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 – Asiaone.com 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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!