During our second week on Koh Lanta, Anthony and I decided to take a break from the beach and visit Lanta Animal Welfare. It’s rated number one on TripAdvisor for things to do in Koh Lanta, and since we’re both animal lovers we knew it was something we didn’t want to miss. We did a little research and saw that they allow people to walk dogs every morning (9 to 11) and evening (3 to 5) so we decided we would do just that! The morning we visited we just showed up and let them know that’s what we wanted to do. As long as you get there during the designated walking times you don’t need an appointment and the volunteers are happy to hook you up with a dog that suits your comfort level. If you’ve never had any interaction with a dog before don’t worry they still have one for you!
We arrived at LAW around 10:15 a.m. and were greeted warmly by a female volunteer working the front desk. She let us know that we had about 45 minutes to walk a dog and that we were also welcome to stay for a tour which they offer every hour on the hour. I enthusiastically let her know that we would DEFINITELY like to walk a dog (the only part about travel that I don’t like is that I can’t have one of my own), so she told us to get acquainted with the kitties while we waited for our pup! It was a very hot morning and many of the cats were lounging in front of fans in the open air reception area, but we took a little peek into the cat dormitory to meet a few kittens and check out the digs. The cats have free reign of the grounds during the day, and were all great ambassadors for LAW. Now, let me just say, I love animals, and growing up we always had cats AND dogs, but after spending a month in Thailand I realized that Thai cats are very different from American cats. They still have that kitty mentality of “I’m going to do what I want and you’ll just have to deal with it”, but they’re all much more congenial about it. We didn’t meet one cat that wasn’t willing to jump into anyone’s lap…at LAW and all over Thailand in general.
After about ten minutes another volunteer came out of the dog pen with our pup for the day! She introduced us to Rune (pronounced Roo-Nee) and told us that he was a very friendly boy who had recently been adopted by a volunteer at LAW! She gave us a canvas bag complete with a little map of the area, bottle of water and bowl to pour it in, and a bag for poop, and sent us on our way! Anthony, Rune, and I walked happily along the dirt road for about…five minutes. Once Rune realized we would have to leave the shade and be in direct sunlight he would have none of it. Anthony tried running in front to get him interested, but even that didn’t work. So we gave him lots of puppy scratches and belly rubs, then walked in the other direction. This seemed to work for a bit, but alas, as soon as the shade ended again he wouldn’t budge. I honestly don’t blame him as it was very hot already. We decided we were happy to do whatever he wanted since the point of volunteering was to give the dogs some attention (although they do get plenty of that at LAW from the volunteers who live there), and decided to just hang out with him in the shade for a bit. Once it was time for the tour to start we returned him to the volunteer (although I really didn’t want to), and joined the group waiting in reception.
The tour itself lasted about 30 minutes and was conducted by a very enthusiastic and informative women from Sweden. We started in the Cat House which was built in order to keep that kitties safe at night since there are a lot of wild animals in the area that could potentially harm the cats. There were shelves full of beds made from all sorts of materials and a little cage to keep new kitties separate while they got to know their environment and the other cats sharing the space. One of the biggest projects LAW is going to be taking on in the coming months is the expansion of the cat house into a full fledge Kitty City. They’ve been consistently running out of room for cats, and the area they have now is very cramped so the expansion is much needed. Unfortunately since LAW is run entirely on donations their goal of starting the building process in May 2016 has been pushed back a bit due to lack of funds, but it will happen when they have everything they need!
After seeing the cat palace we were taken into the area behind reception where the dogs are kept and where they take care of sick animals and perform any procedures. The main goal of LAW is sterilization and they are not primarily an animal shelter as they really don’t have the space to house every animal that comes their way. If the environment the animal came from is safe they will sterilize the animal and give them back to their owner or return them to where they were found, however, if it is not safe they will keep the animal and put it up for adoption. Our tour guide let us know that cats are adopted very quickly and quite often by locals as they are the preferred domesticated animal in Thailand. Dogs, however, are another story. A lot of them are often found in environments that are not safe for them to return to so the people at LAW keep them until they find a forever home. This can be an issue since it is often westerners visiting Koh Lanta while on vacation that decide to adopt. Since the paperwork can take time, the dogs often aren’t ready to fly with the adoptive parents which means LAW is constantly looking for flight volunteers to bring these sweet animals to their final destination. LAW puts up the money for the animal to fly and all the volunteer has to do is check the animal in and make sure he or she gets safely into the arms of the people who adopted them! Whenever Anthony and I return home I will be checking with LAW first, and if there is a dog or cat (or both) that need to make their way to Boston then I will be checking them in myself!
The dogs at LAW are kept in large outdoor pens during the day and are separated according to pack and personality. Since so many of the dogs on Koh Lanta are left to roam free they often form packs of their own, so it is just safer to keep them together rather than trying to mix them with other packs. In addition to the pens they also have a swimming pool that they use for therapy sessions! At night the pups are kept in kennels inside in order to keep them safer, and one volunteer sleeps on a bed in the kitchen area right next to the kennels every night in case something should go wrong. They take the safety and care of the animals incredibly seriously at LAW and this was very obvious during our time there. While it was heartbreaking to see all of these animals without forever homes, it was also very uplifting to see the amazing volunteers who very clearly love the animals, and of course the incredible work that LAW does everyday. They are constantly available to the animals of Koh Lanta, and even regularly make trips to neighboring islands to continue their work. A group had recently taken a trip to the close by island of Koh Phi Phi and performed 400 sterilization in three days! Absolutely incredible.
As we finished up the tour our guide reminded us of the flight volunteer program, and let us know about some of their wonderful success stories. LAW is constantly looking for animal lovers to volunteer with them and will give people a place to stay as well as daily meals in return for a helping hand. They do like a commitment of at least a month, but during the slow season the time requirement isn’t as strict. It’s something I’m seriously considering doing in the future. Since that wasn’t an option for us at the time of our visit we both made sure to buy a few trinkets in reception to provide even a little support. I would have bought everything if I could have and probably adopted a few cats and dogs in the process. Overall I would say if you’re on Koh Lanta this is not to be missed. It is incredible to see what these volunteers do on a daily basis, and their passion for the animals they take care of is truly inspiring. Just a few hours off from the beach could give you a wonderful eye opening experience, and if you’re lucky maybe even a wonderful animal companion! LAW we very much enjoyed our visit, and will be back!