Last week we let you all in to the secret that we’d be spending some time at the Care For Dogs shelter located just outside of Chiang Mai here in Thailand, and following on from that this week we explained why we made our first step into volunteering. The question now is:

How was it & where are the cute pictures?!

Relax, they’re coming! But before they do, perhaps we’d best introduce Care For Dogs.

Care for Dogs Sign - Our week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

What is ‘Care For Dogs’?

Care for Dogs, as a non-profit-organization, was founded in June 2006 by Karin Hawelka from Germany, along with two other former colleagues. The decision to found Care for Dogs was inspired by individual efforts with numerous dogs across the city of Chiang Mai and the belief that by establishing a specific animal care organisation – a shelter – more could be done in a constructive and focused way, while still maintaining the shared objective of improving the health of dogs throughout Chiang Mai.

Currently there are approximately 180 dogs at the shelter with almost daily intakes of new dogs needing sterilization or medical help. Approximately 200 of these rescued dogs will find a new home every year.

Because of Care for Dogs commitment and growth it became a legally registered charity in Thailand in 2009 and is now known as a foundation.

Dogs roaming around the yard - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

With a little guidance from Mindful Wanderlust, we sent an application via email and made ourselves available for the four-day volunteering program the centre runs which operates from Wednesday morning through to Saturday. For the remaining three days the centre is closed to volunteers & visitors so they can carry out staff meetings and specialized veterinary projects.

How The Week Began

Travelling from meeting with some of our Couchsurfing & Travel Blogging friends in Bangkok, we took an overnight bus into Chiang Mai which arrived in the city on the Tuesday, a day early but necessary so that we could organise our homestay accommodation & not be that couple who arrives late on the start day.

Luckily for us we were lent some push bikes which allowed us the chance to get to know the area we were staying & help pass away the hours as the excitement built for the coming days ahead.

Dale on a mountain bike - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

Wednesday

10:00AM Wednesday morning & we begin our week with an introductory lesson on the ins-and-outs of the shelter; how it’s run, the tasks we’ll be doing, how to introduce yourself to the dogs, which cages contain which kinds of animals, that kind of thing.

For about two hours our guide takes us around the compound talking through our responsibilities during the week to de-tick the animals, how to bath them & which chemicals to use, how to groom the dogs and clean their ears & how the schedule for our new four-pawed friends breakfast & dinner. After, we were shown that there are also cages that contain newborn puppies, freshly neutered dogs, animals in quarantine, a collection of animals in the later stages of their lives who need that extra bit of space to relax without the hassle of more than 100+ other strays in the yard and also there’s also a ‘underdog cage’ where the frequently bullied dogs can go to avoid the pressure for a while.

By far the cage that appealed to me the most to spend my time with was the ‘TvT Cage

Sign on the TVT dog pen - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

TVT or Transmissible Venereal Tumor

I’ve always been a champion of the underdog having considered myself a bit of an underdog growing up, being that shy guy who didn’t talk or interact much and – as the films will always tell you; “always getting picked last” – so when our guide explained that the dogs with TVT (also called Canine TVT – read more on Wikipedia) don’t get quite as many cuddles as everyone else; I was straight into the cage.

As soon as I was in, they scattered

A dog hiding underneath a bench - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
A dog hiding behind the benches - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
One dog hiding inside their basket - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Another dog hiding in their basket - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

If the only time people came into my cage was because they had to give me injections, I think I would do exactly the same.

They were clearly not looking to make friends & had all retreated underneath into any dark space they could find. Some into baskets, some into covered corners, anywhere as long as I couldn’t get near & when finally one of the dogs got up to have a yawn, lick & a toilet trip did I finally understand & see visually why.

WARNING – Some of the following pictures show an ÜBER cute dog with signs of their condition which some may find uncomfortable.

But as I said, it’s an ÜBER cute dog

A dog with a tumour - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Closer look at a TVT tumour - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

It was really difficult to take in at first but nowhere near as difficult to live with, I’m sure.

On top of the affection I already had for these dogs, seeing the signs of TVT made me want to stay with them even more to give them as much affection as they deserved.

Understanding TVT

To quote Wikipedia, TVT is “…is a histiocytic tumor of the dog and other caninds that mainly affects the external genitalia, and is transmitted from animal to animal during copulation.”. Harsh, unfair & the surely the true definition of ‘pleasure-pain’. A disease more typical to tropical & subtropical climates, it’s not uncommon to read that most recorded cases of TVT are from South-East Asia where stray dogs roam almost every town, city & village.

Most cases (left untreated) are fatal & beforehand form in the appearance of cauliflower-like tumours, notably on the penis in males & the vagina or labia in females. Dogs left untreated can expect to have the disease spread resulting in growths in other parts of the body, predominantly in males around the nose & eyes resulting in relentless nosebleeds. Not forgetting the stress, major unrest and uncomfortableness felt physically & from having other dogs trying to sniff around the affected areas as dogs want to do.

Fortunately, TVT is treatable with doses of chemotherapy which all of the dogs in this particular cage were lucky enough to receive resulting in the tumors shrinking to – in most cases – just scar tissue, as some of the dogs I was connecting with showed signs of.

A dog hiding in the shade underneath a bench - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

The Remainder Of The Day

Whilst I decided to remain within the TVT cage for the remainder of the day to allow the dogs to get used to having me around in the hope that they might warm to me & let me take care of them, Franca spent her time making new furry friends in the main yard by doing the mother of all karma-point winning task – cleaning up poop

Franca on poo collecting duty - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

stacking up the karma points

Apart from that pleasant job, Franca was quickly making other friends by handing out oodles of strokes & cuddles to any dog not sleeping in the shade.

Franca stroking one of the dogs - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Franca and a dog smiling for the camera - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

The day was quickly over, and friends of the two pawed & four (other volunteers & dogs) were fast being made. We were both pretty tired, so it by 8:00PM we were already in bed.

Thursday Through Friday

For the rest of the week we carried on with our tasks of de-ticking, washing water & food bowls, cleaning cages and doing as many walks as we could considering how hot it was becoming.

Franca walking a dog through the surrounding forest - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Dale walking a dog back near the main road - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Franca walking a dog along the road - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

Elsewhere in the compound there were puppies to be looked after, more baths being taken by unwilling dogs. By Friday it was getting pretty hot out in the countryside and it became increasingly difficult to keep the dogs well watered, cool & calm so as not to have everyone fighting amongst themselves. Apart from ourselves there were around 8-10 people from one day to the next who would come in to just sit with the more energetic dogs to groom them and give them as much fuss as possible.

Other dog volunteers - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

here’s Kimberly & Tabitha give out some love


Another dog volunteer - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

here’s Australian, Nick, relaxing in the shade between walks

Saturday

The weekend came far too soon for everybody volunteering & especially too soon for our new friends.

By this stage of four days in we were all close to figuring out a pattern that works around the heat of the day to take some of the less-walked, less-loved dogs for walks around the surrounding countryside roads. For myself, having spent almost all of my time over the past few days in the TVT cages, I finally found myself with some new friends.

One of the cute dogs - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Another cute dog - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Another cute dog - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

On approaching the cage they’d be jumping at the door to say hello (or escape. Who knows?). I could stroke them, de-tick them, rub bellies, clean the cage & give them their food with little-to-no problem. Of the six that were in the cage during the course of the week, there was only one late arrival who hadn’t the time to get to know me & one poor guy who was terrified who barely left his corner during the four days of my being in the cage, which of course upset me, but I could completely understand.

It felt great to be able to be so close, to be able to give them some love. I really will miss those guys, but I’m beyond glad to know they’re getting better.

Dale with one of the TVT dogs - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

Leaving New Friends

The afternoon was spent with everyone making rounds of the yard saying their goodbyes to new friends, a few commitments of sponsorship & even the beginning plans for adoption from others – oh, an awful lot of pictures.

Dale saying good bye to one of the dogs - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
The volunteers all saying their goodbyes - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
The smiley face of 'Apollo' the dog - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai
Dale and Franca saying their goodbyes to the dogs - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

Wagging Tails & Waving Goodbye

Leaving on the last day was hard. Just as you feel like you’re getting somewhere it’s back on the road again to somewhere new. We both wished that the stay had been longer but we completely understood that there was necessary work that needed doing at the shelter & the last thing we’d want to do is be in the way.

We loved taking this first step into volunteering & couldn’t be more thankful to Cafe For Dogs for letting us be around & should we be passing through Chiang Mai again we’ll definitely stop by.

If you happen to be in the Chiang Mai – even if it’s just for a few days – take a few hours to pop down to the shelter & you’ll not be disappointed.

Alternatively, if you can’t make the journey right now you can help out from afar by donating essential funds to help the shelter purchase necessary food & supplies not only my beloved new TVT friends, but also the other 150+ dogs in the shelter.

In fact, for every 100Baht donated before the 31st of May 2013 (appox. £2.22 / €2.57 / $3.36) the centre will receive 1KG of dry dog food FOR FREEDonate to Care For Dogs

Close up of one dogs nose poking through the fence - Our Week at Care For Dogs, Chiang Mai

Do you feel inspired to volunteer?