Sometimes travelling does not teach you new things; it confirms the things you already knew; if not now, one day I will be a crazy cat lady.
Introducing Barbara, ninja cat. She has just eaten, hence the wise expression.
Travelling through places which are strange to me, I’ve found my brain automatically seeks things that it recognises and understands; things with which it can help to build a map of its surroundings. So new tastes, smells seeping from street-side stands and open fronted shops, weather that makes water ooze from me or drenches me with its own warm torrents, dead eyes, strange customs, odd language (even the altered twangs of English, drawled by young Americans or sun-soured ex-pats), rush hour that is hours and ferocious hours long, where even the side-walk becomes fair game for enterprising motorcyclists. First comes alienation. Then threat, under the onslaught of taxi drivers, tuk tuk drivers, motorcycle taxi drivers, restauranteurs, tailors, all the while ignoring the beeps of the horns, the roar of the traffic, the angry gunfire of the rain. And all the time my brain looks looks looks for anything it knows.
Animals. Barbara here, she is ‘same same, but different’ (a tried Thai-tourist expression); a cat of a different culture. Never has a cat been so quick to identify a sucker, follow them and hassle them until they break them down and get what they want. Along with Barbara I have met some heart-warming pets and some rough dogs, but I had little to say about them until I visited Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW)
Funded by donations and the profit from founder Junie Kovacs’ business, Time For Lime Restaurant and Cookery School, LAW has been helping animals on Koh Lanta since 2005.
I had read about it before I arrived on the island – Thailand Lonely Planet features a paragraph – but it was not until I saw a Western looking woman walking a dog on a lead (a rare sight) that I remembered and knew I must not be far from the LAW base. Armed with directions from the dog walker, I set out to visit.
The first thing that struck me was that people had time. Busting at the seams, LAW still want you to visit, to show an interest and they want to show and tell you about their work. One of their main principals is education and they will talk to anybody who will listen. So, although it was too late to help walk any of the dogs, Terri, a volunteer from Edinburgh, took me on a tour.
We started in the hospital ward. Here, abandoned kittens, poisoned dogs and animals recovering from operations languished in fan-cooled air. Terri knew everything about them, sharing their sad stories and opening some of the cages so they could share cuddles.
The main surgical work that LAW do is neutering of dogs and cats. The organisation believe that one of the principal ways of reducing the abuse and cruelty caused to animals on Koh Lanta is to neuter them, reducing the stray population. But, they will help wherever needed. Amputations on dogs and cats that have been hit by cars are not uncommon – there are no orthopaedics on Koh Lanta, a specialism demanding money, a highly trained professional and long term care – and the reactive treatments for poisoning are regularly required.
A new, young inmate.
As I had travelled the south of Thailand the presence of stray dogs was almost immediately remarkable. Aloof creatures; by day they move with purpose or languish in shade and by night the streets belong to them. Terri told me that the guesthouses frequently acquire puppies; a great draw of tourists. As dogs, they no longer have the appeal and anyway the low season descends and the dogs are turned out to the monsoon rains to fend for themselves. They seem to do pretty well. Only they are at odds with the significant Muslim demographic on the island, many of whom believe that dogs are unclean and feel justified in causing them pain. They are poisoned, burned, starved, left by the road to be hit or on a cliff to be drowned. LAW takes these animals in and if they can, they rebuild their bodies and their trust and hopefully find them a new home.
In fact, many of LAW’s inmates find new homes all over the world, greatly assisted by the fact that the organisation can fulfil quarantine requirements. Others aren’t so lucky. Meet Woody and Oscar, part of the same dog pack, long term inmates, chilling on the beach part way through our dog walk.
Much to the affront of my ‘good deeds’ ego the pair did not seem that excited about our walk on my second visit to LAW. I couldn’t blame them, because, as I took my tour a day earlier, for all the tens of dogs and cats it housed, it was remarkably quiet. There was none of the ricocheting, incessant barking you might hear at an RSPCA home. The dogs at LAW are separated into packs and they all have their discreet areas to roam, take shelter and eat; Oscar and Woody had got lazy, they had everything they needed right in their own living room.
The cats are the same. They roam around the courtyard, wash, bask, greet visitors when it suits them. In the evening they converge because it is feeding time, which takes place in a large concrete floored room with different levels, sleeping areas and scratching posts, where they are locked overnight.
Ian the Cat.
Many moons ago I used to work in animal welfare. I was young and had a naive idea of what caring for animals as a job really means. But I learned a lot. And seeing how LAW is run – with care, time (largely from volunteers like Terri) and great organisation – I was impressed with how they have harnessed many of the positive features of UK animal charities and still in relative infancy, LAW is alive with a new hope and generosity.
With its established place on Lanta and its intention to care for the island’s animals and educate its people, LAW was something that I could make sense of in many ways. But don’t just take my word for it, visit their website to find out about their work first hand.