You don’t have to have known me very long to know that I love dogs; very much an ‘animal person’ I guess but dogs will always be my favourite. I’m fortunate enough to live with two awesome greyhounds who I love very much.
One of the things I considered when deciding where to go on holiday this year and what to do, was wanting to do something different, and worthwhile. After some Googling I came across Care For Dogs which is a dog sanctuary near Chiang Mai in Thailand.
Straight away this appealed to me and from there it wasn’t long before I’d booked my flights!
And so on my second day in Chiang Mai, I found myself in a taxi on a boiling hot day, driving through the Thai countryside, a mixture of excitement and nerves.
The sanctuary is about 30-40 mins drive from Chiang Mai, you can taxi there for 250bht – if you’re planning on doing voluntary work there let them know and they’ll send you the details of two local taxi drivers who know where it is (otherwise you risk paying more and having your driver get lost!)
I got to the shelter on a Wednesday morning – this is where they do an induction for people new to volunteering there. From there you essentially have free rein to help out in whatever way you wish – this includes cleaning up after the dogs, bathing them, feeding them and walking them.
There’s 160 dogs there and at first, even if you love dogs, it can be somewhat overwhelming, especially when they’re all barking! When I was there it was in the middle of the Loi Kathrong festival and every time a firework went off, the whole place would go crazy with barking and howling!
There are dogs of all ages, sizes and colours there. Some are street dogs, some temple dogs, some abandoned, some rescued from the meat trade. What they all have in common though is they are being looked after some amazing people who really care about their well-being. Many of these dogs have, frankly, been treated like shit – like the one whose previous owner had punched his head so hard one of his eyes had come out.
What amazed me about these dogs is, with a few exceptions, they were all so ready to give and take love from humans. If you’re a ‘dog person’ you’ll know what I mean when I say that dogs smile. Well I saw hundreds of smiles whilst I was there! It staggers me that a lot of these animals are ready to forgive, and even to give love back again, to the species (humans) that has treated them so badly. It just blows me away. It was the same at the elephant park – you just think, how can they even let another human near them? But they do..
There were two dogs that I really bonded with. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the dogs I met! But, and again you’ll probably need to be a dog owner to ‘get’ this, you just know when you have a bond or connection with a dog. The first one, I’m sorry to say, I can’t remember their name! But check out this gorgeous little thing:
This beautiful girl came running up to me and didn’t leave me alone much the whole time I was there. A soft, stunning, bundle of fun, clambering all over me and smothering me with kisses. I fell in love instantly!
Before I left the UK I’d basically decided that, as much as I’d love to give a home to one of these dogs (there are plenty on the website if you’d like to look!), I couldn’t afford it as I already have two – things like insurance, food and vets bills quickly add up, sadly. But already I had found a dog that had stolen my heart!
The second one I fell for is a girl called Twilight. Now, Twilight and her brother (who has sadly passed away), were born blind and with problems such as mage. Reason? One of the local breeders, desperate to get puppies to sell for profit, in-bred. Twilight, by ‘normal’ standards, wouldn’t be considered ‘beautiful’; her fur is messed up and balding, and all the rest of it. But I’ll tell you now, having met her – she is one of the most beautiful dogs I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Here she is:
Now as I’ve said, Twilight is blind. She’s never had sight so I guess can’t miss it. She makes her way around using smell and sound to guide her way. When you call her she comes running up to you and jumps up at you for cuddles and kisses. She’s gentle, loving and just gives off a vibe of loving life.
Like many of the dogs there, she has her ‘patch’ – it’s interesting to observe how the pack works – groups of dogs with their own areas – no visual lines as such like we humans need, it’s just is what it is.
On the second day I was there, it rained heavily. I sat with Twilight for about two hours, stroking and cuddling her. It was one of those moments I felt so grateful to be able to experience a connection with another animal. In these moments nothing needs to be said or done – it is just known by both human and dog.
The other dog that really touched my heart was ‘Spotty’. Spotty stood out there as he’s clearly derived from Dalmatian. He’s clearly old, has problems with his back legs and smells bad! But there was something about him I loved – like he had this dignity about him..I can’t explain it really. Anyway, I took this gentle man for a walk – he enjoyed sniffing everywhere and was very curious about things! When we got back I gave him a much-needed bath. Here’s me walking him:
At this point I need to explain something – I only went for two days. The reason I say ‘only’ is that they like people to commit to a minimum of four days. Many people stay much longer.
The reason I didn’t, and I’m ashamed to admit this, is I couldn’t emotionally handle it. With any animal rights issue I find it almost impossible to ‘switch off’ emotionally, but with dogs it’s very close to home.
If I know an animal has been treated badly, it angers me – a lot. I can’t just think “ah well”, it winds me up and I feel ashamed to be human.
The other thing was, I found myself bonding with the dogs I mentioned above, especially Twilight. I knew that if I stayed longer it would be harder and harder to walk away, and was afraid I’d decide, almost as a knee-jerk reaction, to adopt one back in England.
I felt like crap for not going back, I’ll be honest. I still do. It taught me something about myself though, which is that if in the future I’m going to do any work with animals, I need to be able to emotionally distance myself from them, at least to some extent.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’re thinking of doing voluntary work there – DO IT! You will get covered in dirt, dog hair, get sweaty and stinky but it’s worth it! You will meet some inspirational people as well as some amazing dogs.
But learn from my experience – try not to give yourself emotionally to one or more of the dogs unless you’re committed to rehoming one. I’m not saying don’t connect with them, just be a little careful if you’re similar to me!
One thing’s for sure – even though I was only there for a short time, I took away memories that will stay with me forever. I’m glad to say that Twilight now has a foster home 🙂
I have huge respect, admiration and gratitude for what the team there does, both permanent and voluntary people. If you’re ever near Chiang Mai, stop by. And if you’re not, consider fostering a dog, or even just donating to them – it’s a great cause.
I’ll leave you with a couple of other photos: