2015, Southeast Asia

DRJ: A Week with the Shelter Dogs of Koh Samui 

Immediately after finishing up our week with the dogs and cats at Elephant Nature Park, we moved onto our next volunteering adventure at the Koh Samui Cat and Dog rescue.

Located on the beautiful island of Koh Samui in the south of Thailand, the centre has been rescuing dogs and cats for 16 years. The foundation mainly focuses on “soi” or street dogs who can be found living in small packs all over the island. Before the founder, Brigitte Gomm started the centre there was no veterinarian on the island, and medical treatment was impossible. Many of these animals were left to suffer and die, and some were even poisoned by resorts trying to keep them away from tourists.

The main goal of this foundation is to vaccinate animals against rabies, treat them for mange and worms, treat their wounds when accidents occur, provide sterilization via spaying/ neutering to promote a stable population, and to educate the people of Koh Samui about the treatment of animals.

Currently the shelter houses upwards of 450 dogs, with 60 in clinic receiving daily bandage changes or medications. The clinic also serves the people of Koh Samui who can bring their pets in for vaccinations or sterilization at a reduced price or for free!

Dr. Sith has been working at the shelter for 10 years, and we were privileged enough to be able to shadow him for the week along with a visiting veterinarian from the Netherlands.


The group for the week . Top L-R Dr. Sith, Dr. Bert, Carolina. Bottom L-R Ingrid, Heloise (two French vet students also volunteering), Daniella, Julie, Rose

With so many animals at the shelter and only two veterinarians there was a lot of work to be done! Due to the tropical climate of Koh Samui, even the smallest of wounds can become problematic as flies can deposit their eggs in the wounds leading to maggots causing severe damage. Because of this, animals that are wounded require vigilant wound care daily, including intensive cleaning and bandaging.


Rose working on the bandage change for a dog with a severe wound from being hit by a car.


Another large problem facing the dogs are ticks, the dogs are given preventatives once a month and the ground is chemically treated to kill the nymphs. Even with all of these precautions taken, the dogs still have a large tick burden requiring daily tick picking to help avoid blood borne diseases that may be spread by ticks. It is especially important to control ticks in young puppies and injured dogs as they are more susceptible to disease.

Daniella with some of the puppies after their tick inspections!

Many of the dogs at the shelter come from the streets, however some are abandoned by their owners and left to live in the compounds at the shelter. The rescue runs an adoption program to try to find good homes for the dogs, especially the puppies, so they don’t have to spend their entire lives in a dog run. While Dr. Sith dedicates most of his days to performing sterilization procedures to help combat the problem of overpopulation, there are still many dogs at the shelter looking for homes, and more arriving every day.


Julie getting in some cuddle time with one of the many dogs up for adoption at the shelter

   Our week at Koh Samui Cat and Dog Rescue was an amazing experience that has completely changed our perspective on veterinary medicine. We commend Dr. Sith and the staff at the rescue for the tireless work that they do, and we are incredibly grateful for the privilege of being part of the team for a week.

-Daniella, Rose, and Julie

2015, Southeast Asia

DRJ: A Week in the Dog House

This week we volunteered at the dog and cat shelter at Elephant Nature Park. ENP is not only a sanctuary for rescued elephants, it also has many other animals including water buffalo, cows, ponies, goats, birds, monkeys, cats and over 400 dogs. During our time at the centre we were able to be involved with the veterinary care of all of these animals, including vaccinating 70 water buffalo against foot and mouth disease.

Rose, Julie and Daniella vaccinating water buffalo in the wooden chute constructed for this purpose!

In 2011, there was massive flooding in Bangkok. Many people were evacuated, but they were unable to take their pets with them. As a result, thousands of dogs were left stranded. Lek, a lover of all animals, had to do something to save these poor dogs. Her and her team rescued over 2000 dogs. They did their best to find the dogs’ original owners or adopt them to new homes. Lek and her team at ENP brought 155 dogs home and over the past 4 years the number of rescued dogs has reached 450 dogs as people have brought strays or abandoned dogs to be cared for. Lek’s husband, Darrick, started the shelter and it is has been gaining popularity ever since.

The dog shelter also has a cat and dog clinic where we spent most of our week working. The clinic provides free veterinary care for animals in the nearby village including spays/neuters and vaccinations.
Our days volunteering were spent helping the vet do daily treatments for all 40 dogs and cats in the clinic. Many of the animals had bite wounds which we cleaned and gave an antibiotic injection to prevent infection.

Here is Julie with Pierre, one of the cats being treated for a bite wound in the clinic.
Here is Daniella with Mama Joe, a dog that was treated for a cyst in her neck.
Rose and Zombie getting ready to administer the subcutaneous fluids that he received twice daily for renal support. Note the stylish jacket Zombie is sporting as the caring staff at ENP deemed 26 degrees too cold for him!

We also helped with the incoming cases such as a seizuring dog, a dog with respiratory problems and even a duck with a luxated patella! When we weren’t helping the vets, we spent a lot of time de-ticking dogs. Tick borne diseases are a huge problem at the shelter, especially during the summer. Many of the dogs are subclinically infected with ehrlichia and anaplasma and the clinically ill ones are treated with doxycycline for 28 days.

We saw a lot of interesting cases during our week at the dog shelter, but our most memorable case was a 6 week old puppy named Scully. Scully came in on our first day with hind end paralysis. Her owner said a book was accidentally dropped on her. She had complete hind end paralysis with no reflexes, no deep pain and dribbling urine. We did an X-ray and found a fracture on her L4 vertebrae but no signs of compression to the spinal cord. We kept Scully overnight and when she wasn’t improving, one of the staff members Adam, took her home. He would express her bladder and bathe her constantly. She was put on prednisone to decrease inflammation and further damage to the spinal cord as well as tramadol for pain management. The staff at ENP have been in contact with a vet from the US and they would like to fly her to have surgery. Since she does not have all her vaccinations yet, they don’t know if it’s possible. At this point, Scully will be kept comfortable and if she does have permanent hind end paralysis, she will live her life in the Steele run. The Steele run is home to a few paralyzed dogs who are very well taken care of. They have constant supervision, physiotherapy every day and they get taken on walks in their little wheel chairs. We hope for the best for our little friend Scully and we know that the staff at ENP will do everything they can for her.

-Daniella, Rose, Julie

2015, Southeast Asia

DRJ: A Week with the Elephants

After 3 weeks of independent travel through South East Asia, our team was excited to begin our first week of volunteering at Elephant Nature Park.
Elephant Nature Park, sometimes called Elephant Heaven, is located in Chiang Mai Province in northern Thailand. ENP is a sanctuary for 44 elephants mainly rescued from the logging and tourism industries. Many of them came from extremely abusive situations or suffer from chronic injuries. In Thailand, all elephants are “broken” using a traditional method called Pajaan. During the Pajaan a young elephant is placed inside a small cage and deprived of food and water while being regularly beaten until it submits to human instruction. Traditional elephant training relies entirely on the elephants fearing their handlers too much to disobey them. Elephant Nature Park uses only positive reinforcement training (using food as a reward) with their elephants. They hope to educate the public so that there is more awareness of the abuse elephants undergo in the elephant tourism industry in Thailand and other countries in Asia. ENP also has an Elephant Ambassador Program where people can volunteer to speak out against elephant tourism in their own communities.


Krissy and Jodi work on training Dani.  They strictly use positive reinforcement to train the elephants to perform certain behaviours necessary for medical tratments. Dani put her foot up to be treated by choice and is rewarded with watermelon. If she puts her foot down, nothing happens, she just doesn’t get any treats!

During our time volunteering at ENP we had the great opportunity to shadow the elephant veterinarians here. Many of the rescued elephants have chronic injuries that need to be treated daily. Some of the elephants we helped with had landmine injuries, dislocated hips, broken backs and abscesses galore. After the first morning we were able to clean their wounds, flush them and spray with protectant. By far our favourite elephant is Khun Dej. He is a fiesty little 2 year old rescued from a national park where he was found with his foot caught in a snare trap. He has been living at ENP and he is treated twice a day by the veterinarians here. His bandage is changed twice a day and then covered with a leather waterproof boot so he can go play in the mud and wander through the park with the other elephants. His two friends Saree and Dani wait around patiently every day for his treatment to be finished. It is heartwarming to see them all amble away together afterwards. Every elephant that comes to the park is allowed to integrate into the family group of its choice. Many of the baby elephants have nannies who look after them like their own children.

Julie cleaning a healing land mine wound for Malaitong as she munches on some watermelon.


Kuhn Dej, a baby elephant that was caught in a snare has his daily bandage change while his friend Saree waits impatiently for him to be done so they can go play in the mud together!

Friday was by far our most exciting day at the park. 5 new elephants were rescued and arrived within a few hours of each other! The first elephant to arrive was 70 year old Noi Nah who was from a tourist trekking camp. Lek Chailert (the founder of the park), a documentary film crew, 2 vets and several volunteers accompanied Noi Nah on her 22 hour journey to ENP. When she finally arrived and disembarked from the truck she looked extremely emaciated. The volunteers who had made the journey to bring Noi Nah here told us that at the camp she came from she was constantly chained, and that the other 40 elephants there looked as she did. The owner of the camp contacted Lek because she is too old to work. We learned that Noi Nah’s trainer or “mahout” didn’t feed her or give her water for 7 days if she misbehaved. We also found out that she was still being used to carry tourists on trekking trips up until 2 days before she arrived at ENP. Given her poor body condition, is it hard to imagine her having to travel long distances every day carrying tourists. The other 4 new elephants are two pairs of young elephants and their mothers confiscated from a circus. They physically appear to be in better shape, but the one mother was separated from her calf when it was young and she doesn’t recognize it now.

70 year old Noi Nah arrives at ENP after being rescued from a tourist trekking camp.

Currently the elephants are resting comfortably and eating well in their own enclosure in the large animal clinic at the park. Each elephant has been assigned its own personal mahout, who will work to develop a relationship with their assigned elephant. New mahouts are slowly developing a relationship with these new additions to the park. In a few days the park veterinarians will begin testing the elephants for parasites and diseases such as tuberculosis, as well a continuing to monitor their progress. Noi Nah is undergoing an intense nutrition program where she is fed vitamins 7 times a day and given access to grasses all day to help her gain back condition. Noi Nah should hopefully be at an ideal weight in 7 months.
Volunteering with the elephant veterinarians this week has been an amazing experience. Next week we will remain at ENP, volunteering at the cat and dog shelter here. We are excited to see what other adventures and learning opportunities come our way.

– Daniella, Rose, Julie