Monk’s Best Friend: Temple Dogs & Voluntourism in Chiang Mai, Thailand

by Shelley Seale / Mar 06, 2011 /
Shelley Seale's picture

For travelers to Thailand, one of the first things you notice is the huge number of stray dogs that roam the streets, many of them bone-thin, mangy and pathetic looking. This land of ancient history, awe-inspiring temples, wonderfully gentle people and some of the best food in the world is a fascinating place to visit; and if you’re an animal lover wanting to add a volunteer experience to your gap year, there are many opportunities to help animal rescue organizations.

Animal sterilization is not common in Thailand, and hundreds of thousands of dogs fight to survive on the streets. Many are abandoned at temples, a typical phenomenon, just dumped off where locals feel that the monks will feed them and take care of them. But the Buddhist monks, who have renounced worldly possessions and depend on alms themselves, have little resources with which to care for the many dogs who have made the temples their homes.

Care For Dogs (CFD) is an organization that provides shelter, food, medical care and the ever-important sterilization to thousands of stray dogs each year around the northern city of Chiang Mai. CFD is open to people from all walks of life who would like to work directly with the dogs at the shelter or local temples, at adoption fairs, or behind the scenes in the office. When I traveled to Chiang Mai in November 2010, I visited CFD where I was greeted by the most fantastic canine grins I’ve ever seen. I also had the opportunity to see first-hand the traumatic lives that many of these dogs have had, horrific injuries and diseases – and the amazing transformation that CFD was making for these special dogs.

Volunteers Tom & RoxyTom and Roxy are travelers from the U.K. who stopped to volunteer at CFD two months into a half-year journey through Southeast Asia. The pair stayed at a local resort for a week and rode bicycles to the shelter every morning.

“It’s been a fantastic experience,” says Roxy. “Tom gives any injections that need to be given, we wash dogs, take them for walks and generally give them some love and attention.”

Ally Taylor, a longtime Chiang Mai resident and regular CFD volunteer, calls Tom and Roxy “hands on people” who were a delight to have around. Tom wants to become an RSPCA Inspector and according to Ally, has the right stuff for the job. “Tom has a great way with dogs, he is a dedicated animal lover, and animal welfare in the U.K. will benefit immensely from this guy’s enthusiasm.”

Jenny Moore is another CFD volunteer and animal lover. "I had heard about Care For Dogs from my friends, who had adopted two dogs from the shelter and knew the people who worked there to be wonderfully caring and dedicated people," Jenny says. "What makes Care For Dogs so special is not only the people who work and volunteer at the shelter, who it must be said are truly amazing human beings who I will never forget, but also that they are so open to any help they can get, even if it's just for one day."

CFD has also established a unique education program called Professor Paws. This partnership with local schools aims to instill respect and understanding for dogs in the young, upcoming generation, and break the cycle of pet overpopulation in the streets and temples of Chiang Mai. The courses teach children how to safely interact with dogs and how to properly care for pets – with the added benefit of teaching English at the same time.

• To learn more about volunteering at Care For Dogs, visit http://www.carefordogs.org/volunteer/
• To make a donation to CFD, visit http://www.carefordogs.org/donate/
• To learn more about the plight of Thailand’s stray dogs, visit http://www.carefordogs.org/objectives/about-homeless-dogs/