I’ve been meaning to write a Thailand animal rescue post for a long time. Thailand (deservedly so, in many cases) has a less-than-sterling animal rights reputation; I have personal experience to the contrary.
I’m writing this during coronavirus, which means that unless you’re already in the Kingdom, you won’t be able to visit any animal shelter in Thailand in person, or volunteer there. You can do like me and donate your money—I’ll provide links for that where appropriate.
Of course, some of you are here to plan future trips (or, if the Covid crisis is now over, present ones), and you’ll find plenty of inspiration here. From ethical elephant experiences to stray dog centers you can tour, these sanctuaries of love and kindness will melt your heart.
Thailand’s Animal Rights Reputation
I’ll name some of my favorite Thailand animal rescue organizations in just a second, but I want to start this article by addressing the elephant (no pun intended) in the room. Thailand, like much of developing Asia, has a complicated history when it comes to animal rights. Some of this is overt and inexcusable, such as the sale of pets and wildlife in filthy wet markets, or the operation of “tiger temple” establishments I’ll describe in a moment.
Other aspects of animal rights in Thailand are more intertwined with local culture. The large number of stray dogs on Thailand’s streets, for example, is directly related to the “live and let live” philosophy undergirding the Kingdom’s religion of Theravada Buddhism. This would be fine if said soi dogs lived happy and safe lives, but this is unfortunately not the case, due to diseases like rabies and the often cruel indifference of humans.
My Favorite Animal Rescues in Thailand
Soi Dog Foundation
If seeing stray dogs in Bangkok breaks your heart, but you don’t want to risk rabies (more on that in a second!) to help them, why not considering donating? The Soi Dog Foundation is an excellent organization, which not only rescues injured and sick animals from Thailand’s streets, but helps send them to loving homes, both within the Kingdom and with foreigners returning home.
TMTRD (The Man That Rescues Dogs)
Another Thailand animal rescue you might’ve seen on social media is TMTRD, aka The Man That Rescues Dogs. Located in Chonburi province, not far from Pattaya, this shelter has gained notoriety for its rehabilitation of dogs that have mobility impairments. If you’re in Thailand but prefer to donate your time instead of your money, you can visit the shelter and volunteer.
Elephant Nature Park
The good news? There are plenty of opportunities to see elephants in Chiang Mai—it’s almost a rite of passage here. The bad news? Many of these centers are far from ethical, although some are more brazen than others in their abuse. I personally recommend avoiding ambiguity and visiting Elephant Nature Park, located about an hour north of the city. You can come here for a day, or do longer volunteer stays if you’ll be in town a while.
Bodhi Dog Shelter
Also in Phuket, this Thailand animal rescue offers a lot of ways you can get involved. If coronavirus is still raging and you can’t enter Thailand, for example, you can donate from home to help Bodhi Dog Shelter from wherever you are. Otherwise, you can visit and volunteer for a certain amount of time, or you can help a dog reach its forever home as a so-called “flight volunteer,” even if you don’t end up adopting him or her yourself.
Wildlife Friends Foundation
If you’re looking for an animal shelter in Thailand with a diverse array of residents, Wildlife Friends Foundation might be a good choice for you. Located in oft-overlooked Phetchaburi province to the southwest of Bangkok, this center focuses on rehabilitating animals that have been abused in the illegal wildlife trade, from elephants, to gibbons, to various bird species and even dogs.
Thailand Animal Establishments You Should Never Visit
From the Thailand tiger temples I mentioned earlier to some other spots you might never have considered, keep these Thailand animal establishments off your list:
- Tiger Kingdom outlets in Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi
- Chiang Mai and Koh Samui Cobra Show performances
- Any elephant center that permits riding
- Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm
- Any zoo or similar establishment
Animals in Thailand: Other Facts to Know
I mentioned the issue of rabies in Thailand earlier, and not in jest. Unfortunately both for dogs and humans, Thailand has one of the highest rabies rates in the world. While it’s still statistically low (average dogs you encounter are unlikely to be infected), it’s prevalent enough that you should generally avoid contact with strays. This is especially true in rural areas, where such animals can form packs—these can easily become aggressive.
Another important thing to watch out for is that animal exploitation can occur in Thailand where you least expect it. The so-called coconut monkeys in Koh Samui have been in the news lately, which is good—it’s unlikely these critters will be required to harvest the fruit anymore, and certainly not before an audience of farang. On the other hand, buffalo fights still proceed on their island, albeit less conspicuously advertised matches than in the past.
Other FAQ About Thailand Animal Rescues
Can you adopt a dog in Thailand?
You can adopt a dog in Thailand, although getting the dog back to your country can prove difficult, assuming you don’t plan to stay in Thailand indefinitely. Rather than adopting a dog in Thailand (unless you simply fall in love), it might be best to donated to organizations that look after soi dogs.
How can I help a stray dog in Thailand?
Many organizations in Thailand have devoted themselves to taking care of stray dogs. Personally, I donate to the Soi Dog Foundation and TMTRD, or “The Man That Rescues Dogs.” You can set a specific amount to give each month, or just give periodically when you have funds available.
Are elephants in Thailand treated well?
The good news? An increasing number of tourism-related businesses in Thailand treat their elephants well. This list begins with Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, but doesn’t end there. The bad news? Many “private” elephants in Thailand are worked literally to the point of death, due to a combination of ignorance and outright animal cruelty. You can help end such practices by making sure you only spend your money at ethical businesses.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re searching for a Thailand animal rescue you can visit in-person, or simply want to donate from abroad and show your love that way, this post is a tribute to great people doing incredible things for amazing animals in Thailand. I’ve tried to run the gamut, from traditional stray dog shelters, to centers that focus on creatures rescued from Thailand’s notorious wild animal trade. No matter why or how you navigated here, I hope your heart and mind are full of loving thoughts. Here’s to hoping, by the time you read this, Covid-19 is a thing of the past!