Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation focuses on rescuing stray dogs and cats, and spaying/neutering any dogs and cats they can find, including ones in remote villages where the villagers cannot afford vet bills. It is also the only cat shelter in Chiang Mai and maybe even the only one in Northern Thailand. They adopt dumped and sick pets, and up to this date they have sheltered over 600 dogs and 100 cats. It is located inside a housing complex about 40 km north of Chiang Mai downtown, far from everywhere but everything was provided in the house.
The owner is friendly and would take us for meals, grocery shopping, or just hang out in a coffee shop on our day off. Meals and accommodation are provided in exchange of donation. Meals are mostly local food (white rice or sticky rice, with a few dishes for sharing) but you can also buy groceries and store them in the provided fridge.
How to get there: Flight to Chiang Mai, then from the airport it’s still another 1 hour car ride. I was already in Chiang Mai so it was easier to go to their place. You can take a yellow taxi/song thaew from the city, but if you’re going straight from the airport it’s better to arrange your own transport, such as airport taxi or charter a red taxi/song thaew. It is also possible to ask the foundation to pick you up. They may be or may not be able to pick you up depending on their schedule.
The accommodation: upstair facilities for volunteer in a modern house, next to their cat shelter. Nice room with attached bathroom, aircon, and ceiling fan. There’s a communal area with shared fridge, hot water kettle, TV, DVD player, and some other basic stuff. Very nice accommodation.
The food: Meals are provided downstairs, most of them are local Thai food. You will sit on the floor and share the dishes with their staff. If you cannot eat local food, western food can be arranged too but you will have to pay for it, or stock up on bread and instant noodles. For vegetarians, it’s possible to ask for vegetable dishes only so they can prepare it. It’s best to say that you want to eat only vegetables instead of saying “no meat”, because sometimes they still put fish or seafood as they are not considered as ‘meat’. For vegans it’s a bit more difficult because they still don’t understand the vegan concept and still use fish sauce, shrimp paste, oyster sauce, etc in the dishes.
The medical facilities: Let’s be honest here. The facilities were VERY basic. You’ll operate on a wooden table, outdoor, with non sterile examination gloves, with no drip because I.V cathether and I.V fluid were considered too expensive. If you’re lucky someone can help you with I.V injection for top up dose, but don’t expect too much. There was nothing sterile, all tools were sterilized by alcohol and iodine solution. I donated a sterilizer but it arrived after my volunteer period ended, so I don’t know if they use it or not. If you volunteer or know someone who volunteers there, it would be nice to have some updates about it.
The activities: treat the resident cats and dogs, perform health checks when necessary, treat rescued/dumped pet that they often get, spay/neuter dogs and cats in villages – sometimes in a nearby village and sometimes in another shelter which was 10 hour car ride away from them! They are very dedicated in controlling the stray dogs/cats population and if you have the same mission, this is the right place for you to volunteer.
What I enjoyed: when there is no surgeries or treatment, you’ll be taken to the countryside to see the local life, enjoy the mountain view, soak in a hot spring, see the Chiang Mai city, try Thai tea and Thai coffee, visit local temples, shop in local markets, and most importantly just relax. The founder will make sure that you are comfortable and are enjoying your stay.
What I dislike:
- You’ll probably be the only person with medical knowledge (unless there’s another volunteering vet) so there’s nobody to back up your opinion if they say you mess up, even though their reasons do not make sense scientifically. I heard them complaining about a cat died weeks before I arrived, blaming the vet and assuming that the cat died of brain damage 5 days after spay because the vet’s hands were not sterile when she spayed the cat.
- No gratitude and appreciation of what you do. I speak Thai and understood the conversations they had, even when they were talking about me and other volunteers. What they said in English in front of you and what they said in Thai were completely different. Don’t trust their sweet words. I also understood when the villagers said “Thank you very much, this is for the vet” while handing over some fresh produce from their backyard or other souvenirs, but everything disappeared so I and other volunteers never received anything.
- Okay this one is a bit personal. Before leaving the shelter, I donated a new sterilizer, an imported one as it was difficult to find a portable sterilizer in Thailand. It arrived after I left, unfortunately they forgot to tell me they had received the sterilizer, then they forgot to take pictures, and then they forgot to send the pictures to me. It took them over a month to send a single picture as you can see below. Well, I hope they don’t forget that they have a sterilizer now and hopefully they will remember to use it for future surgeries.
Recommended length of stay: 1-3 weeks.
Tips for future volunteers:
- Bring your own basic medical tools and references such as stethoscope and medical books.
- It’s recommended to donate sterile gloves, swabs, drapes, I.V catheters, I.V fluids and giving sets if you have extra to spare.
- Don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent!
- Come with an open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit 🙂
Up next: Volunteering with Naucrates Turtle Conservation Project in Koh Phra Thong, Thailand.
Read more about my experience in volunteering while traveling here.