely no government backing, and are entirely reliant on donations and the money from Junie’s restaurant.
As with any rescue centre, there is a huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, and the work they do extends even further than the shelter itself:
- Rehoming – many of the animals LAW encounters are strays or have been abandoned, and the Centre endeavours to find homes for all the dogs and cats in need of a family, be that within Thailand, or further afield. In the last year alone they have rehomed 78 dogs and 111 cats, 44 dogs and 30 cats internationally. All homes are carefully assessed to ensure the dogs and cats go to the best home possible for them.
- Sterilisation and medical care- in addition to their rehoming efforts, LAW are also focused on cutting the problem off at the source. Using support from volunteers they conduct mass sterilisation and vaccination projects, in Lanta and neighbouring areas. They estimate that by sterilising one male and one female cat, over 2 million accidental births can be avoided in an eight year cycle. Their sterilisation programme has already sterilised/treated 15,000 animals, and brought the stray population on the island down by 90%!
- Education – a 90% reduction is undoubtedly amazing, but their work doesn’t stop there. A massive issue on the island is the local’s lack of awareness of the importance of sterilisation, and many of them are actively against it, not understanding the health and population management benefits. A condition of providing medical care to pets is that LAW will sterilise the animal at the same time, and some locals are against this to the point where they will unfortunately deny their dog or cat the medical care they require. To counter this, the centre provide education programmes to local schools about the importance of sterilisation, in the hopes of increasing knowledge and reducing abuse and overpopulation within the next generation.
With all this in mind, I was keen to go and see the work they do at LAW for myself. We had chosen to stay at Lom La Lanta Hotel, due to it’s close proximity to the shelter, the room was reasonably priced on a backpacker’s budget and basic yet clean. On our first day we strolled down late afternoon, in the hopes it would be a bit cooler for the dogs. As soon as we got there a volunteer approached and introduced himself and the centre, and we were immediately struck by the passion and dedication displayed by every single person there, in fact one of the volunteers who took us round would be taking a dog home with her when she left to go back to Europe, and it was genuinely heartwarming to see the bond the two of them had already formed. We arrived with another couple so we walked an established pack together, we took Oscar and Penang (who was a gorgeous tan juvenile, and was just waiting on his flight to his new home), and the other couple took their companion Lisa.
Oscar was striking; bold, confident and in great condition, thanks to his time at Lanta Animal Welfare. While mostly all of the dogs at LAW are mongrels due to the uncontrolled breeding, the German Shepherd in him was apparent, in appearance and attitude! The Centre estimated his age at about three years, and he was abandoned by his owner and spent several months roaming the beaches and following tourists in the hopes of food before being taken in by the centre. This is a common issue for them, with people bringing dogs or taking animals on when they stay on the Island during the high season, then moving away when the weather deteriorates and leaving their pets behind.
Oscar doesn’t give much away, but he knew the route and that we would be doing it at his pace! He enjoyed a fuss despite the heat, and it would have been so rewarding to have been able to spend the time to build a bond and draw him out a little more. The other dogs clearly looked to him and followed his lead, whether he was showing us the direction that he wanted to go in, or letting us know that we would be taking a short break so he could roll around in the cool sand! We took him round the wooded area close to the site due to the heat, and he was a challenge in the best of ways, and his easy confidence and gentle stubborness was a huge source of entertainment for the entire walk. We found out he wasn’t too enamoured with the monkeys (understandably!), but dealt with it well when a particularly charming one began taunting him from the trees above us. He put the breaks on a couple of times during the walk, but being a black dog in that heat can’t be fun. He would make a fantastic companion for someone with knowledge of stronger, self-assured breeds, and was a great role model to his younger companion.
After our (slightly longer than anticipated, due to Oscar’s decision to include multiple breaks!) walk, we headed back to the centre for a tour. The Centre is by no means huge, and every inch of available space is put to use for the benfit of the animals, in fact the animals have a substantially larger kitchen space than the humans! There were cats everywhere and we were shown the hut that they were kept in overnight. The hut itself was by no means much to look at, but each cat had their own individual, very comfortable bed made up from various donated and salvaged materials. The Centre are currently focusing fundraising efforts on a new ‘Kitty City’, with increased space for more cats, private areas for adoptees to socialise and get to know the animals a little better and a Kitty Cafe, which aims to increase footfall and funds for LAW.
We peeked into the clinic, where both pets and strays were being provided with the additional care they needed, and walked through the kitchen and staff area, where a group of volunteers were busy creating enrichment items for the kenneled dogs. While each dog has an individual kennel for feeding and overnight, during the day they have access to large yards with shade and sometimes water areas, where they stay in small groups of doggie friends. Each new dog that comes in is carefully integrated with the group that is best suited to them, to ensure the safety and happiness of all the dogs in their care.
The great, life-changing work they do at Lanta Animal Welfare left a mark on both me and Alex, and we came back the following day to meet another pair of dogs, Buddy and Noodle. Buddy is about four, and was brought over from Koh Phi Phi in a poor condition. Thanks to the team at LAW he has made a full recovery, and is now a social, happy pup. He can be a bit much for other dogs, and isn’t too keen on cats, but he and mature Noodle, the ‘boss of the pack’, get on well together. Noodle has a bit of a tragic tale, having been abandoned by construction workers as a puppy she was brought into the centre, and now at ten years old, is STILL waiting to find a home. This was a massive surprise to us having met her, she is a gentle, sweet dog who would make an excellent companion for either an adult household or family home, she gets on well with children as long as they can respect she is an older lady who may not be quite so energetic all the time!
Although we arrived early it was, if possible, even hotter than the previous day, and you could tell the dogs were feeling it. After a short walk they were both keen to get back in the shade and the cool, but both enjoyed a cuddle with us first! As we were leaving we watched a young cat be rehomed to a family on the Island, and it was incredibly rewarding to watch their joy and excitement as they signed the paperwork to make the adoption of their new family member official. Watching this summed up perfectly the brilliant work they do at Lanta Animal Welfare, and the difference they make to the lives of both animals and humans.
How We Can Help
LAW is a place which sticks in your mind, long after you leave. Under threat from lack of funding, lack of skilled help and lack of knowledge and understanding from the locals, it is in dire need of strong support from individuals and organisations alike. It is such a deserving charity and there are so many ways to make a difference:
- Donate – money makes the world go round, of course, and there are varying ways you can show your support, from making a purchase from their online shop, donating money to building Kitty City, or providing a monthly donation or sponsoring animals, but if you are a bit short on cash there are plenty of other options. From kongs, toys, leads and harnesses to foods and various medicines (including flea and tick treatments) and equipment, all donations would be useful and gratefully received. You can find a comprehensive list of what they are in particular need of here.
- Volunteering – there are so many options available, both on site and working remotely. If you are looking to head out to Koh Lanta, you can turn up on the day (but go early or late, not in the heat of the day) to walk a dog or socialise some cats, or stay and volunteer for a month or longer, as either a general welfare volunteer or a host. For those with specific skills there is a huge need for experienced vet and vet nurses (and trust me, you will have your hands kept busy and have a fantastic opportunity to help a huge variety of animals with various requirements). For those not able to make the trip they are also on the hunt for virtual volunteers in fields including website design, social media, marketing and anyone with knowledge of graphic design, writing or editing would be a great asset to the team.
- Check in if flying from Thailand – wherever you are from, if you are flying home or onwards from Thailand it would be a great help to check in on their website for animals with homes lined up a few weeks before your flight. The dogs and cats go through their quarantine period while at the centre, and as soon as they have a home lined up they are able to go (currently they have 4 dogs and 5 cats with homes just waiting on transport). However, animals can’t fly unaccompanied so they are reliant on volunteers flying in that direction to transport the animals. It’s surprisingly easy, all paperwork is sorted for you and a LAW volunteer will meet you at the airport with the dog/cat ready to go. At no expense to yourself you will be able to deliver an animal in need to their forever home and limit the time they need to spend without a loving family.
- Fundraising – got a run or bake sale coming up, or planning to humiliate yourself for Movember again? Do it for Lanta Animal Welfare!
- Follow and share – social media is a great way to raise awareness for a worthy cause, so follow Lanta Animal Welfare’s Facebook and Twitter and help get their name out there. Remember if you aren’t in a position to help, one of your friends might be and every share increases awareness of their plight and makes it more likely that someone will fall in love with one of the dogs or cats, or be able to donate or provide vital aid.
- Introductions – the centre are looking for connections in fostering services, animal charities and other services such as food and care organisations to provide aid and help get their message across. They have done great work with sterilisation efforts with German non-profit WTG recently, and are looking to continue to build strong relationships with organisations across the world in the future. Again what is a little to some of these companies can go a long way for a charity like LAW, so any efforts are gratefully received, so please get in touch if you think you can help.
- Eat! – as mentioned, proceeds from Junie’s restaurant and cooking school, Time for Lime go directly to supporting the animals, so if you are in Koh Lanta and are looking to gain some culinary skills or just fancy a first class meal, pop in and enjoy!
- Adopt – finally, if you are in a position to rehome an animal, get in touch with them and find out who might be the right match for you! They see dogs and cats of all ages, shapes and sizes. Each has their own unique character waiting to be drawn out, but one thing they all have in coming is that they are so deserving of a chance for a happy forever home. Remember, while saving one animal won’t change the world, for that one animal the world will change forever.
“Anyone can make a huge difference! Whether you’re rich or poor, have experience or not, it doesn’t matter. It was my passion and compassion that gave me the energy and determination to help the animals here at Koh Lanta”- Junie Kovacs
For further information or to get in contact, please check out the Lanta Animal Welfare website, www.lantaanimalwelfare.com, or drop them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please, if you can help, do what you can.