We've arrived in Koh Lanta, a small island in southern Thailand, where we're set to spend the month of October.
About Lanta Animal Welfare
The center was founded 14 years ago by a Norwegian woman named Junie who initially visited Koh Lanta on her holiday and was horrified by the state of the dogs and cats. They were overpopulated and ran in packs, often fighting amongst each other and attacking tourists and locals for food. The locals were fighting back by hurting and sometimes killing the dogs.
When she returned home to Norway, she was resolved to do something about it, so she sold her business and her home and returned to Koh Lanta to start the first ever cooking school, Time for Lime, which funded her efforts to rescue and sterilize animals.
As the cooking school grew, she was able to help more cats and dogs, and after six years of saving up, she opened a separate center which houses up to 40 dogs and 40 cats at a time.
In addition to the shelter with adoptable pets, the center is also the only working vet clinic on the island, so locals come in with their animals who are injured, sick, or in need of vaccinations, and the volunteer vets offer free and low-cost medication and services.
About Our Volunteer Jobs
We work at the center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. Our role consists of manning the front to welcome guests and locals who bring their pets in. We're learning important Thai words like "diarrhea?" and "eating or not eating?"
Every few hours we also run tours for tourists that stop by and want to get a better understanding of what the organization does for animals on the island. We introduce ourselves, talk about how Lanta Animal Welfare got started, show off some of the great projects they offer, and highlight how tourists and travelers can contribute by making donations or taking time to walk one of the dogs waiting to be adopted.
Often tourists come by because they've heard you can "check a dog out for a walk." In those cases, we head to the back and see which dogs are due for a nice walk. We get their leashes and specific harnesses and mark on a big white board where they're off to, so all of the dogs are always accounted for. Then we leash them up and bring them out to the tourists who then take them on walks nearby or even to the beach. We send them off with a little bag with water, a dog bowl and poop bags. It's a great system- the dogs get lots of good walks throughout the day, and the tourists seem to love getting the chance to get some dog love in on their vacations.
In addition to our front of the house duties, we've been asked to photograph certain animals that are ready to be adopted, so we're spending time getting to know those animals and making little videos that can go on Facebook and the center's website to encourage adoptions. I think in a normal setting, this would be pretty easy, but many of the dogs were abused before coming to the shelter, so they're incredibly shy and fearful. It takes a lot of time of hanging around them before they come to understand that we're not dangerous to them.
Here are just a few of the sweet pups waiting to be adopted!
In addition to the satisfaction of helping a great organization, we were also offered free accommodation and meals with the Thai staff who live on the property. The downside? The free accommodations were really rustic- a basic room with mattresses stacked on each other, bamboo walls and no air conditioning. The bathroom was also shared with other volunteers, and the shower consisted of a hose that you hang to the wall (no hot water of course).
We roughed it in the staff accommodations for one night before we opted to rent one of the bungalows on Time for Lime's property for the enormous cost of $11/night. Our bungalow has a private bathroom with a basic shower (but with hot water!). We also have a little desk, a place to unpack and hang our clothes as well as a nice fan and small AC unit, which is doing its best against Ko Lanta's extremely hot and muggy afternoons.
The best part is a small front porch with a bench seat and hammock. Since the property supports Lanta Animal Welfare, there are always cats around lounging on our porch and snuggling our feet as we blog and relax. It's a pretty great set up.
Aside from our $11/night in accommodations (which we opted to pay for, we could have stayed for free), our costs are very low. If we want, we can eat with the Thai staff over at the staff house. They often make fried fish, greens and rice. If we're hungry for western food, we can go to a number of expat-owned bars or restaurants, and meals are generally cheap, less than $10 for two people.
One expense we needed to have was for our motorbike, which cost us $71 to rent for a full month. It's large enough for us both to zip around on, and renting it was a breeze (we didn't even need to show our international drivers' licenses). At $3 at day, the bike is well worth it and necessary as everything on the island is a short drive away. We also have to cover gas, which runs about $7 for a full tank, and we have to be sure to drive up to the real gas station as most road-side stands sell "gas" in old used vodka or whiskey bottles, but we quickly learned that they often dilute the mixture, so you get about 40% of the actual gasoline you paid for.
Between our accommodations, motorbike and other items (like meals and gear), we're averaging about $40/day for the two of us.
When we're not at the center volunteering, we're spending our time zipping around the island on our motorbike, discovering new beaches (which in the off season are deserted) and eating lots of local Thai food. Late at night we can stop off at one of many food carts that make fresh banana and chocolate crepes, which are delicious. We also have time to read, write and watch movies in our bungalow. When we want to be social, the volunteers at the center are often getting together for meals out or bon fires on the beach, and it's been really nice for me and Nate to get time to make new friends.
If you'd like to support the efforts of this incredible center, please consider making a donation at www.lantaanimalwelfare.com/donate.