Having finished our week long first experience of volunteering at the Care For Dogs shelter just outside of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand with many-many more furry friends than we started with; we felt bitten by the volunteering bug pretty hard.
Luckily for us, having spoken repeatedly with animal activists-in-transit Cody & Giselle of Mindful Wanderlust, we had a list of three or four other shelters we could travel on to in Thailand where we could help make a difference to a few more soi dogs (street dogs).
Chief of the pile was Elephant Nature Park Dogs.
Elephant Nature Park is one of the leading elephant sanctuaries in Asia, a 200-acre stretch of land an hours drive north of Chiang Mai where the priority is the rights of the elephants; where the elephants aren’t ridden, aren’t painting pictures & most definitely aren’t standing on their head between hours in a cage.
The ethos of the part is animal rights. The founders of the park are animal rights defenders and are recognised internationally for their efforts protecting and helping to save the dwindling Asian Elephant population.
The park operates with a combination of paid staff, paying elephant volunteers and also regular trips from Chiang Mai of day visitors who wish to see elephants in a more natural habitat.
During the Bangkok floods of 2011, a distress call went out for immediate help for the huge amount of animals in the city who had been abandoned by evacuating families or were part of the hundreds of street dogs who live on the city streets or around the grounds of Buddhist temples where they’re usually fed – if not cared for entirely – by the locals & monks.
Elephant Nature Park answered that call.
In total, there were more than 300 dogs rescued by the boat paddling helpers who’d travelled down from the north to make a difference.
As a result, the park set about creating a temporary home at the park using some of the spare space not usually frequented by the elephants.
After that, the park began accepting more dogs who required the care they deserved. They rescued local village dogs in need of medical treatment, more canines from other shelters in Thailand who no longer had the capacity for all of the dogs in their care & also for dogs rescued as part of the crackdown on the illegal dog meat trade.
<2>Experience By The Experienced
Both Cody & Giselle had spent more than six months at Elephant Nature Park – both as elephant volunteers, but mostly with the dogs – and had nothing but great things to say about the possibilities to make a difference in some grateful dogs lives whilst also getting the chance to meet some wonderful like-minded people and – oh yeah – occasionally see some elephants marching past.
Less than two days after leaving the Care For Dogs shelter we were already on the road in to Elephant Nature Park where we’d be spending a minimum period of seven working days.
On arrival we were shown our free accommodation where we would be staying for the entirety of our stay, where the communal and eating areas are in the park, where the shelter clinic was situated and finally what our schedule of activities would be. The next seven days would be set out as the following:
As you can probably see, cleaning can be a large part of the care for the more than 450+ dogs on site, but it’s a full necessity which should come first to ensure the full medical care and prevention of any outbreaks of diseases typical to Asia such as Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour, Blood Parasites & occasionally Distemper.
Once that is done with though – it’s cuddles time
Once the schedule is clear (which can be done swiftly if everyone pulls their weight) volunteers are free to spend time in either the clinic runs, the open runs, the run full of 50+ puppies waiting to be named, the incredibly cute disabled run and the scared dog run where the dogs level of awesomeness is truly beyond description.
During the first week we made ourselves as useful as possible to give the full respect possible for just how much of an incredible opportunity being a dog volunteer was. We wanted to learn everything there was to learn, we wanted to be present for every situation. We helped the fantastic on-site Thai vet on the few occasions when we could and also spent as much time with the magnificent vet nurse Tegan as possible (who we now miss greatly) learning a little about the medication process and as much of the dogs personal histories as we could commit to memory.
Four weeks later and we were still at the park. We felt like a part of the community, part of the scenery & very much part of the lives of many of the dogs.
We had a list as long as all four of our arms of dogs we’d love to adopt and take with us home.
There were also dogs who lived by our volunteer accommodation who (you can see a theme here) we came to love as much as pet back home, who we’d sit and pet where possible.
There were also a small collection of dogs who are allowed to roam the site that would come on walks with us and follow us around the park, going down to the river that runs through the park for a cooling bath under Thailand’s hot season temperatures of 40 degree heat.
Whilst we were at the park the clinic was going through a kind of transition where some of the team who’d been there since the shelters inception were moving on to new pastures.
One of the transitions that we’d both like to see is the advancement of the adoption process that is in place for the more than 450 dogs that we came to know and love.
Whilst there is an adoption process in place – we were there to see the adoption of four dogs during the four weeks – if it could be grown to it’s full potential, almost all of these very loving dogs (dogs in permanent care permitting) could be making best of friends with the many expat & local families in the Chiang Mai area.
Would we recommend volunteering with the dogs at Elephant Nature Park Dogs? In a heartbeat.
If you want to make a difference in so many deserving dogs lives then this is a great place to do so. An opportunity like this comes once in a lifetime and we both feel that our four weeks volunteering has made one of the most incredible impacts on not just our travels to date, but also our lives.
Having discussed it together again & again – and also with our new friends Cody & Giselle (who we owe our lifelong gratitude too) – we’ve decided that this experience is just the first draft of the first chapter of our experiences of volunteering, that there’s a lot that we can do to make a difference elsewhere in Thailand, elsewhere in Asia and elsewhere around the world.
How You Can Help
If you happen to be visiting Thailand in the future be sure to consider Elephant Nature Park Dogs in your plans.
Only able to visit for the day? Great
Drop on by, walk a dog, give a bath & hand out the amount of cuddles we can guarantee you’ll be wanting to hand out on sight. You can also make a huge difference by bringing much needed medical supplies from back home where they’re most likely cheaper and easier to come by (be sure to get in contact if you’d like to know what to bring).
Able to visit for a week or longer? Fantastic
You’ll be able to get as knee-deep in the much needed care of the dogs in the clinic – keeping things super-clean & full of love – as we did.
Flying from or have a connection flight from Thailand? No Problem
If you’re flying from Thailand back home or just on a connecting flight, you can give much needed help transporting a dog internationally to it’s new owner in your country as a flight volunteer (at no extra cost to you – unless you want to contribute :))
Not doing any of the above anytime soon? Hey, No Worries
Seeing all these beautiful pups pulling on your heart strings can be painful when you’re not there, so you can by relaxing your purse strings. You can sponsor a dog, pay for some much needed supplies or just donate and leave it up to the team to disburse the cash – either way, it’ll go a long way and make a huge impact. Plus, we’ll love you long time.
Getting In Touch
Elephant Nature Park Dogs are best contacted at their website where you’ll be able to fill out an application form for your own week of volunteering.
Alternatively, you can also go to their Facebook page where you can see more pictures of our new furry friends & send the guys a message of support or just a further query you might have.