4

Career Change

So I’ve been taking care of wildlife for over 4 years and recently I decided to become a small animal practitioner. Why? Well, here is the story….

A trip to Jakarta earlier this year let me meet an inspiring vet who has been practicing as an exotic pet vet for a few years. We both share a strong passion for wildlife and conservation. She then advised me to start practicing as an exotic pet vet too and help illegal wildlife trade victims. If you know how much I am into wildlife conservation, you’d also know that I would be against this idea. Well, I did at first because I believed doing this would encourage exotic pet lovers out there to keep more wildlife at their homes, thus would create more demands for wildlife trade, and there would be more illegal wildlife trade victims. So I shouted out and explained my opinions. She understood of course, as it was her first thought as well, but what she said next really opened my eyes and changed my point of view. She asked me a few questions:

  • Do they, exotic pet owners, consider if there are any exotic pet vets practicing in their town before buying exotic pets? No.
  • Do they stop buying wildlife just because there isn’t any exotic pet vet available in their town? No. Almost everyone thinks a vet is capable of treating all kind of animals.
  • So what made them buy exotic pets? 1 hobby, 2 prestige. The availability of an exotic pet vet is not in their reasons to keep wildlife as pets.

The fact is, these exotic pet owners don’t really care about the availability of exotic pet vets nearby. The existence of exotic pet vet doesn’t encourage pet owners to buy more wildlife. Then what happens when the exotic pets fall sick? Here is a possible scenario:

1. They will bring the exotic pet to a nearby vet, assuming every vet knows everything about all kinds of animals: furry pets, feathery pets, scaly pets, even hairy rhinos. Unfortunately this is not true, since most clinics are familiar with only dogs and cat. Then the vet will say sorry I don’t know, so the pet owners would start complaining and the exotic pet is left untreated nevertheless. Then….

2. They will bring their pets to a number other vets, hoping a vet would know how to treat it before giving up because apparently no vet knows how to treat a sick Cuora galbinifrons (a sick what??),

3. Once they are home with only a little bit of hope left, they will (of course) do what people nowadays call “research” on the internet search engine and read random articles written by a few different people and playing with medicine to see which treatment works.

4. If the animals live, they will boast they do better than vets. If the animals don’t live, they may buy a new one from black market.

So, I decided to make a career change because in my opinion, by becoming an exotic pet vet I can educate the right targets, which is exotic pet owners who create demand for wildlife trade. In addition I can help them to improve their pet life and prevent the pet from dying (which will lead to buying more wildlife to replace the dead pet). By educating them to stop buying wildlife, I’m hoping they’ll educate other owners in the community as well. Many of exotic pet owners aren’t aware of the damage they cause by keeping an exotic pet. If I can prevent them from buying new animals, we can lessen the demand of wildlife in black market and break the illegal wildlife trade cycle.

Exotic pet vs electronics

Another thing that I realized recently is the tendency of buying some particular electronic brands based on the availability of official service center in their countries/cities/towns.

This brand is cheaper and ships faster. Yes, but there’s no service center in our town. What if it breaks or needs servicing?

Yes that’s what people consider before buying electronic goods, but do exotic pet owners consider if there’s a vet who can handle their exotic pets before they buy it (I mean before the mom is killed and the baby is taken and sold in black market)? No, because everyone thinks each and every vet should be capable of treating any kind of animals, from cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, turtles, horses, cattle, bears, and even elephants. If you think all vets can treat any kind of animals, try bringing a snake into vet clinics and see how many of them even dare to open the door and check the snake.

So now that I’ve opined my thought, could you see my perspective? What do you think about becoming a practicing exotic pet vet?

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Welcoming A (Not So) Tiny Girl Into This World

“I hope it’s going to be tonight, or tomorrow night.”

That’s what I kept on telling people whenever they asked when Ratu, the pregnant Sumatran rhino, would give birth. Based on calculation from Ratu’s gestation period of Andatu (Ratu’s first calf), she was due last week but there was still no obvious sign of when she would deliver the calf, so all we could do was to wait and see, apart from ultrasound-ing her every few days.

We didn’t sleep well in the last week, worried that Ratu would give birth any night and I had spent some nights going to bed at 2 a.m and waking up at 6.30 a.m only to monitor her condition. However, last week I had a hunch that she would give birth later that night so I took a nap. It was also an educated guess because she showed some behavioral change. So I took a two-hour nap hoping to see a Sumatran rhino calf that night, but unfortunately the pregnant mother changed her mind and wanted to keep her baby inside for a little bit more. That night, I couldn’t sleep and stayed awake watching a rhino sleep soundly through the night. Tricky girl!

Days went by, she was getting more and more restless, and so were we! We were hoping every single day that the calf would be born that night. I communicated with her and did a couple of BodyTalk sessions, only to find out that she did not feel safe with bright lights surrounding her forested enclosure (there were a couple of floodlights installed). I tried to address this issue but some of the staff insisted that the lights were needed. A couple of BodyTalk sessions really calmed her down though, and addressed some of her stress resulted from human’s fear.

Then yesterday, I got another hunch. This one was merely a hunch and there was no educated guess. I successfully took a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon (a piece of cake if you haven’t had enough sleep in the last 6 days) and thought if Ratu was not going to give birth that night or the following morning, I’d spend another sleepless night watching her sleeping and wallowing in the mud – the last thing I wanted to do that night. Well, it was around midnight and Ratu seemed to be restless and sleeping less, so I thought that was a good sign … before she slept again and there was no sign of labor (again! She tricked me twice, that girl!). I waited and waited and waited for almost 3 hours, and she was still sleeping. I started feeling frustrated because of the floodlights, I did not know why but I guess that was a mirror of Ratu’s frustration that I felt. At 3 a.m I was getting sleepy and finally decided to give up, but before going to bed I uploaded a silly picture/status on my Instagram, showing how frustrated I am waiting for Ratu’s calf every night.

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Just after the picture was uploaded, Ratu decided to wake up and walked around her enclosure. I decided to wait a little bit more, but she went behind a big tree and stayed there. It was dark (probably the darkest site where she could avoid the floodlights) and I could not see a thing. I was about to give up again when I heard report that her water broke and there were signs of first stage labor! I was so excited and all the sleepiness suddenly evaporated into thin air!

No words can describe how precious the moments are. From the moment when the calf’s hind legs emerged (it was posterior longitudinal presentation, video here), followed by her small body and head covered in hair, to the moment she started to stand up, fell, stood up again, until finally made her first few steps in this world!! Nature is incredibly amazing, especially when we see an animal birth, they just knew what to do from the very second they are born into this world, without being told or taught by anyone of what they should do. They just knew instinctively. Ratu did not touch her calf for the first couple of hours, and I guessed it was to encourage the calf to stand up and walk towards her to suckle. If she had approached the calf, the calf would not have tried to stand up and walk while it was vital for the calf to use her muscles immediately.

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Within less than an hour, the calf really did her best at standing up on her four feet for the first time. It took her less than an an hour and a half to start taking small baby steps, and within 3 hours after birth she had already started suckling. It was funny to see her sniffing Ratu’s belly randomly searching for the teats, not sure where to locate them.

Kudos to the new vet team at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary! Read more about the birth on IRF’s official press release here.

adinda suckle

So adorable.

So amazing.

So priceless.

Thank you Mother Earth. I hope we, the minority of humans, can continue to preserve the nature while the majority of us are destroying it, even though we are all guilty for that.

PS. I haven’t slept all night as I’m typing this post. Forgive me for a boring-and-not-so-lively story and awful grammar, but I do hope you enjoy the story 🙂

rhino calf wefie copy

The first wefie! I don’t want to disturb the 3 hours old calf so in this case a CCTV wefie works fine as well 🙂

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Volunteer experience #2: Naucrates Sea Turtle Conservation Project

Naucrates is an NGO based in Italy with a project site in Thailand, focusing in turtle conservation since 1996. Their Thailand project is based in an island called Koh Phra Thong (Phra Thong Island) located about 200 km north of Phuket, Thailand. They monitor the beaches in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands to find and protect turtle nests, as well as observing wild turtle behavior. When necessary, they also relocate turtle nests to increase the number of hatchlings.

naucrates turtle painting.jpg

Image source: Naucrates

How to get there:
Take a bus to Kuraburi (10 hours from Bangkok, 3 hours from Phuket). Exit the bus station, turn right, find Boon Piya Resort on your right, just about 100-200 meter from the bus station. In front of the resort entrance there’s a small office for Boon Piya travel service where you can arrange taxi and boat to go to Koh Phra Thong. You’ll need a taxi to go to the pier (70 baht/$2 for motorbike taxi, or 150 baht/$4.30 for a car taxi), then a boat to the island (150 baht/$4.30). The boat usually departs around 10-11 a.m but there is no fixed schedule so it is advised to book a day in advance to make sure the boat waits for you. The boat ride takes about one hour and along the way some very lucky people with eagle eyes might spot endangered dugongs.

If you arrive in the afternoon, spend a night at one of the few accommodations in town. Boon Piya Resort and Thararin Resort are within walking distance from the bus station, both cost around 200-500 baht/$6-$13 per night. I stayed at Thararin last time because Boon Piya was full. It is located just 50 meter farther than Boon Piya from the bus station. I found the Thararin’s owner was very friendly. She invited me for lunch and dinner together with her family, then she took me to a watermelon festival in town and later that day to the night market.

In Kuraburi you can find some ATMs, 7-11, and occasional night market where you can buy last minute ’emergency’ stuff for the island, such as flip flops, sarong, tshirt/shorts/long pants, and rechargeable torchlight as low as $3!

1kuraburi pier

The pier at Kuraburi. Get a taxi/motorbike taxi to get here.

2boat ride

The boat ride.

3tapayoi pier

Tapayoi village, one of the villages in Koh Phra Thong. This was where I landed (not in the water, don’t worry!)

 

The accommodation:

There are two accommodation sites. The first one is P Nok’s resort where you get a wooden bungalow shared for 2 people with attached bathroom. There is an upstair common area where you can relax, read books, listen to music, or talk to Nok the owner about his life in the island and how lucky he was when the 2004 tsunami happened. It is about 10-15 minutes walk away from the beach. So you can have afternoon swim and watch the sun set after working.

The second site is homestay at Lion’s Village. You’ll get your own room upstairs with a shared bathroom downstairs. The people at the village doesn’t speak English but they are very nice to hang out with and you’ll be surprised that somehow you just understand each other without speaking a common language.

The activities:

  • Early morning walk and walk and walk, with countless beautiful sunrise during your stay and sometimes accompanied by these cute energetic doggies.
    dog dog

    A dog whose name is Dog. She’s probably one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met ❤

    snowy dog

    Snowy, an ultimate crab chaser. She’s never tired!

    When you find turtle tracks and nests you have to record the details. If you have to do night monitoring, don’t miss the starry sky and the milky way.

    DCIM100GOPROG0024508.

  • If you find a nest in a less ideal location, you’ll have to relocate the nest to a better site. We did a relocation when I was volunteering there. You can read my full story here about nest relocation as published by Naucrates blog.
  • Turtle talk. Don’t miss this one! Well, you can’t miss it anyways. It’s a one-hour presentation by Naucrates Field Leader, explaining about turtles: a few different species, the difference of each species, the behavior of wild turtle, the nest and hatching statistics found in Koh Phra Thong and neighboring islands since Naucrates has been there.
  • Wild turtle behavior observation. You’ll have to do a mini 5-minute hiking to reach the top of a hill and record wild turtle behavior when you see them.
  • In the afternoon you can do kayaking and snorkeling to learn more about the local marine life, guided by a Naucrates staff or volunteer.
  • All time favorite activity: napping on a hammock on a sunny beach.hammock.jpg
  • About once a week the staff and volunteers go to neighboring islands – Koh Ra and Koh Kho Khao, to monitor the beach and look for turtle track/nest.
  • Beach cleaning once in a while, though I did not experience it during my stay.
  • When I was there we did some work for the museum at Lions’ Village. I was lucky enough to attend the opening day of the museum too. Some students from Tapayoi came together with their teachers. Naucrates also educate the locals about the importance of conservation, both mangrove conservation and turtle conservation.naucrates drawing.jpg

The food:

Mostly Thai food, I mean very yummy homemade Thai food (think of thick curries, soups, stir-fried veggies, grilled fresh fish, marinated chickens, with fried banana fritters or fresh tropical fruits as desserts), with several options for western breakfast (their fruit muesli yogurt and banana pancake were good!), available option for vegetarian and vegan (though ‘meat’ is considered only beef, pork, chicken, and fish. Fishballs, crab sticks, and other processed food are considered ‘vegetarian’). For vegans, watch out for fish sauce and shrimp paste used as seasonings in the dishes.

Occasionally you will experience yummy Italian pasta at Horizon Eco Resort. Horizon is one of Naucrates’ supporters. This is also where you will spend a lot of time (I spent mine in one of their hammocks), and also our meeting point in many occasion. The most important thing is they have free wifi for volunteers!

Not to miss: fresh young coconut sold for $1 at Horizon Eco Resort, and Pa Nee’s coconut ball, i.e traditional snack made of sticky rice flour with sweet peanut and brown sugar filling, covered in shredded coconut. Yum!!

Recommended duration: 2-4 weeks.

Recommended time to visit:

End of January to March. Based on this year’s season, January was when the turtles first lay their eggs, and starting in late February you can start to see some hatchlings!

turtle hatchling naucrates

Image source: Naucrates

Tips for future volunteers:

  • Book directly from Naucrates website as it is much cheaper (as low as €205/$235 per week for long term volunteers) than booking through a volunteering agency. Link here.
  • Be physically fit to walk long distance (about 10 km every day, 4-6 days a week). Bring very comfortable shoes to walk on soft sand, such as sneakers or coral boots, or simply walk barefoot if you’re comfortable with it (some staff and volunteers including me prefer to walk barefoot).
  • The observation site is located on top of a small hill, so you have to hike a little. It was only a 5-10 minute walk to the top, and the staff and I did it in flip flops, but some volunteers prefer sneakers for safety.
  • Bear in mind that electricity is limited, and western comfort is very limited. Bring stuff that can keep you and other volunteers occupied that do not need electricity.

What to bring:

  • Sarong, for sun protection instead of sunblock. Sunblock is harmful for the corals and by avoiding sunblock we help to reduce plastic bottle trash. Moreover, if you stay for long term, it’s more practical to bring a piece of sarong instead of bottles of sunblock, right?
  • Wetsuit, (again) for sun protection instead of sunblock. Even waterproof sunblock formula can be easily washed away when you swim and it need constant re-applying. Wetsuit can protect you longer and (again) more practical to pack. If you don’t have a wetsuit and don’t want to buy one, consider of bringing a t-shirt for swimming instead.
  • Hat and sunglasses. Read above, I’m not going to repeat again what they are for.
  • Mosquito repellent (consider natural ingredients such as citronella or lavender or geranium). Mosquito coil and lighter can be bought in the island.
  • Head light. This one is a must. You will start your day just before sunrise and have to walk in the dark. Consider bringing a rechargeable light instead of using batteries, not only because battery is difficult to find in the island, but also because it contains harmful chemicals for the environment.
  • Snacks and comfort food. Limited choice of snack and food is sold, so for snackers my suggestion is pack your favorite yumyum.
  • Speaker for music lovers.
  • Books. You’ll have free time in the morning or afternoon.
  • Card, board games, or other activities that doesn’t need electricity.
  • Small, pocket size and low watt clip fan, just in case the room in Lion’s Village is too hot for you during the night.
  • An open mind and a good sense of humor. This one applies to any place you visit:)

 

Coming up next: volunteering at Phangan Animal Care for Stray (PACS). Stay tuned!

Read more about my tips on volunteering while traveling here.

1

Feels Like Home

Around 6 a.m this morning I opened my eyes, saw sun rays penetrated my room through a safari patterned curtain covering my windows, heard the trickling sound of gentle rain, checked my watch, then grabbed my blanket and went back to sleep. I’m not a morning person (unless if morning person means they sleep in the morning, ha!) so waking up before 8 a.m is not easy for me, and the rain did not make it any easier. Half an hour later my alarm rang, so I forced myself to wake up after pressing the snooze button a couple of times.

morning sun

I took a deep breath, took a large amount of fresh air with the smell of the jungle to fill my lungs. Birds had started chirping since sunrise, with cicadas joining their jungle orchestra them as well. Every now and then I heard rustling leaves as the long tailed and pig tailed macaques jumped from branch to branch, ready to start their day. And what were those animals calling each other so loudly? They were really loud, with both ululating and bitonal screams. Oh, right, of course the siamang! I almost forgot that I’m back in the Sumatran wilderness. How I missed the jungle! But my day is not complete yet without seeing my hairy kids.

flying siamang

Flying (swinging) siamang in action

I went to see the hairy rhinos accompanied by SRS’ current veterinarian, Dr. Made Fera. We started with Harapan, the newest resident at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary who was born in Cincinnati Zoo in April 2007 and brought back to Indonesia in November 2015. I almost fell in love instantly with him! Weighed about 780 kg (1,720 pounds), Harapan showed gentle gestures toward his keepers though sometimes he tried to chase them too. For a wildlife that was born and raised in captivity, he was doing quite well in his new home. It was Harapan’s birthday too so we helped him celebrate by making a simple ‘cake’ made of his favorite fruits and vegetables.

 

DSC_4862.jpg

I know I know, the cake doesn’t have its shape anymore, but at least Harapan enjoys it.

Next, we met Andatu in his stall. Andatu, my first ‘grandson’ from his mother Ratu and his father Andalas, was born in June 2012 when I was still working at SRS as a full time vet. He weighed only 25 kg (55 pounds) when he was born, but look at him now! I barely recognized him, especially now that he has two rhino horns instead of a flat nose that he had when he came into this world. More update about Andatu is coming soon.

andatu a few days old

The few days old Andatu (June 2012)

andatu adult copy

The few years old Andatu (April 2016)

After Andatu, we went to greet Andalas. Andalas is Andatu’s father who was born in Cincinnati Zoo in September 2001 and brought back to Indonesia in 2007. He was the first Sumatran rhino born in captivity. His birth sparked a big hope to breed the critically endangered species in captivity to eventually prevent them from extinction. Nothing has changed much since I saw him last. He’s still a big boy who enjoys his time in the stall, spending as much time with his keeper as possible. Such a cute boy, but hey, he’ll be a father of two real soon!

Inside Andalas’ paddock, believe or not, out of millions of trees in Way Kambas National Park, I have a favorite tree. There’s this one particular tree that strongly caught my attention. I sometimes do grounding under this tree, but recently there has been an insect nest growing at the nest so I did not dare to go closer this time.

Then, we moved to see Rosa, the most beautiful Sumatran rhino I’ve ever seen and everyone agrees. If you try to find wild Sumatran rhino pictures online, most likely you’ll end up with Rosa’s pictures (in addition to Ratu’s and Andatu’s). She’s like the supermodel in Sumatran rhino world, but a few years ago her beauty was quickly defeated by the cuteness of a newborn star – Andatu.

sumatran rhino rosa birthday.jpg

Rosa, the supermodel, enjoying her fruit feast

Then we visited Bina in her stall. I’m not going to lie, she’s my favorite rhino so far. She has a reputation of being shy and unpredictable but she captured my heart with her captivating eyes nevertheless. She was one of the first rhinos that were captured in the late 1980s to early 1990s and she’s the only survivor till today. That makes her the oldest Sumatran rhino in captivity, aged about 29-30 years old. I don’t know why, but I feel very connected to her. I feel she always has a kind of ancient wisdom to share with us humans.

We were hoping to see Ratu the pregnant mother, but that morning she decided not to say hi to me in the stall. Maybe we’ll meet tomorrow to check her and her baby conditions. If you’d like to see how she’s doing so far you can read this post here and follow IRF’s blog for future updates.

Which rhino would you like to meet most? Did you know you also can adopt them as your hairy kids? Check their pictures and individual profiles here.

 

1

Expecting My Second Grandchild in The Jungle

I left that place almost three years ago. I cried in the car as my ex-field manager drove me to the local airport. One son, three daughters, and a grandson were left behind. No, I’m not talking about furry kids here, not scaly ones, not even feathery ones. I’m talking about hairy kids. I took care four hairy kids since early 2012 when I was working at Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary. Yep, they are Sumatran rhinos, or also known as hairy rhinos.

hairy rhino hair

In June 2012, one of my kids, Ratu, gave birth to Andatu, the first Sumatran rhino calf born in Asia in the last 124 years. He was an instant celebrity and gained thousands of fans worldwide, but he really deserved it. He was the cutest Sumatran rhino calf ever recorded! My heart melted almost immediately when I saw him standing up and taking the first tiny step in life. Come on, look at his cute face below and tell me if you think he’s not cute.

andatu smile.jpg

Last year, we’ve heard that Ratu was expecting the second calf, and that Andatu is going to be a big brother! Of course everyone is happy with the news. I could only pray that the second calf delivery will be as smooth as the first one. I could not be there to watch it, even though I hoped to see the baby after it was born. Last Monday, the field manager called me and asked for my help with the second birth. Can you believe it? My heart almost jumped from joy and excitement! I feel very honored to be given the chance to assist with the birth of my second grandchild 😀

It was a sudden notice, so I only had a day to pack and prepare before leaving early morning the next day. Seven hours car drive and three hours ferry ride it was, but I was so excited to see all my hairy kids again! And oh, Andatu’s uncle, Harapan, was brought back to Sumatra from United States in November last year, so I’ll have the chance to meet him too in this trip. My mind was filled with curiosity, wondering how his personality was, if he was adapting well in the jungle after spending years of living in Cincinnati Zoo, if he shared similar characteristics with Andalas, and so on.

After the exhausting ten-hour journey finally I was there again, back to where my kids are, but it was already late at night when I arrived. Only darkness and cricket chirps greeted me, followed by the same staff who are still taking care of the rhinos. Now it’s time to sleep, and let’s explore the jungle once again tomorrow.

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Volunteer experience #1: Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, Chiang Mai

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.

santisook cat shelter

The cat shelter, big and clean. The cats seem happy, don’t they? 🙂

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.

santisook medical

This was the surgery site at one of their dog shelters. That table was where I spayed and neutered the bitches and dogs.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.santisook gratitude1
santisook gratitude.png

What they promised vs what they actually did. They promised a thank you letter in the picture, but it seemed like they can’t be bothered typing proper messages after receiving their gift.

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.

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Pattaya Field Surgery Trip

This is just the short version. The full story, day-by-day details, and more pictures of the trip can be viewed here.

On September 25, 2015 I went from Chiang Mai to Pattaya to volunteer with Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation and do free spay/neuter clinics for stray dogs and cats. 900 km covered in 15 hours car ride! I know it was such a long tiring trip, but you know, I can’t say no when it comes to helping animals. And after a hot shower, finally it was time to sleep. We had a queue stray dogs and cats to neuter the next day. Oh dear….

The next morning, we started quite late because we were so tired from the previous day’s long trip. Thanks to Neo from Pattaya Animal Coalition (PAC), the one who organized for this field spay and neuter program, for being so understanding and let us sleep an hour longer before a long surgery day!

We sterilized the tools by using Glutaraldehyde, which is known to be toxic, but is within our budget to spay and neuter over 300 stray animals. We used pet pads as disposable drapes. As you can see from the pictures, even the drugs we use are very basic too. For example, Nembutal is a dangerous drug which is no longer used to anesthetize animals but it’s commonly used to euthanize them.

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Surgical tools soaked in a solution of glutaraldehyde.

Disposable drape, cut from a pet pad.

Disposable drape, cut from a pet pad.


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Today’s site was a hidden animal shelter outside Pattaya. With two vets did the surgeries, who are an Australian vet and me, we managed to spay 9 female dogs and 3 male dogs in 6 hours of our first day. Subtotal: 12. Total: 12.

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Dr Renae from Australia is doing spay.

I was just starting the first spay of that day.

I’m just starting the first spay of that day.

The next day we did surgeries at a beautiful countryside house, which also serves as an animal shelter. The shelter houses at least 300 dogs,100 cats, and 1 cow.

Dr Renae and I are doing spay on the second day of the trip.

Dr Renae and I are doing spay on the second day of the trip.

The surgery started around 11 a.m and ended around 6 p.m. 2nd day: 9 male dogs and 13 bitches. Subtotal: 22. Total: 34.

On our third day, we did surgeries in an ordinary house located within a small village. I heard people came since 6 a.m in the morning to queue for the surgeries. It makes me happy to see how people care about the animals and want to get them fixed, even though they don’t have money. It’s probably my main reason why I volunteer to do these free spay and neuter clinics.

Namfon from Santisook is talking to villagers and pet owners, arranging the queue for surgeries.

Namfon from Santisook is talking to villagers and pet owners, arranging the queue for surgeries.

Dr Renae is doing the first spay of that day.

Dr Renae is doing the first spay of that day.

The 3rd day was the highlight of the trip! We did nearly 12 hours of surgeries, finished at 9.27 p.m and managed to neuter 3 male dogs, 10 bitches, 11 toms, 13 queens! Subtotal: 36. Total: 70.

On our 4th day we went to a Thai navy base. I’m glad to see that the government also contribute and show their care for stray dogs in this country. Just by seeing their hospital it gave me a big smile in the morning.

Finally, a better vet hospital facilities.

Finally, a better vet hospital facilities.

Everyone at the military base seemed to be curious of what we were doing and would like to watch closely. This, however, made me nervous and I felt that if I had done something wrong, they would have punished me for it!

Can you see my nervous face for being watched closely by the military staff? LOL.

Can you see my nervous face for being watched closely by the military staff? LOL.

4th day: 23 dogs and 1 bitch. Subtotal: 24. Total: 96.

The next day, we continued to neuter all dogs at the navy base. We did all the male dogs that day and wanted to continue by spaying all the bitches. Unfortunately, they did not mark the spayed bitches and mix all the spayed and intact bitches together. It is almost impossible for us to check the bitches one by one and try to find which one is spayed and which one is not.

Now let’s talk about the importance of ear notch. Every spayed females, be it dogs, cats, or other animal species, should be marked with ear notch or tattoo when they are spayed. This way we can distinguish them from the intacts and it makes a vet job a lot easier in the future.

Those lucky boys to have this cute vet scrubbed their balls with tender loving care (before cutting them off!).

Those lucky boys to have this cute vet scrubbed their balls with tender loving care (before cutting them off!).

5th day: 26 dogs and 3 bitches. Subtotal: 29. Total: 125.

On our last day, we decided to go back to the first day’s site and neuter all the cats and a few remaining intact dogs.

We had plenty of time today and I did some of the prep before surgeries.

We had plenty of time today and I did some of the prep before surgeries.

6th day: 4 bitches, 5 queens, and 10 toms. Subtotal: 19. Total: 144.

This was the last day of my trip. My back was paining terribly, my fingers have blisters from using scissors, artery clamps, and needle holders, my fingertips and fingernails were brown from touching glutaraldehyde. It was a tiring trip, but thinking about 2 vets, each did 46 hours of surgeries and neutered 144 animals altogether in 6 days, it gave me a feeling of accomplishment!

Here is a group shot for the full team! From left to right: Dr Vincent, Dr Liz, Dr Renae, Namfon, May (restaurant owner who treated us free dinner that night), Neo from PAC, Tong, Atinuch, and a staff from May's restaurant.

Here is a group shot for the full team!
From left to right: Dr Vincent, Dr Liz, Dr Renae, Namfon, May (restaurant owner who treated us free dinner that night), Neo from PAC, Tong, Atinuch, and a staff from May’s restaurant.

We already planned for our next trip to Pattaya or surrounding area around the end of this month. Excited!

If saving animal is your passion and you want to contribute to our spay/neuter clinics, check this crowdfunding campaign and spread the words!