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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
*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!