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I was always taught charitable giving was not optional — my parents give their time and resources generously enough to be recognized for it in our community, and raised my sisters and I to do the same. Somewhere between allowance age and adulthood I lost the way. While I’ve donated sporadically to causes that friends bring to my attention or campaigns that pull at my heartstrings, I earn an income now and feel its time to start a more regular giving.

That has been the motivation behind what I hope will be a new monthly series here on Alex in Wanderland: Open Passports, Open Heart. I want to highlight different inspirational charities that I encounter on my travels, donate to them, and provide a place where you can do the same if you are so moved. I thought I’d start with a project I’ve worked with before and feel deeply connected to — The Koh Tao Animal Clinic.

Koh Tao Animal Clinic

A Dog’s Life

Thailand can be a rough place for animals. Many islands and rural areas don’t have a single veterinarian in the community, leading to rampant over-population, disease outbreaks, and clashes between humans and animals. Koh Tao used to be one of those places — strays ran wild, poisonings were commonplace, and diseases were rampant. In 2001, two British tourists visiting the island were moved to set up a foundation, and hired Jae Supaphon Intaraksa to come to the island and act as its sole veterinarian.

Koh Tao Animal ClinicJae at work

Koh Tao Animal Clinic

A Wave of Change

Jae arrived in 2006. In the seven years that have passed, the island’s animal population has become unrecognizable from what it once was. I first came to Thailand in 2009 for the purpose of volunteering at this clinic, and was immediately enamored with Jae’s style of “rogue veterinarianism.” Coming from a country with cat hotels, dog spas, and pet acupuncture, I was shocked to see Jae perform on-site sterilizations on beaches, benches, and the side of the road. I had little to offer other than an exuberant love for animals and another set of hands to fold gauze, but I did throw my heart into a fundraiser for the clinic.

Koh Tao Animal Clinic

Koh Tao Animal ClinicOur 2009 fundraiser

Throughout my time at the clinic I came to realize how privileged I was to watch Jae work: she stripped away frivolities and expensive, intricate processes that drive up costs of Western veterinary care but have marginal influence on results. One day, Jae demonstrated her method of a suture-less sterilization for male animals — perfect for strays, because no follow ups are required. Why don’t all vets use this method? Less follow ups mean less profit.

What was left was the basics, and just enough to stretch the clinic’s limited resources across a large animal population. Sometimes, this meant using recently expired medication. Sometimes, it meant leaving a freshly sterilized stray to wake up naturally in his own habitat rather than bringing him back to the clinic for days of evaluation. Sometimes, this meant sacrificing what-looks-best for what-will-do. Jae explains her philosophy like this: If the animal is happy, she’s happy.

Koh Tao Animal Clinic

Koh Tao Animal Clinic

The Island Today

Today, Jae has a lot of reasons to smile — the dogs on this island are an overall happy bunch. The last dog census showed there are just over 1,000 dogs on Koh Tao, and the clinic estimates around 90% of the stray animals are now fixed. What an amazing statistic! The most impressive part of that number is Jae’s savant-like knowledge of every animal on the island. After being chased and bit by a dog while driving by on a motorbike, a friend of mine called the clinic to ask if they should be concerned about rabies. After giving a few identifying characteristics Jae chimed in, knowing the exact dog as well as it’s owner and complete medical history. Any time I’ve dropped by the clinic with concern over an animal I get the same response!

With the population coming under control and poisoning becoming a less common problem, the biggest dangers facing the animals of Koh Tao are abandonment and introduction of new diseases. Expats sometimes buy puppies from Bangkok and bring them to the island, but eventually they leave Koh Tao, and more strays get left behind. While we chatted, Jae stroked a cat whose sad story she told me. His owner, an island dive instructor, had dropped him off with orders to get all his shots and paperwork in order for bringing out of the country — he was going to bring the cat back to the UK with him. But days came and the owner’s flight left and he never came back for the cat, who joins a merry band of mangy mutts who greet everyone who walks into the clinic.

Koh Tao Animal Clinic

Koh Tao Animal Clinicsweet to scruffy, they all get care and love

What You Can Do

The clinic receives no outside funding — outside of the voluntary payments sometimes made by those bringing in their pets, the clinic is run solely on donations. The Koh Tao Animal Clinic never turns an animal away, regardless of payment.

In what I’m hoping to make a monthly move towards being more generous to charity, I donated 5% of my January blog income to the Koh Tao Animal Clinic. It takes so little to make a difference! It costs just 700-900 baht ($24-30) to spay or neuter a dog, and 500-700 baht ($17-24) to spay or neuter a cat. That’s it! Here’s how you can help:

1. Make a donation here, or in person on Koh Tao!*

2. Bring supplies if you are heading to the island. Solvable sutures and flea and tick medication are all extremely helpful. Contact the clinic for current needs.

3. If you are a long-term expat on Koh Tao, consider fostering one of the clinic’s dogs or cats. Many suffer from mange as a result of pack living, and could improve greatly by living with a caring foster parent for a while — and they make great companions! Check the clinic’s Facebook page or visit in person for available foster pets.

4. Have a veterinary background? Experienced volunteers are accepted on a limited basis. Contact the clinic for more information.

5. See an animal in need when you’re on Koh Tao? Call +66 81 090 5372 to report it.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing the healthy island dogs and cats of Koh Tao. Doted on by tourists, frolicking from beach to jungle, most of them live a free and peaceful life. I find it beyond inspirational to know that a one-woman clinic and its community of supporters could make such an impact. I feel honored to have learned from her, and I am proud to continue to support the Koh Tao Animal Clinic. I hope you’ll join me.

The Koh Tao Animal Clinic, a not-for-profit veterinary clinic, is run by the Noistar Thai Animal Rescue Foundation, a UK registered charity and a member of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Visit their website at www.kohtaoanimalclinic.org, their more active Facebook page, or visit the clinic in person. Call ahead at +66 81 090 5372.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. -Ghandi

Koh Tao Animal Clinic

*I wanted to set up a button so you could make donations directly from this page, but I am simply not technologically savvy enough. However, if you make even the smallest donation, please tell me in the comments or in a private message so that I may send you a thank you postcard from my travels!

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31 Comments...
  • GiselleandCody
    March 10 2013

    Great post Alex!!! It’s always amazing to see people stop while travelling and help out others who need it. Animals and Humans. We will be sure to drop by while we are in Koh Lanta in August!! <3
    GiselleandCody recently posted..Our time in Sapa, Vietnam (video)

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      You guys are the greatest example I know of people who are living that credo. Kudos to you! I would love to visit the clinic in Lanta someday.

    • GiselleandCody
      March 13 2013

      Opps meant to say we will check out the clinic in Koh Tao when we are there in August šŸ™‚
      GiselleandCody recently posted..Our time in Sapa, Vietnam (video)

  • Olivia
    March 10 2013

    Great post, Alex! It’s always so inspiring to meet changemakers like Jae and everyone who has worked at and supported Koh Tao Animal Clinic.

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      “Changemakers” — so NYU šŸ™‚

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    March 10 2013

    Love seeing people take initiative like this! We’re about to come up on the yearly visit from vets here on Roatan and we are rounding up as many strays as we can to get fixed.
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..A Year of Awesome.

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      That’s awesome, Rika! I didn’t know Roatan didn’t have a vet. Good luck with the round up.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    March 10 2013

    This is amazing and it makes me like Thailand all the more. Like you say, Asia can be a hard place for strays, and in some countries we have visited the way abandoned dogs and cats are treated has actually brought me to tears. When we were in Koh Lanta, we made sure to visit the animal shelter on the island that has a very similar initiative and we took a cooking class at the school set up by the founder of the shelter as all proceeds from it go right back to the shelter. We will be heading to Koh Tao in June when we are back in Thailand, so while we are there, we will be sure to check this place out!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Life’s a Beach in Bohol

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      I’ve heard such great things about the clinic on Lanta! It actually makes me want to visit that island really badly. Brilliant move on the cooking class…. love self-sustaining charities!

  • TammyOnTheMove
    March 11 2013

    What a wonderful initiative! Sadly there are far too many mistreated animals in Asia, so seeing an organization doing such great work is awesome!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Flashback Friday: The time I thought I’d be eaten by a shark

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      Seeing suffering animals on such a large scale is one of the real challenges of traveling, I think šŸ™ I agree, it’s organizations like this that reset the equilibrium…

  • Chrystal McKay
    March 11 2013

    This post is wonderful. When I lived in Bangkok I went to Koh Chang once a month and helped out at the Animal Foundation there. It was run by a New Yorker. I loved being around the animals and knowing that she was making such a positive difference to the welfare of the animals! Thanks for bringing more attention to the devotion of the foundation and the needs of the animals! Great new series!
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..Shanghai’s Redeeming Factor: The Noodle Lady

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      That’s amazing, Chrystal — good for you for taking the time to do something good! I’ll have to check out Koh Chang next time I’m in Thailand!

  • Jo (The Blond)
    March 11 2013

    For some reason this post moved me to tears. Great story and great photos! I’m still thinkking if I should go to Koh Tao. If I do, I will visit the clinic and bring them some goodies.
    Jo (The Blond) recently posted..Two best places to see a sunset and a sunrise around Mandalay

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      Thanks Jo — that would mean so much to them (and to me!)

  • Chet Opalka
    March 11 2013

    Nice, Alex. Your Mom and Dad did a great job! No surprise there. Keep doing good things.

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      I owe them a lot — this is just one of the things I am so grateful they instilled in me!

  • Jen
    March 12 2013

    You sure know how to get to a girl’s heart, Alex! I’m so happy to read about Jae and her amazing work, and I will keep your post handy for when I have some extra cash to give. If I ever make it to Thailand, I’ll be sure to stop by!

    Oh, and I shared your post everywhere, so hopefully the word will spread. šŸ™‚
    Jen recently posted..A little thought for the day

    • Alex
      March 12 2013

      Thank you so, so much Jen. I really appreciate it — let’s spread the word!

  • Ayngelina
    March 13 2013

    What an amazing story, those dogs are adorable.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Feel More Alive

    • Alex
      March 14 2013

      Thanks Ayngelina, they are cuties aren’t they!

  • Diane
    March 13 2013

    Awesome new series! I’m really curious about this suture-less sterilization procedure, but maybe I don’t want to know!
    Diane recently posted..The best casinos to visit in France

    • Alex
      March 14 2013

      Ha, I was going to get into it… but I don’t think my squeamish readers would appreciate it! Lets say it involves using parts of the body that are already there šŸ™‚

  • Sky
    March 14 2013

    This is such a wonderful idea, Alex. I donate to various organizations sporadically and also sponsor a student in Guatemala but it’s one of my goals to give more generously and make giving a priority.

    This clinic sounds like a wonderful place and I certainly support their mission. Amazing how much cheaper they can do these things when all of the American vets charge so much.
    Sky recently posted..California: My Fantasyland

    • Alex
      March 16 2013

      I know, right? Makes you wonder how much of that is simply the cost of living in the States vs. Thailand and how much is frivolous methods and medicines.

  • Emily in Chile
    March 17 2013

    What a wonderful project! I often am tempted to scoop up male dogs on the streets here in Chile and pay for them to be sterilized, so it would be great to have a vet like Jae who could do a quick procedure. It looks like it would be hard to leave Koh Tao without some of these cute faces sneaking into my suitcase!
    Emily in Chile recently posted..Beautiful Grand Central Station

    • Alex
      March 17 2013

      I would think there must be an organization in Santiago doing something similar, right? Maybe not, sometimes I’m surprised by the lack of veterinary care around the world.

  • Juno
    March 19 2013

    Wonderful. It is sad to see all the animals abandoned in the countries like Thailand (Korea is not an exception). No wonder you had a hard time leaving Koh Tao. šŸ™‚
    Juno recently posted..Runaway Photo: Busan Seafoood

    • Alex
      March 19 2013

      I’m sorry to hear its a similar situation in Korea. Hopefully more clinics like this can open around the world… and we can have happy animals everywhere! Hey, a girl can dream, right? šŸ™‚

  • Ruth
    March 1 2015

    Hi Alex I just arrived on the island today and will be here with my bf for the next 2.5 weeks. Last year we visited Lanta and went up to the animal clinic/shelter there. We donated and also took a few dogs out for some exercise. It was great to get a doggy fix while travelling. Do you know if you can walk the dogs or play with the cats in the clinic here in Koh Tao? (Finding your blog really helpful btw)

    • Alex
      March 2 2015

      Hey Ruth, thanks! There actually are rarely dogs in the clinic — it is truly a clinic and not a shelter. They actually try to keep street dogs healthy and happy on the street rather than put them in a cage in hopes that they might be adopted! There are sometimes cats there looking for homes — I’d drop by to make your donation in person (they have cute t-shirts for sale!) and ask if there is anything you can do šŸ™‚ Thank you so much for your interest in helping — I can’t wait to check out the Lanta Animal Shelter someday!

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