Volunteering Overseas: Why Chiang Mai is My Favourite Place

Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is not just about temples, massages and fabulous street food.

My husband Glenn and I spend three months in Thailand each year and my favourite place in the whole world is a short distance from the old town and I can’t wait to get there.

You will find me there three days each week…but I’d be there every day if Glenn would let me! I arrive with a big smile on my face and greeted by my new friends who have been eagerly awaiting my return.

So what is this special place? It’s the Dog Rescue Centre, Care for Dogs, located near Hang Dong, 10 kilometres from Chiang Mai.

Care for Dogs is a charity organisation, supported by Worldwide Veterinary Service , and has been operating for more than 10 years.

Care for Dogs goals are two-fold.

The shelter provides care, medical treatment and a safe environment for abandoned and injured street dogs with the aim of re-homing them. Sadly with approximately 50 dogs at the main shelter and a similar number at their second shelter (‘New Hope’) there are more dogs than people looking to adopt them.

Next door to the shelter is the International Training Centre (ITC) which is staffed by qualified vets. The ITC runs an on-going program where they sterilise ‘street dogs’ in Chiang Mai and surrounding areas. Typically, twice monthly, they will catch stray dogs, sterilise them and return them to their original location. This way, the population of street dogs will fall to manageable numbers.

Dogs are also brought to the shelter for emergency medical treatment. Often it is due to them being hit by a car but local people also bring their sick pets (cats and dogs) to the shelter for treatment.

©Jacqueline Lamb

So, what’s a typical day at the Care for Dogs shelter in Hang Dong like?

I arrive at the shelter at 9:30 a.m. wearing my walking boots and carrying a bag of yummy treats for my four legged friends, because all dogs love a treat after their walk.

After a brief “hello” to Tatiana, who is in charge of the volunteers, I collect my two walking leads, a handful of bags to collect any doggy “deposits” and inspect the whiteboard. This lists the names of all the dogs and shows who was or wasn’t walked the day before. There are never enough volunteers to exercise all of the dogs every day, so it’s important to ensure the walks are shared around. But, I do have to confess, that my two favourites Little Blacky and Scotty get walked by me every time I visit!

There are walks of varying lengths, so you don’t need to be super fit to come here. In fact, one long-term volunteer living in Chiang Mai is 72 years old. 100 metres from the Care for Dogs Shelter is a fully enclosed dog park. This is especially useful for the older dogs who cannot walk long distances and it also allows the puppies to run around and burn-off energy and learn important socialising skills.

For me, I enjoy the longer circular walk which takes around 40 minutes, depending on how often the dogs want to stop and ‘sniff’. The roads are quiet and it’s pleasant walking past rice fields and orchards of longan trees (a fruit that is commonly grown in Southeast Asia, a relative of the lychee tree).

At 12:30 p.m. we take a break for lunch and all the volunteers along with Tatiana walk the short distance to Narittaya Resort & Spa . This resort supports the wonderful work of Care For Dogs and provide a delicious Thai lunch for only a few dollars. If you were a guest staying here, the same meal would cost around $1 0 to $15.

After lunch we return to the shelter for more dog walking. If you are feeling less energetic you can choose to give the dogs a bath or go into the individual yards and just cuddle them. I can thoroughly recommend this, but beware, it will be difficult not to fall in love with these pooches as they greet you with their waggy tails and puppy dog eyes.

At 3 p.m., sadly it’s time for me to leave the shelter. At this time, the dogs receive their dinner and the volunteers are a distraction. I quickly say goodbye to my favourite pooches Little Blacky and Scotty and give them another treat and cuddle.

©Jacqueline Lamb

The best thing about visiting this shelter is that you can choose how much time you want to spend here. There are no contracts, the staff are very friendly and grateful for whatever time you can contribute. You will make new friends and meet interesting people from all corners of the globe. Some of these volunteers may just be here for a week or two, but we all have one thing in common: our love for animals.

If you wish to volunteer at the Care For Dogs Shelter, please contact the centre before coming down as specific time is set aside for new volunteers and you can discuss the possible requirements of a Volunteer Visa and rabies vaccination.

I’ll be back in Chiang Mai in September. Hope to see you there!

©Jacqueline Lamb

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