The Problem of ‘Soi Dogs’ in Thailand

As an animal lover, walking around the streets of Thailand can be heartbreaking. Stray animals wander the streets, digging through rubbish in search of food or curled up asleep in a quiet corner of an alleyways – some look relatively healthy, while others look scared, confused and ill. Stray dogs, known as ‘soi dogs’ are a particularly big problem. In 2012, it was estimated that over 68,000 puppies are born on the streets of Thailand every year. The driving cause of this overpopulation problem is a lack of sterilisation. The abuse of soi dogs is common – recently published a report about the increasing problem of animal cruelty in Thailand, highlighting cases where dogs had been poisoned, stabbed or attacked with chemicals. The maximum penalty for animal cruelty in Thailand is £20 – an ineffective deterrent. With the number of animals growing, and incidents of cruelty increasing, something needs to be done to improve the lives of stray animals in Thailand.

Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Welcome
Welcome to Lanta Animal Welfare – home to over 100 rescued animals


Lanta Animal Welfare and the Amazing Work of Junie Kovacs

Koh Lanta is a very special place, with it’s stunning sunsets, beautiful beaches and laid back atmosphere. However, as huge animal lovers, the best thing about Koh Lanta for us was Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW) – a non-profit organisation which aims to reduce the suffering of animals through sterilisation, treatment and care (and lots of love!). In the previous 7 years, LAW has sterilised over 90% of the animals on Koh Lanta (and hundreds of other animals on neighbouring islands during mobile clinics), treated hundreds of animals for a range of injuries and illnesses and found hundreds more new ‘forever homes’ both on the island and abroad. In Thailand, where animal welfare is not a major concern for the majority of people, the work that LAW is doing is truly outstanding. What makes their work even more impressive is the fact that LAW receives no government funding and relies solely on donations from the public and profits from Time for Lime, a local cookery school and restaurant.

The Breathing Forest Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Cat Cuddles
Karianne in cat cuddles heaven!

We loved every second of our visit to LAW. Tourists who visit the centre are given a tour of the facility, where they can see first hand the amazing work that is being done and can spend some time with some of the 30+ rescue dogs that call the centre home and hear their heartbreaking stories. Tours tend to take place every hour on the hour – but make sure you get there early so that you can spend some time playing and cuddling the cats that have taken over the area that was once the car park. LAW also relies on the help of tourists to ensure that all the dogs get their daily walks – so, ask one of the volunteers for a dog (or two!) and you can enjoy a stroll along the beach with a new canine friend. Be careful – like us, you may fall in love and not want to leave your new friend behind!

Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Buddy
We took the lovely Buddy for a walk along the beach. When Buddy was found by LAW, he was severely malnourished and had a bad skin condition. He is now fully recovered and is a lovely playful young dog. We hope he finds his forever home soon.

Lanta Animal Welfare was founded by animal lover Junie Kovacs in 2007. Junie’s story shows that with a lot of hard work and commitment, one person can make a lot of difference. Junie was not a chef and had no veterinary experience; however, she founded both LAW and Time for Lime cookery school and restaurant because of her love of animals. Junie was kind enough to talk to us about the problem of stray dogs on Koh Lanta, the history of LAW and how it has changed the lives of animals on the island.

Junie moved from Norway to Koh Lanta in 2002 to open a restaurant / cookery school – now, the popular Time for Lime. However, she quickly saw the extent of the stray dog problem on the island. Workers had brought dogs from the mainland to guard construction sites, but simply abandoned them after the hotels and restaurants were completed. The locals then found their own cruel ways of controlling the growing dog population.

I was quite shocked over the conditions for the animals here… there were stray dogs everywhere… they were getting abused, they were getting poisoned. I kept seeing dead dogs washed up on the beach – they’d been drowned. It was horrible – Junie Kovacs

Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Rainbow Cat
Meet Rainbow, one of the many cats who have been rescued by LAW. Since this photo was taken in October, Rainbow has found her forever home in Hanoi, Vietnam with a ex-volunteer who fell in love with her.

As a huge animal lover, Junie decided that something had to be done and since this time, she has dedicated her life to helping the animals of Koh Lanta. She initially started bringing injured and abused animals to Time for Lime and treating them as best as she could. However, Time for Lime soon became overcrowded and it quickly became clear that a longer term solution was needed – this was the start of LAW. For the next 5 years, Junie lived a very simple and solitary life, saving every baht from Time for Lime to put towards her dream of opening an animal sanctuary on the island.

I’m not a cook and I’m not a veterinarian – but I’ve always loved animals – Junie Kovacs

In 2010, Junie’s dream became a reality and the new LAW centre was opened. Since this time, the centre has gone from strength to strength – from only 3 staff in the early days, the centre now has 5 full time staff and volunteers (numbers vary depending on the season). Despite the increased staff levels, LAW is still a very very busy place. The list of jobs seems endless –  vets needed to conduct sterilisations, treat injured and sick animals and administer vaccinations, while volunteers needed to clean enclosures, organise medication, prepare and distribute food, walk the dogs and give tours to visitors. With over 100 animals, volunteers are never short of work.

Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Cat Feeding
Dinner time at the Happy Cat House – just one of the many jobs that volunteers do every day.

All the hard work is definitely paying off – the impact that LAW is having on the island is clear. There are fewer strays on the island and those that you do see look healthier and happier than their inner city counterparts. It makes Koh Lanta a much more pleasant place to visit, compared to other areas of Thailand.

We get so many comments from people that have been floating around Thailand that Lanta is one of the islands they feel good to visit because there aren’t so many stray animals – Junie Kovacs

Junie also explained how attitudes to animals on the island has changed since the opening of LAW. The centre has demonstrated that there are more humane ways to control the stray dog population – locals are now bringing their own animals in for sterilisation and assisting the LAW in identifying other dogs that may need their help. LAW has also previously run education programmes in local schools, teaching children to love and respect animals – and it seems that this message has spread.

The locals have seen that they can actually help their pets that have been injured, or even stray animals that have been injured, by bringing them to the centre…. which didn’t happen before when there was no veterinary care on the island. If any animal was sick or hurt in an accident… they would usually die. I am very happy to see more and more locals coming in with their animals… it means that they have understood and respect animals more. They see that animals are in pain and they do want to do something about it – Junie Kovacs

LAW not only provides vital medical care to animals on the island, but also operates as an adoption centre, finding new “forever homes” for the injured and abused animals that live there. Dogs and cats are not only rehomed on Koh Lanta, but many find new homes abroad; adopted by tourists or volunteers who don’t want to say goodbye. Junie told us the wonderful story of Dok Dek, which clearly illustrates the amazing work that is done at LAW.

Dok Dek’s Story

Dok Dek was a well known stray in the village of Saladan – he was a good natured dog with an air of authority that made him ‘the boss’ of the village. One day, Junie received a call about an injured dog in Saladan – it was Dok Dek. Someone had poured boiling oil over his head, probably while he was begging for food. The oil had caused serious burns to his head and face.

Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Dok Dek
Dok Dek when he was bought into LAW – he had boiling oil poured over his head, probably while begging for fried food. The attack left him blind in one eye. (Photo courtesy of Junie Kovacs)

Dok Dek was bought back to Time for Lime and, after an unsuccessful escape attempt, Junie managed to take Dok Dek to the mainland for treatment. Thankfully, Dok Dek made a wonderful recovery – although he is now blind in one eye.

Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Dok Dek Happy
The gorgeous Dok Dek smiling at the camera after he made a full recovery. (Photo courtesy of Junie Kovacs)

Despite quickly becoming a firm favourite of the staff at the centre, Dok Dek spent 3 years at Time for Lime and a further 5 years at LAW, waiting to find his forever home. Finally, 8 years after being rescued, a family in Denmark saw Dok Dek on LAW’s Facebook page and fell in love with him. Dok Dek is now loving his new life in his forever home in Copenhagen. In 2014, Junie was a flight volunteer to take some other dogs to their new homes in Denmark and was able to visit Dok Dek with his new family.

Koh Lanta Animal Welfare Junie Dok Dek
Junie was reunited with Dok Dek when she visited Denmark last year. (Photo courtesy of Junie Kovacs)

What Can You Do To Help?

Visit LAW – if you are on Koh Lanta, visit LAW and see first hand the amazing work that goes on there.  Take a dog for a walk, give the cats a cuddle and buy a t-shirt or bag to help support the centre and spread the word.

Donate to LAW / Sponsor an Animal – LAW runs solely on funds from Time for Lime and donations from the public. A little bit goes a long way – donations are put towards food, medical supplies and the general running of the centre. A reoccurring monthly donation is of great help. You can do this here.

Give an Animal a Forever Home – we understand that for many people, this isn’t always a viable option (if we could have taken Buddy back with us, we would have!), but if you, or anyone you know, is thinking about adopting a cat or dog, please have a look on the LAW website / Facebook page to see some of the beautiful animals that are waiting for someone like you to give them a new home.

Volunteer at LAW – LAW is always looking for volunteers, both general animals lovers and experienced veterinarians. The minimum placement is one month. Free accommodation is provided (subject to availability) and volunteers get a discount at Time for Lime.

Become a Flight Volunteer – if you are flying back home from Thailand via Bangkok or Phuket, check to see if you can be a flight volunteer. You could help an animal reach it’s forever home by having it travel with you as accompanied luggage. It doesn’t cost you anything and LAW take care of all the paperwork.

Visit Time For Lime – having a meal and / or a cocktail (try the lemongrass margarita!) or taking a cookery course, will help support LAW – and with it’s beautiful beach front location and delicious food, it’s worth every penny!

26 Comments Leave a comment

  1. GiselleandCody 28 January, 2015 Subscriber

    This is a really great post. We are currently volunteering at LAW and loving every minute.

    It’s so great to see individuals making a difference for these beautiful animals.

    • Karianne Di Salvo 29 January, 2015 Contributor

      Thanks so much for your reply. Glad you like the post!

      Its great to hear that you are loving your time volunteering at LAW. We really wish we could have spent more time there. We are hoping to go back at the end of the year for a month! Fingers crossed!

      Give Buddy a hug from us! We miss him!

  2. Mandy Bond 28 January, 2015 Subscriber

    I love Lanta Animal Welfare! I volunteered there last year for 3 months and had the most amazing time! I can honestly say it is the best thing I have ever done! It’s so great to care and be amongst the animals every day and the people I met both staff and volunteers were amazing to! My parents even adopted my favourite dog, Rufus who now lives with then in the UK. It is such a wonderful and much needed organisation. The amount of animals that came to the centre whilst I was there was overwhelming but each and every one of them got the love and care that they deserve. I would recommend to anyone who has a love for animals and wants to volunteer to go there! Your have an unforgettable time, it’s hard work but worth it to see the animals the way the should be, loved and happy! Hopefully I will go back soon? X

    • Karianne Di Salvo 29 January, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Mandy, thanks for replying!

      Its always great to hear from ex-volunteers. We always hear such great stories – everyone seems to love their time at LAW! We really hope that we can get to Lanta for at least a month towards the end year.

      Just saw Rufus on the LAW website! He looks so happy in his new forever home!

  3. Ivana 30 January, 2015 Subscriber

    LAW is absolutely great initiative! We spent there only a for hours last year and can recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better insight view on how the situation of stray dogs in Thailand is. You’ve mentioned here some very alarming information Karianne, and hopefully more and more people with big hearts will come to help LAW!
    ps: So happy to see you’ve gone live, guys! Hugs from Chiang Mai!

    • Karianne Di Salvo 30 January, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Ivana, thanks for your reply! Hope all is well in Chiang Mai – we miss it there so much. Say hi to Gianni from us, hopefully we can all meet up again soon.

      LAW really is an amazing initiative and we hope that our article will spread the word about them a little bit further. Fabio and I are hoping to get back out to Thailand soon to spend a bit more time there.

  4. Franca 1 February, 2015 Subscriber

    Even if I know about LAW, unfortunately we didn’t manage to make it there whilst in Thailand because we ended up extending our stay in another dog shelter and run out of time. I hope more and more places like this will keep opening in Thailand, it’s amazing what it can be done to help these beautiful animals. Lovely post guys! 🙂

    • Karianne Di Salvo 2 February, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Franca, thanks for replying!

      It really is amazing what is being done out there to help animals – it’s great to see. We really want to get back to visit the other places that we didn’t get to visit on this trip – and hopefully spend more than a couple of days there! Do have any recommendations?

  5. Dale 2 February, 2015 Subscriber

    As Franca has already mentioned, we didn’t get the chance to visit the Koh Lanta shelter during our time in Thailand, but we’re both incredibly eager to return and volunteer out time just like our good friends Cosy & Giselle.

    Volunteering my time for these animals is an absolute pleasure. I’d jump at the chance to help them out and give them a ‘forever home’ just as soon as we have a home again.

    • Karianne Di Salvo 2 February, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Dale, thanks for the reply!

      We totally agree that it is an absolute pleasure giving up time for these animals – it is so clear how much the appreciate it. As sad as some of the stories at LAW were, there was a real sense of happiness around the animals and the volunteers. It was great to see. We can’t wait to go back and hopefully give one of them a forever home too.

  6. Nikita 2 February, 2015 Subscriber

    Thanks for spreading the word! I love hearing stories about people like Junie, it proves how much of a difference a single person can make. If I’m ever in Koh Lanta, I’ll be sure to check out LAW, maybe volunteer for a while… Because I think it’s amazing, and also because I want to cuddle dogs!

    • Karianne Di Salvo 2 February, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Nikita, thanks for replying!

      There are lot of dogs and cats that would definitely appreciate your cuddles at LAW! They are all so lovely and affectionate – it is so easy to fall in love with them all!

  7. Natalie Deduck 5 February, 2015 Subscriber

    Great post Karianne!!
    My heart melted with the LAW and Dok Dek story. I´m a animal lover too. I have being travelling around Thailand for almost 2 months, which means I`m also horrified with the cruelties I already saw with stray dogs and cats.
    We are not planning to go to Koh Lanta right now, but if we decided to go, for sure will be visiting the LAW.
    All the best!

    • Karianne Di Salvo 5 February, 2015 Contributor

      Thanks for your reply Natalie!

      We struggled to see the treatment of animals in Thailand too and it really is great to see places like LAW that are making a difference! If you do make it to Koh Lanta, we totally recommend a visit!

      Check out this article by Dale and Franca from AngloItalianFollowUs – could give you some great ideas about where to visit if you are in Thailand and want to spend some time with some lovely dogs:

  8. Junie Kovacs 13 February, 2015 Subscriber

    Thanks so much Karianne for taking time to help promote the work we do at LAW. We are a small charity with a big heart that has helped many, many animals in need.
    At the same time I would like to thank all volunteers, adopters, donaters and anybody else that has taken their time to help LAW and the cause.
    This is a lovely blog, very detailed and shows that you care.

    Kind regards,
    Junie Kovacs
    Founder of Lanta Animal Welfare

    • Karianne Di Salvo 14 February, 2015 Contributor

      You are welcome Junie. We love everything about LAW and the amazing work you all do there. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!

      We wish LAW all the best for the future! x

  9. Katie 17 February, 2015 Subscriber

    What a wonderful place! It just breaks my heart to see animals mistreated, they are so kind to us and so innocent. Although the story of Dok Dek is so sad, it just shows how much spirit they have to be able to recover from something like that. And such a happy ending! Thanks for sharing this amazing story!! More people should visit these kinds of wonderful places when they travel 🙂

    • Karianne Di Salvo 17 February, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Katie, thanks for replying.

      It really is horrible knowing what these beautiful animals go through. It was so great to see them so happy and full of life at LAW.

      I really hope more people do choose to visit LAW and other places like it. They do such a great job and even a little help can make a lot of difference.

  10. Becky Padmore 25 March, 2015 Subscriber

    Really great post highlighting very important work!

    • Karianne Di Salvo 26 March, 2015 Contributor

      Thanks Becky, I am glad you enjoyed the post. We find the work at LAW so inspirational – they really are doing an amazing job!

  11. Michael Huxley 11 June, 2015 Subscriber

    Oh this is amazing! I helped out at a similar operation in Bali, and it is such a fantastic yet underated cause! Next time I’m in the region I’m definitely making a detour to come here!

    • Karianne 19 July, 2015 Contributor

      Hi Michael,

      I wish we had had the chance to check out more of these kind of places! Where was the one you visited in Bali? We didn’t get to explore Bali as much as we had wanted to so I think we will head back there at some point.

  12. Becky Padmore 12 October, 2015 Subscriber

    What a lovely post, these poor creatures have nothing so I’m so pleased something is being done for them!

  13. Colleen 17 April, 2016 Subscriber

    Yes, i am so moved by this amazing place, recently been to Krabi Ao-Nang and did not know about this place but would have visited if so, contacted them after some concerns during my visit. Now a regular donator and hoping to visit next time in Tailand. My first visit to Tailand and so shocked at some things.

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