Anyone who knows me know that I LOVE animals. A lot.
As I was looking for something to do in North Thailand for 3 weeks, I found a dog shelter in Chiang Mai. Care For Dogs. The shelter is also a veterinarian center where local people can take their pet for help and neutering. They also take care of cats but they don’t keep them in. There are other shelters for cats in Chiang Mai.
So I’ve booked myself in for three weeks.Care for Dogs is around 11 km south of Chiang Mai.
Tatiana, the head of the volunteers welcomed me on my first day. She took me to my homestay. As the city is too far away and I don’t want to drive a motorbike in Thailand, I’ve decided to live near the shelter.
My homestay is 500m away from the shelter. The bedroom is minimalist and nice. Just don’t check under the bed or else as you might find living creatures there, but apart from that, it is ok. I have my own bathroom, a fridge, drinkable water everyday and a space to do my laundry. And, on top of it, they have a cat! Pancake is a cute tortoise cat who greets me everyday and loves to cuddle. And I have a bicycle at my disposal.
There is a small Thai restaurant at the corner where I eat almost every night. Phoong, the 2yo kid there welcomes me with laughs and screams each time. His mom explains me the menu with the little English she knows while the grand mother tells me all about her life in Thai. I love this family and the food they serve is delicious.
I work everyday but Sundays. Basically, my day at the shelter is always the same and relatively sporty: I get there at 9 :30 am (can’t arrive sooner as the dogs have breakfast at 9am and if they see us, they become crazy and stop eating) and I leave at 3pm (can’t stay longer because it is the dogs’ second meal of the day). I have 1h break for lunch. So during the effective 4h30 on duty, I walk dogs. Usually 10, 2 by 2. On average, I walk 10 km a day. The sceneries around are beautiful as it is a rather rural area. It is fast changing, but so far so good.
Also, it is around 36°C everyday. Very hot. The dogs get to jump in a stream halfway and I get very jealous of them!
After a few days, I’ve started having a crush on some dogs. I love them all of course, but 3 of them stand out for me:
Abu, the most stubborn dog on Earth. I swear! Always ok for a walk, but as soon as you turn around or are not going in the exact direction he wants to go, he just stops. And sits. The only way to get him to move is to give him a treat. So, with a treat every 10m on a 1km way back, you can hope to finish your walk in 45 min.
Hobbs who suffered from a stroke a few years back and since then, has a tilt. His head is never straight, he is very skinny and clumsy. He can fall head first and do a flip if a branch is on his way.
Bella who just got to the shelter when I arrived after her previous owners were, let say, not that careful with her. She would do anything for a belly rub and treats. And those eyes!!
Every dog has its own story. Some arrived as puppies and will certainly die here. Some are adopted, but unfortunately not enough. All have their character and their friends. Rule n°1: do not mix enclosures or you’re in for a big fight!
There are the tricky ones too! those who end up doing 2 walks the same day or escape from you and chase butterflies in the rice fields while you chase them (not knowing then that rice fields are full of snakes…) or Nukkward who climbs the fences to go see his friends in other enclosures.
It is now the end of the peak season and there are less volunteers. There are 50 dogs in this shelter (and about the same at New Hope, another one in the mountain. They put there the dogs who need less human attention. They have still people going there everyday though). Sometimes, according to how many volunteers are in, we can get all the dogs out. These were my favorite days! Lately, as we were not many anymore, we usually needed 2 to 3 days to get them all out. Which meant they get only 2 or 3 walks a week. It is sad to see them in their enclosures, looking at us, understanding they will not go out that day.
There are also yearlong volunteers. Retired or expats living in Chiang Mai and coming once or twice a week. Good thing they are here ‘cause during low season, the dogs only go out once!
The enclosures are big though. There are usually 4 to 6 dogs in each (except for the asocial ones who are alone in a small one). Main yard has 24 dogs, but this particular enclosure is much bigger.
So, walking these dogs all day long will certainly not solve the dog situation in Thailand, but I swear that for these dogs, it means the world! They crave the attention. And it helps them getting adopted. Most were street dogs and not used to humans, or at least friendly humans. The walks socialize them: they get to meet many different people, different languages, so they have to grow adaptable skills. They also didn’t know how to walk on a leash or wear a collar. We help them get ready for adoption.
Care For Dogs also organize neutering sessions. Twice a month, they catch stray dogs and they sterilize them and put them back where they were found. During my last week, over 100 dogs were neutered. This organisation only rely on donation, and sometimes, money is short. If you want to help, sponsor a dog etc, please, do it ! http://www.carefordogs.org/donate/
If an injured stray/temple dog is brought to the shelter, the vet unit takes care of it and keep it at the shelter until it is back on its feet (they also neuter at the same time). If the wound is too serious, or if the neighborhood the dog lives in is too dangerous, the dog is kept at the shelter. Otherwise, it is sent back on the streets. Many times, local people bring these dogs to the shelter. They feed them and keep an eye on them. These dogs are not in danger; they just don’t have a proper house. I’ve seen some beautiful and healthy ones. Well taken care of.
These 3 weeks at the shelter were sometimes difficult for me who love animals so much. I, of course, wanted to adopt them all or at least spend more time with each of them, or maybe divide into two so I could take more out eveyday. But I need to learn to see the glass half full. I can’t do everything. I do what I can, and for the dogs, that meant a lot. They were always so happy to see me, have walks, treats and cuddles.
Staying 3 weeks at the same place, seeing the same faces everyday, having a routine, was also really nice.