While most people arrive in Koh Tao intending to scuba dive, swim and sun themselves, Justine and I found ourselves here with an additional mission: to improve the lives of the animals on the island. Don’t get me wrong, we got to spend out workdays in paradise, but we worked still.
The Koh Tao Animal Clinic was founded in 2004 and has so far served over 5,000 animals. There is one veterinarian, Jae, for the entire island, and in addition to being the regular vet for those island animals lucky enough to be pets, she is also on call 24 hours a day for dogs hit by motorbikes, victims of farmer’s poison, and other emergency calls.
As volunteers our daily routine consisted of going with Jae on the motorbike and assisting with housecalls, planning our fundraiser, and most amusingly, catching strays for spaying and neuterings. I wish I had a video of Justine running along the island’s most popular beach, Sairee, trying to catch a stray beach dog and inject him with muscle relaxant. Once she jabbed him, he stumbled about before vomiting all over himself and being thrown over her shoulder as horrified onlookers gave her a stare usually reserved for child molesters and, well, puppy killers.
While many of the dogs here are considered “community dogs” and not really looked after, they have a relatively good life. They come and go as they please, spend the day on the beach being pet and fed scraps by tourists, and sleeping under palm trees. However, this equilibrium can only be reached as long as there is someone like Jae to make sure they are vaccinated and fixed. Unfortunately the main threats to the dogs are the locals, many of whom keep chickens and view the dogs as a threat and a nuisance. About once a week a dog on Koh Tao dies a horrible death due to poisoning.
While this island will never have a petsmart, or a dog spa, or many of the other luxuries our western canines are accustomed to, I believe that with the continued work of the Jae and the clinic and it’s volunteers, the animal population of Koh Tao will come under control, and the quality of life for the animals that do exist peacefully here will be improved. I hope that I can say I’ve contributed.
It is very rewarding to care for and raise awareness for the plight of Koh Tao’s animals. One of my fellow volunteers has gone on to make this her life’s work and I can’t imagine a better path.
Coming up: Our real contribution, the fundraiser!