On Koh Lanta -a 100% chill little island on Thailand’s Andaman coast- there’s not a whole lot to do aside from frolicking merrily on one of the plentiful beaches, zipping around on a scooter trying to avoid snakes and the occasional goat, and eating – of course. And that’s exactly why it’s popular with low-key tourists who want some respite from the flashing lights of Phuket and the Gulf islands. But if you’re able to pencil in some time into your busy schedule of lounging and indulging, let it be to visit Lanta Animal Welfare.

This charity centre is owned by Junie Kovacs from Norway who came to the island in 2002 to open a restaurant and cookery school (Time For Lime.) What she saw in regards to population control and abuse of the animals was so upsetting she felt compelled to help the situation and created what would eventually be this awesome rescue centre. You can inadvertently help the cause by eating or spending the afternoon at one of their totally delicious Thai cooking lessons (complete with optional cocktails!) or simply having something to eat and a totally guilt-free beer.

The first stop on any visit to the centre involves entering through a caged doorway into the “Kitty City” area – a pretty little courtyard of kitties all lounging in the shade, hiding from the midday sun. There’s really quite an impressive number of cats! If you’re anything like me you may have a sudden startling vision that it’s a bit like staring into your own future; a future where inevitably you’re a cat-mom to 25 fur babies and the local children think you’re a witch…

None the less, it’s a quaint little space, and although sleeping is clearly their prerogative, there’s room for the odd chin tickle and head pat. What makes the space even cuter is it’s a cafe too, so even if you don’t have time to hang out and see the whole centre, you can just simply pop in for an iced coffee and enjoy some feline therapy whilst supporting the centre. All of the cats are rescues, some more obviously so than others. The hope is that some will eventually find forever homes, but for those with more complicated health issues the rescue centre may well be their forever home.

Pretty soon it’s feeding time, so each kitty goes into their very own pet carrier to have their own personal food (complete with potential medications) – very sensible! Although it did seem like it would have been fun to just lay down a huge plate of food and watch a wave of cats engulf it like a furry tsunami. Perhaps something to save for my crazy cat lady days?

This little scamp Tuna is being adopted by Stef, one of the volunteers.

Which reminds me: this place is run largely by volunteers, even the vets! They cater well for tourists with an alternating group of young volunteers from around the globe. Some volunteers seemed to be backpackers taking a break from their travels, whilst some were specifically there for the cause. Seems like a nice way to put some nourishment back into your life, having assumably drained most of your emotional resources and savings on Thai rum and bad decisions in the previous weeks!

Next on the agenda are the kennels, but only after the last few volunteer dog-walkers head for their afternoon stroll. Another fun activity that’s very popular is the daily dog walking. Any adult is welcome to come and walk a dog here, children can accompany adults, but can’t walk one of their own. Walking times are between 8.30am – 11.00am and 3.00pm – 5.00pm daily – just rock up, sign your name and take a doggy for a spin.

In front of the kennels is a super high-tech x-ray machine-type-thing donated by Dog’s Trust charity which has helped in treating the animals to no end. Previous to this they would have to take the dogs to the mainland for any kind of medical treatment of this nature and it’s a restless three-hour ride to the closest town of Krabi.

Inside the kennels I’m surprised by the layout; the area where volunteers prepare food, have special kennels and complete any medical needs is raised above the main dog pens below, which means it’s great for tours as you can simply amble around and view all the dogs from the viewing platforms; ideal for anyone who is a bit timid around dogs, and also means the dogs aren’t inundated with visitors.

Doggy death row? Not quite. In the medical section of the kennels, sick doggies are kept separate to recover or in isolation to stop from infecting other dogs with disease. Extreme precautions are taken to make sure there’s no chance of contamination with volunteers wearing protective clothing for certain animals and each dog has their own food, specially prepared. For the majority, it seems to be a very Thai diet of rice and chicken!

It’s clear to see that an incredible amount of effort goes into this place every single day and it’s truly a credit to the island as there are so, so many “soi dogs” (aka street dogs) in Thailand. Not only does the centre rescue animals but also spays any animals brought to them for free to try and reduce strays in the first place. If you’ve ever been to the Thai islands -or perhaps Bali- you will have seen the sad reality of what happens on islands where dog populations aren’t controlled and left to run wild. The whole island benefits from the centre in one way or another, whether through cleaner streets, or healthier pets, or just plain old warm-fuzzy-feels; it really is a must-see on Lanta. I can only hope this kind of initiative becomes more established throughout the rest of South East Asia, where this remains a serious problem. But one, I hope, that we can solve.


Visting Info:

Lanta Animal Welfare is open every day of the year from 9.00am – 5.00pm when visitors are welcome to come for one of the hourly tours, to walk a dog, or play with the cats.

It’s totally free to visit, but please support the centre by purchasing refreshments onsite and donating.

If you’d like to volunteer at the centre you can apply here.

And for anyone who’d like to help in other ways, there’s a range of ways that you can give back to the centre.

For all further information check out their website.

For yummy food, Thai cooking lessons and bungalow accommodation check out their sister company Time For Lime.