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Life in Chiang Mai  


Ending up in Chiang Mai

By Lynn Davies
Arriving in Thailand on a three month tourist visa I planned to spend a week in Bangkok, two weeks in Chiang Mai, and the rest of my time touring the islands, maybe taking in a bit of Cambodia. Good plan. But I didn’t count on falling in love with Chiang Mai. I cancelled all my plans, booked a nice room, and 5 years later, I’m still here. I love life in Chiang Mai. The people are friendly, I love the mountains, the temples and the hustle and bustle of my local market. It feels like home.

I got involved as a volunteer with a dog rescue group and loved it. Going to temples and villages, feeding and rescuing dogs, I felt I saw more of the ‘real’ Chiang Mai than I ever would as a tourist. And the people were genuinely happy that someone was helping with their dog problems. I think that was a surprise to me, so many local people calling in for help.

I started taking in stray cats while they recovered from their sterilisation surgery. Once healthy, I’d return them to their street or temple, and then get the next one. I started raising funds to get more cats sterilised and vaccinated. I had a simple plan. When I had donations I would arrange sterilisations, when I didn’t, I wouldn’t.

I didn’t bargain on just how many kittens would come my way. It’s a common and accepted practice to dump unwanted kittens in temples, often without the mommy. I had a constant turnover of kittens, sometimes two litters at once. Many were sickly or malnourished, some needed hand rearing and two hourly feeds were necessary. But the strong will always survive and once well fed and vaccinated, I got them adopted into lovely new homes.

It was never my plan to get so involved with cats, it just grew over time. I imagined I would volunteer for a while, enjoy the city, and then move on. But I realised just how many Thai people are very concerned about animal welfare. Things we take for granted in the west, like vaccinations and sterilisation are rare here; partly due to lack of education, but also because it’s just too expensive for most people to even consider. A cat with a broken leg can cost 6,000 baht in vet bills, a month’s wages for a shop worker. It’s easier now for me to understand why dogs and cats involved in road accidents are left on the roadside to take their chances. There’s no free vet care like there is at home, and many vets want money up front.

Now I spend time with two Thai ladies whose aim it is to educate people about animal care. They go out into communities and try to find solutions to cat and dog related problems, where possible keeping the animals in their home environment. Over-population is the biggest problem, so sterilisation is a priority. Vaccination is also high on the list. People are asked to donate what they can, but most often, the treatment is given free.

The two ladies set up Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue which has a dog shelter in Sanpatong and in July will open a western style cat rescue shelter at Doi Saket. They are a non-profit, pro-life group who rely on donations and raise funds through their website. They are in the process of becoming a registered charity Foundation. They also have cat boarding facilities with the profits going back into cat care. I love animals, and I feel lucky to be doing something I enjoy so much, and to give back to a community that has made me feel so welcome. You can check out Santisook Dog and Cat Rescue

The Chiang Mai Mail is publishing a series of articles on residents’ experiences of life in Chiang Mai. If you would like to contribute please email [email protected]

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Ending up in Chiang Mai