This is a really, really long post. Grab a tea and some biscuits….or maybe a cheese board. We miss decent cheese…
From Koh Phangan we made the short hop to Koh Samui via the supercheap Songserm “Express” Boat and arrived on time into Koh Samui- again into a gauntlet of taxi drivers. It was actually quite fun this time as the phrase “we have a friend picking us up” worked extremely well. Apart from one guy who was insistent on bringing us to the tourist areas- pointing at a map and asking “you want to go here?”. Our response of “we don’t know where we are going” and “we have a friend picking us up” seemed to baffle him but eventually he gave up on us. In fairness it was a bit weird for us to rock up somewhere with no idea where on the island we would be staying. The only information we had was from the advert on Workaway and through emails from our lovely Belgian host Francoise, it never occurred to us to ask where it was!
We were met by Mike, a Canadian and Francoise’s friend. He gave us a rough orientation of the island en-route to our first home, a little bungalow a stone’s throw from the sea….
We had three street dogs to feed here- Panda, Roberto and Casey. Panda lives in a house around the corner and is quite shy, Roberto and Casey were very friendly, Casey in particular. Robert guards the little bungalow most of the time and sleeps outside it at night which is quite nice. Apart from one night where he slept outside the front door and every time he had a scratch (which is quite frequent for street dogs) the door and the metal security door would rattle so much that it was like someone trying to break in! That was quite a bad night’s sleep! We are not sure where Casey slept but they all hang out near the beach.
Once we had moved our stuff in and Mike had shown us how to feed the three dogs he brought us round to meet Francoise- she was unable to meet us as the vet was at the house giving the animals their yearly vaccinations as well as diagnosing and treating a newly arrived street puppy who was “temporarily” named Tia. It is in a beautiful area at the south end of Samui surrounded by rubber plantations and coconut plantations and two small but very steep hills five mins walk away.
Aside: The coconuts here are harvested by specially trained monkeys and you can see them up the trees selecting ripe green coconuts, twisting them off and then throwing them behind them with their owners beneath in the early morning or perched on the side their truck full of coconuts. It looks pretty cool but the sad side is they are on chains and the monkeys need to be caught young in order to train them so often an entire family is killed in order to take a single baby from the wild.
We had a quick coffee while meeting the dogs and cats in the cat enclosure before venturing into the main dog compound, there had been some snapping and growling between the dogs (the joys of the pack) but they were all extremely friendly even when snarling at each other but so many and so many names to remember! As it is a sanctuary a number of animals have suffered horrific trauma before coming under her care so although most of them were fine almost straight away- a few of them needed to get used to us being there for a bit first.
Cast of characters (note that most of these initial shots were taken right after we arrived so they had just had injections):
The dogs: in the mixed compound
Brownie: Oldest dog at the Sanctuary and pack leader. Francoise’s first dog, rescued from a sanctuary 10 years ago. When he was rescued he had a horrific case of mange, with maggots in his head. At that time there was no treatment for mange except cleaning and washing with a special shampoo. It took them a while but his coat improved and you’d never think he had been in such a state. As he’s an old dog (around 13 years) he is quite grumpy with the puppies and Bamboo. Tells them off quite frequently, he tolerates the cats.
Tigerli: The dog equivalent of a teddy bear and a complete cuddle monster. Arrived with Francoise 8 years ago, she’s now 9.5 years old, loves people, not really bothered by the other dogs. She slept in with us every night.
Coconut: Arrived with her brother Peanut as puppies, they had been abandoned too young and when they arrived at the shelter severely malnourished, covered in fleas and full of worms. Francoise adopted them. Coconut is very clever dog but a bit skittish. Takes a while to get used to you but after a few days gets quite relaxed. Confidence easily knocked though. We almost failed to get her out on a walk as she doesn’t like it when other dogs are on the leads due to Buffalo nearby. We managed to get her out on the last walk due to the brief removal of buffalo family for a day. But then they were back.
Violet: Left outside Francoise’s gate in a box two months ago and now four months old. Very cute, but a brat at mealtimes, she seemed to double in size in the 2 weeks or so we were at the sanctuary. When we arrived she played mostly with Marcel and then Tia but by the time we were leaving it was mostly with Coconut, Bamboo and Tia.
Tia: Two month old pup, was being fed at the little bungalow for a few days before we arrived. Brought over to Francoise to be vaccinated. She had been living under a car, was full of worms, severely anaemic and extremely weak due to tick fever. When we arrived on Saturday, she just lay on the floor under the couch looking close to death, by the following morning she was a different dog- running about the place. Over the two weeks we were there we watched her get bigger and stronger every day, quickly being able to do a full walk with the main pack and hold her own, learn to bark and howl and find her voice. She is very vocal. We had been there 9 days and she decided that nipping my calves and biting my bum was a fun game. Her teeth are like needles- needless to say I did not encourage it. Gav however thought this was hilarious.
If we had have been going straight home we’d have made plans to take her with us:
The main compound:
Wolfie: Poor Wolfie is another old dog, he had spent an unknown number of years in a government shelter before being rescued by a Shelter in Phuket. He was in an awful state, malnourished and having problems with his legs from living in cramped conditions. Very suspicious of new people. It took him 2-3 days to get used to us, even then it was a week before he would come when we called him.
Ahmed: This dog in particular had a horrible story before he was rescued. He was destined for the dinner table was kept by some workers on a building site and had been beaten daily to “improve” his flavour in preparation for slaughter. It took Francoise a long time to get him to trust her. He was rescued by a Thai lady living nearby. Ahmed did stay at the far end of the enclosure for a while, as the vet had been earlier that day so he was quite wary of strangers. He ventured over to us when dinner was being prepared and by the time we were leaving (on the moped that Francoise kindly lent us) he was whining at us not to leave. Such an adorable dog. He is the sub-pack leader over Rudi, Ellie, Feather and Bamboo.
Peanut: Rescued as a pup with Coconut. Like Coconut, he is very suspicious of new people and he would routinely forget he knew us for the first few days and bark at us. After that though he was great though. He is a really fun dog and loves running like a loon in the long grass.
Rudi: Rescued from a box left on a pier in Koh Samui with his siblings Feather and Ellie as pups, covered in fleas and a belly full of spaghetti worms. They were being temporarily cared for by Francoise before being adopted by a German couple were taking them back to Germany. This fell through and they were left with Francoise. The three are a Ridgeback cross and are lovely dogs. Rudi is always next to you wanting attention and even blocks your path to get it. He also fights a fair bit with Bamboo and Peanut and occasionally Max and Feather.
Feather: Originally Fedel (named after a famous German race-car driver), lovely gentle dog who doesn’t really have any time for arguing with any of the other dogs. He loves to run and can do 40 km an hour. Also he can clear the 2 m gate to the compound, often when Gav went out to get food in the evening he would jump the gate and be waiting for him when he came back.
Max: Was initially with a Thai family who decided they didn’t want him anymore. He wasn’t mistreated but had never been touched before Francoise took him in. Seems a bit weird to have a dog and not pet them at all but some people here don’t. As a result it took him a long time to get used to it but now he quite likes cuddles. He spends most of the day outside the gate lying on the road or hunting. Really easy going dog.
Bamboo: Another relatively recent arrival, Bamboo is about 9 months old and was found covered in fleas, full of worms and severely malnourished. The lady who found him was unable to look after him so he found his way into Francoise’s care. A very gentle dog with all the cats and dogs. Currently trying to find his place in the pack so being bullied by Rudi and Peanut a bit as well as getting told off by Brownie.
Sasha: Another from the rescue centre, she was about 6 months old or so when she was found and was almost starved to death. As a result of this she is incredibly possessive of her food and will attack any dog that comes close. She is also the Alpha Female and bullies all of the other girls, especially Ellie.
Lolita: Found on the street on a busy road as a small puppy. She was very sick but was difficult to catch her as she was with a group of other dogs. She had tick fever and almost died. It took Francoise two attempts to catch her but luckily she did. She is the same breed as Violet and so easy, you almost forget she is there!
Ellie: Abandoned with her brothers she’s a gorgeous dog, so happy and loves attention. She also hates cats and was one of Krystal’s main attackers.
Zazou: Francoise found on the road as a small puppy, very adorable, she couldn’t find the mother and she ended up staying with her. She loves people but something happened to her with other dogs and she is very insecure with the pack so growls at any dog in a metre radius. Its a pity really as she is a lovely dog but would be better on her own.
Rainbow: Was rescued in Northern Thailand from an illegal dog meat truck destined for Vietnam. She was adopted by a private centre with 600 dogs on Samui where Francoise was working at the time, she was a bit out of place there so Francoise took her in.
Bernadette: The oldest rescue cat. She came from a neighbour of Francoise who did not want to look after her as a kitten. She was very neglected when she made it into her garden and had to be bottle fed for quite some time. She’s ok with dogs but doesn’t like other cats. Every evening she gets tormented by Marcel so frequently Marcel is removed.
Marcel: The only male cat, was found by some guys on the top of a pile of rubbish in Samui when he was only 2-3 weeks old. They put an ad up on Facebook and she took him in. He was quite the hunter, many times we found the dismembered bodies of geckos, lizards and frogs on the kitchen floor.
Zoe: Francoise found her in Lamai by chance abandoned in a disused building behind a house where Francoise’s cousins were staying. Quite a sweet cat, just likes hanging out and having cuddles..
Snowie: Another recent arrival. Was living with Francoise’s friend who moved to Australia so she got re-homed with a Thai lady who had lots of cats, but she wasn’t happy and stopped eating, eventually ending up living in a cage for two months at the vet’s. Francoise decided to take her in temporarily until they could find another home but she is still there. The most slow moving cat I have ever seen.
Krystal: She came from Phuket wandering in the jungle by an English couple who were travelling for a year, she was pregnant and they rescued her and wanted to take her back to the UK after their travels. They needed a place to look after her until they were ready to take her so she ended up with Francoise. She had three kittens but two unfortunately died, leaving a little white one “Chokdee” (or Lucky in Thai).
The supporting cast:
A family of toads also live in the house. They wander freely through both enclosures, other than the odd sniff from the puppies everyone ignores them. They spent quite a bit of time in the downstairs shower room and it is a bit of an odd sensation to have a toad sing to you when you are on the toilet or jump around your feet when you are trying to shower. Very cute though.
So after meeting the dogs it was feeding time, followed by a walk and then we were on our way back to the beach house.
We had four days of training before Francoise went away for a well deserved rest, it seemed like a lot initially but there was quite a bit to do.
The jobs were:
Feed all the animals twice a day (puppies 3 times a day)
Administer the required medications and vitamins to the dogs in treatment (Twice a day)
Sweep the compounds and upstairs (mop every 2-3 days)
Walk the dogs twice a day (more on that later)
Plus give the animals lots of love and make sure they are happy.
Every 2 days/as needed:
Cook the food for the dogs and street dogs as needed
Feed some street dogs and drop of food to others
Buy food for the dogs and cats as required
Odd jobs collections and drop offs
In exchange we got a place to stay and a motorbike with petrol to use. Sounds good no?
In our training days we had some rather stressful incidents happen. First off on our first night we got a late email from Francoise- a few hours after we had left, one of the new cats, Krystal who was also nursing a week old kitten, had got into the dog compound and been attacked. She didn’t know if she would make it through the night and if she didn’t the week old kitten would most certainly not survive. The following morning we received word that the cat had made it through the night and was again attending to the kitten. Later that day she was up and eating but with an injured front leg, we continued to monitor her for the following 48 hours until we could see that there was no internal injuries. She was one lucky cat.
On our first morning walk, Francoise mentioned that there are only a few dangers on the island for the dogs, the first was cobras and moments later the animals startled a snake in the long grass and went into full attack mode. We all freaked out as so we thought that might be one and the dogs were going for the snake’s head. It turned out just to be a “normal” snake thankfully but for a brief moment it was chaos as the pack ripped this snake apart.
Then there was a storm. We had just left the house on the second day for our evening walk past the buffalo in the coconut plantation next to the house, less than 5 minutes later the wind picked up from nowhere with such intensity that it blew a few coconut palm leaves down almost hitting the dogs. As I turned to see if we should go back a gust of wind blew a coconut complete with stems across the path literally missing Gav by inches! It was incredibly scary so we turned on our heels and ran back to the house. It sounds hilarious doesn’t it- death by coconut? Well there actually are quite a number of deaths from it every year in Thailand. Scary stuff.
The storm also almost obliterated the rather ropey electricity too which wreaked havoc on the fridges and the water pump. On the Thai islands many houses the water supply is via a well and the drop in power caused the pump to overheat and fail. This meant no water at all for the house! Nightmare! It was like this for two days as the power was still not completely restored, and by the time we moved to the house there was still no solution in place. In the end, an electrician suggested getting a water tank and second pump as an alternative. Costly but necessary as the only source of water, a bin of rainwater was rapidly dwindling. The day Francoise left, her brother Mike (who rather handily also lives in Samui, in a nearby village) came to the rescue and installed the tank and pump! We finally had water again! It’s crazy how much you take for granted having water- electricity you can live without but water not a hope.
How did they end up with Francoise? Francoise moved to Samui around 10 years ago looking for a different lifestyle from the hamster wheel that is normal life. She brought her three cats with her and found her calling helping the street dogs in Samui. She used to work at Koh Samui Dog and Cat Rescue Centre when she first arrived but then worked at a private rescue centre on the island and many of the animals have come to her via these routes, others directly from the street. There are street dogs all over SE Asia as I’m sure we have mentioned in other posts; unwanted animals aren’t put down here but are left on the street as puppies, kittens or old dogs and cats to have a slow death by starvation, parasites and infection or tick fever (basically malaria for dogs- a slow painful death). There are a number of initiatives working to ensure dogs and cats are neutered and to teach locals about animal welfare but as always these things take time to establish.
Once Francoise left, we quickly got into a routine:
6.30 am- wake up (mostly by doggy alarm clock-17 dogs howling- occasionally this was at earlier times too, which was less amusing)
6.45-7.00 am- morning greetings to all the dogs, feed and medicate the cats (luckily it was only putting cream on one cat’s ears) and feed the puppies, swap the upstairs space to the cats.
7.00-7.30 am- coffee
7.30-8.30/8.45 am- morning walk with the younger dogs- normally up one or 2 hills, occasionally through the rubber plantation to the quarry
9.00 am-9.30 am- dog breakfast and medications
9.30 am-10.30 am- our breakfast
10.30 am- 11.30 am- some cleaning
11.30 am- 3.45 pm- free time
4.30 pm- 5 pm- cooking any special food (blood cakes for Wolfie, Brownie and Tigerli)
5 pm- 5.30 pm- doggie dinner and medications
5.30pm- 6.15 pm- evening walk with all dogs (or those who wanted to come)
6.30 pm- 6.45 pm all dogs in and gates closed, cats fed and upstairs space swapped from cats to dogs.
6.35 pm-bedtime – free time.
It may look like loads but it really wasn’t too much work at all.
During this week we saw or did many things we’d not really seen or done much of before:
Mass catering (cooking for four meals for seventeen dogs every two days)
Cleaned up vomit and dog diarrhoea during the night (thanks to Violet who at that time was also sleeping in the room with us), in the morning she had rolled in the dead snake and eaten some so we suspect that was the cause. She had to be washed three times while we looked after them- 2 rolls in the snake and one in a rotten papaya. Luckily we stopped having her in the room after a few days as Tia got injured and we had to keep them apart at night so Tia could rest her injured leg so we brought her up with us and she slept on the floor.
Saw and then killed a scorpion
Then saw an even bigger one! He needed to be killed too- mostly because I couldn’t free him from the netting.
Saw a massive spider with a huge egg sack in the living room
Had a show every night from the fireflies.
Spotted an intermittent UTI (urinary tract infection) in one of the dogs (Zazou)
Cared for a very poorly Brownie who lost the use of his back legs one evening and had an eye infection the following morning- this was followed by a trip to the vet with some pictures and a prescription for painkillers and eye drops. He did not like us very much for a few days.
Looked after four dogs who came down with a reaction to the vaccine just as Francoise was leaving- Rainbow, Lolita, Sasha and Ahmed.
Had to clean up the remains of numerous dead and dismembered geckos and lizards as well as save a few lucky ones from the cats. Marcel also disembowelled a few frogs.
Gav saved a life: We were getting the dogs in one evening and Gav went out to get Max from outside the gate. Max was in the process of digging one of his holes and eating some dirt (as dogs do) when he suddenly started coughing, foaming at the mouth and scratching at his mouth. Gav called me out and the two of us tried to help him. After a few minutes of intense scratching at his mouth followed by collapsing and lying there and then scratching- Gav spotted the problem-a small stick had got caught between his back teeth and luckily could get his hand into Max’s mouth to retrieve it. Poor Max was in shock for a bit but thankfully was ok after. Lucky chap.
The dogs also found a carcass of a cat and a number of them rolled in.
We also had a few afternoons out (plus a trip to the doctor to see if my ear infection had cleared):
One day we went to the north of the island. It is horrendously over developed and so touristy. It does however have better if more crowded beaches and the boat to Koh Phagnan for the Full Moon Party.
We also went to another waterfall which was in the middle of a horrible safari park, Na Muang Safari. The waterfall, Namuang 2, was a total waste of time and the way up was worse than some places we had been in Laos! They have a waterpark at the top that you have to pay to get into but don’t tell you about either until you are actually halfway up the waterfall. Its also covered in concrete and pipes so not exactly natural and on the way down I sliced my foot open on a nail that was sticking out of the foot bridge. Then we slipped on the gavel road on the way down. I wouldn’t recommend it.
After ten days away, Francoise came back, the dogs were delighted, but Francoise said that she was happy to see that though they were happy to see her, they did not miss her so we had looked after them well.
We stayed on for an additional 3 days so I spent my birthday here and we got to see the animals go on a full run!
This was a particular treat for Feather:
As well as Gav being able to play paparazzi..
It came round fast but suddenly it was time to leave, we had 5 days left on our visa and needed to go back to Koh Tao to finish diving (nasal spray and pseudoephadrine in hand) and get across to Krabi for a taste of the Andaman coast before leaving Thailand. So with heavy hearts we packed up our stuff into the van, said goodbye to all the dogs and cats and we were off……….
(Francoise’s sanctuary is run on donations topped up with a very stressful rental business-she relies on donations to allow her to help more animals and it is her dream to be able to do it full time. This would allow her to take in some more serious cases such as older and heavily abused dogs in need of a safe and secure home. Please see her Facebook page or if you would like to donate (via Paypal) please click here.)