Volunteering at phangan animal care for strays

PACS Background information

Phangan Animal Care for Strays was established in 2001. Back then, there were no veterinary services available on the island. Pet owners had to go to neighbouring island, Koh Samui, in order to get their animals treated and the primary method of stray population control was government-sanctioned culling. This meant that caring for the health of pets was very expensive for the locals and it also meant a huge number of stray cats and dogs around the island.
This meant that in the past, the clinic dealt with both owned and stray animals in return for a donation. Now that there are several clinics for owned animals, PACS can focus purely on animals with no owner.

Our vision is to reduce the suffering of stray and wild animals on Koh Phangan.

Our core missions are:

Sterilisation of stray, temple and community cats and dogs

Vaccination against rabies and canine diseases

Provide nursing care

Create awareness of responsible pet ownership

Nursing Care at PACS

We see high instances of road traffic accidents, Erlichea, distemper and parvovirus among our patients. We also have many dogs with infected wounds that have become infested with maggots. The climate is hot and humid so it doesn’t take long for a dog-bite to turn nasty. We also see lots of skin problems, especially demodectic mange. We try to treat as many patients as we can in their territory and keep our kennel spaces for the most serious cases, those that are hard to catch and for patients recovering from sterilisation.

Educational Challenges

Koh Phangan is a popular tourist destination for people all over the world. It is a very beautiful island and the Thai people are known for their warm hospitality and big smiles. It is also a Buddhist country so there is a good deal of respect for animals among the general population. However, the concept of pet ownership is very blurred here. Many people will feed stray animals but don’t consider them as pets and cannot take on all of the animals that need a home. There is also some reluctance to sterilise pets as some people feel it is harmful to animals but this attitude is changing and is only held by a minority of people now. On the whole, we find that the Thai community is fully behind our mission and we get lots of assistance from Thai people in terms of donations, transportation of sick animals and more.
One of the main challenges is that we have a transient population of people who are travelling or on holiday. People often don’t realise that taking a street dog in for a few months can do more harm than good. The animals then get used to being fed daily in the same place and in low season, there is no regular supply of food and water and the animal has lost its instinct, pack and territory. This means that education is ongoing and a little repetitive because although the Thai and expat communities are beginning to understand how we should tackle the challenges of our resident cats and dogs, there are ferry-loads of newcomers for whom the whole concept is completely new.

While many of the locals will tell you we have far fewer strays than ever before, there are still too many being born to a life of suffering. As volunteers, the assistance you can provide to the animal population is of profound significance. With sterilisation as our core mission, we feel that we can continue to reduce the stray population while simultaneously improving the quality of life for those that grace our streets, temples and beaches.

Our vision is to reduce the suffering of stray and wild animals on Koh Phangan.

Main activities of PACS

This information is provided to help you settle in and contribute effectively.
Please get involved in all aspects of project work – your contribution will be very much appreciated.

Spays and Neuters

We currently achieve around 35 neuters per month with 3 surgery days thanks to a part-time volunteer vet but we desperately need to increase this number.

Currently, spays have been conducted using the midline method but we are keen for PACS part-time volunteer vet and Head Nurse to gain experience of the flank method.

Castration is performed using either an open or closed technique. Skin wounds are usually closed using an intradermal suture pattern.

Dogs and cats are brought in by one of our core team members, local animal lovers or Clinic Assistants in the evening before or the morning of surgery. Sick or debilitated dogs are hospitalised and treated until they are fit for surgery. The volunteer vet or vet nurse will pre-medicate, prepare and induce the dogs according to PACS-approved protocols. They also administer top up anaesthetic during surgery as required. Ivermectin will be given via injection also and rabies for dogs.

Veterinarians perform the surgery, keep a watchful eye on anaesthetic depth during surgery, and ensure asepsis is maintained. Dogs and cats are kept overnight and discharged the following morning provided the animal has recovered from the procedure and the surgical wound appears healthy and there is no other illness or injury requiring further hospitalisation. Every animal is checked by a vet or our Head Nurse prior to discharge - ask a nurse or Clinic Assistant to restrain the animal for you. Use a muzzle or soft bandage muzzle if you are in any doubt. Do not take any risks of being bitten!

Sick and injured animals are frequently brought to the clinic for treatment. These may be stray cats and dogs, community or the occasional monkey or snake! Reptiles come with a professional handler for safety and restraint and we do not expect volunteer vets to treat venomous animals unless they feel very comfortable to do so.

Some people may not speak English well so ask our Thai handyman for assistance in obtaining a medical history.
Treatments are recorded on hospital and admissions sheets. Euthanasia may be performed in certain situations, however, given Buddhist beliefs, euthanasia is never entered into lightly in Thailand. We never put a healthy animal to sleep and only use it to release an animal from terminal suffering.

The facilities have a limited supply of medications and bandages supplied through our fundraising and donations from a local private human hospital that can be provided at no cost and other medications are bought using the funds we get through donations. We also get sent some medicines donated by private individuals. We do not have radiology or laboratory facilities except for one centrifuge.

Our aim is to sterilise at least 5 animals per day in the clinic five days per week. The main constraints are:

The number of medical volunteers available
The experience and efficiency of the volunteers
The core team and volunteers being able to catch enough strays
Recovery space if we have a large number of sick and injured patients in the kennels

Veterinarians perform the surgery, keep a watchful eye on anaesthetic depth during surgery, and ensure asepsis is maintained. Dogs and cats are kept overnight and discharged the following morning provided the animal has recovered from the procedure and the surgical wound appears healthy and there is no other illness or injury requiring further hospitalisation. Every animal is checked by a vet or our Head Nurse prior to discharge - ask a nurse or Clinic Assistant to restrain the animal for you. Use a muzzle or soft bandage muzzle if you are in any doubt. Do not take any risks of being bitten!

Location and nature of the work

Most of the work will be carried out at PACS clinic in Wok Tum; however work may also be undertaken outside in the form of outpatient calls. The operating room and consultation room both have air conditioning but please understand that power cuts can happen, especially in monsoon (usually around November on this side of Thailand) and things can get hot and sticky without it.
Currently, spays have been conducted using the midline method but we are keen for PACS part-time volunteer vet and Head Nurse to gain experience of the flank method.

Castration is performed using either an open or closed technique. Skin wounds are usually closed using an intradermal suture pattern.

Your average day on the job

When we have a full-time volunteer vet, surgery is performed five days per week at the clinic (Monday to Friday). The day starts at 8.30am and surgeries start at 10am. We close at 4.30pm but we do sometimes have a slightly later finish if there are emergencies.

PACS employs a Manager, a Head Nurse and a local Thai caretaker/handyman who lives onsite with the volunteers. We aim to have at least two full-time (5 days per week) Clinic Assistant volunteers and two medical volunteers at any one time.

Veterinarians perform the surgery, keep a watchful eye on anaesthetic depth during surgery, and ensure asepsis is maintained. Dogs and cats are kept overnight and discharged the following morning provided the animal has recovered from the procedure and the surgical wound appears healthy and there is no other illness or injury requiring further hospitalisation. Every animal is checked by a vet or our Head Nurse prior to discharge - ask a nurse or Clinic Assistant to restrain the animal for you. Use a muzzle or soft bandage muzzle if you are in any doubt. Do not take any risks of being bitten!

Treatment of sick and injured animals

Sick and injured animals are frequently brought to the clinic for treatment. These may be stray cats and dogs, community or the occasional monkey or snake! Reptiles come with a professional handler for safety and restraint and we do not expect volunteer vets to treat venomous animals unless they feel very comfortable to do so.

Some people may not speak English well so ask our Thai handyman for assistance in obtaining a medical history.
Treatments are recorded on hospital and admissions sheets. Euthanasia may be performed in certain situations, however, given Buddhist beliefs, euthanasia is never entered into lightly in Thailand. We never put a healthy animal to sleep and only use it to release an animal from terminal suffering.

The facilities have a limited supply of medications and bandages supplied through our fundraising and donations from a local private human hospital that can be provided at no cost and other medications are bought using the funds we get through donations. We also get sent some medicines donated by private individuals. We do not have radiology or laboratory facilities except for one centrifuge.

Our aim is to sterilise at least 5 animals per day in the clinic five days per week. The main constraints are:

The number of medical volunteers available
The experience and efficiency of the volunteers
The core team and volunteers being able to catch enough strays
Recovery space if we have a large number of sick and injured patients in the kennels

Veterinarians perform the surgery, keep a watchful eye on anaesthetic depth during surgery, and ensure asepsis is maintained. Dogs and cats are kept overnight and discharged the following morning provided the animal has recovered from the procedure and the surgical wound appears healthy and there is no other illness or injury requiring further hospitalisation. Every animal is checked by a vet or our Head Nurse prior to discharge - ask a nurse or Clinic Assistant to restrain the animal for you. Use a muzzle or soft bandage muzzle if you are in any doubt. Do not take any risks of being bitten!

Facilities:

9 outdoor kennels with roof and drainage for easy cleaning
1 new air conditioned indoor kennel with space for 10 dogs
9 small cat kennels and one secure cat play area for exercise
1 air-conditioned operating room
1 separate treatment/consultation room with air-conditioning with 5 small kennels for animals who need close observation
1 gated exercise area
1 isolation ward with 5 kennels plus space for crates if needed
1 manual truck for collecting and releasing animals
Storage space for record keeping and supplies

In high season, we see around 10 or more road traffic accident traumas per month, we also have in-patients with infected wounds, tick fever and distemper and parvo. We have a strict isolation protocol when highly contagious diseases are suspected and vets will often need to help with diagnosis and treatment as well as keep up with the flow of neuters.

Our aim is to sterilise at least 5 animals per day in the clinic five days per week. The main constraints are:

The number of medical volunteers available
The experience and efficiency of the volunteers
The core team and volunteers being able to catch enough strays
Recovery space if we have a large number of sick and injured patients in the kennels

Veterinarians perform the surgery, keep a watchful eye on anaesthetic depth during surgery, and ensure asepsis is maintained. Dogs and cats are kept overnight and discharged the following morning provided the animal has recovered from the procedure and the surgical wound appears healthy and there is no other illness or injury requiring further hospitalisation. Every animal is checked by a vet or our Head Nurse prior to discharge - ask a nurse or Clinic Assistant to restrain the animal for you. Use a muzzle or soft bandage muzzle if you are in any doubt. Do not take any risks of being bitten!

Professional Requirements

Volunteers at PACS will be working alongside our full-time Head Nurse. We aim
to have at least one extra volunteer nurse or veterinarian but this does fluctuate. We also have volunteers who come as Clinic Assistants. These volunteers help with cleaning, feeding, oral medicine and patient restraint among other duties. However, there are times when we need everyone to roll up their sleeves and do some of the dirty work, as we are a very small team. We all need to be ready to do whatever it takes to keep our patients safe and comfortable. While we want to make the most of each volunteer’s special skills and knowledge, when times get tough, we may need you to help with catching animals, cleaning and other less skilled tasks.

Volunteer veterinarians should have at least two years’ practical experience making them proficient in basic surgical procedures and possessing the confidence to perform such surgery efficiently without access to inhalation anaesthesia.

Volunteer vets should also be able to manage routine medical cases unsupervised. They should also be able and willing to share their knowledge with the team and also be open to learning from others. For example, our Head Nurse has a lot of local medical knowledge and experience with the facilities and medicines we have to hand. She also understands all the quirks of our local environment, the special nature of the patients and even knows hundreds of street dogs by name.

Veterinary nurses should be experienced in the surgical and medical nursing of small animals and able to perform the associated tasks efficiently with our limited facilities.
Currently, spays have been conducted using the midline method but we are keen for PACS part-time volunteer vet and Head Nurse to gain experience of the flank method.

Castration is performed using either an open or closed technique. Skin wounds are usually closed using an intradermal suture pattern.

Length of your Stay

Although the length of time volunteers spend at PACS does vary, most will choose to work for between two weeks and two months. We encourage volunteers to stay for a minimum of two weeks because it takes time to acclimatise and adjust to local conditions. Many choose to stay for two months and often extend their stay. Koh Phangan is a beautiful island and a longer stay gives you more opportunity to enjoy the beautiful beaches, jungle, wildlife and culture. Our volunteers often make friends with others that last beyond their stay and many volunteers come back to volunteer again.

Personal Safety

Although thousands of foreigners travel safely in Koh Phangan every year, sensible precautions should be taken. PACS cannot accept responsibility for your personal safety should you decide to come to Koh Phangan to volunteer. Please ensure you provide us with your travel insurance details so we can assist wherever possible when necessary.

Take a little time to research local culture and etiquette and check government advisory websites to obtain up-to-date travel warnings (www.smartraveller.gov.au; travel.state.gov/; www.fco.gov.uk, etc).
Additional advice can be found in good guidebooks, such as The Lonely Planet Guide (www.lonelyplanet.com).

Medical information

Contact your doctor to obtain current advice on appropriate vaccinations and medications.
Volunteers - as well as any person accompanying them who wishes to visit the project - MUST be vaccinated against rabies. You may also ask your medical adviser about the relevance of cover for malaria although this part of Thailand is considered lower risk. Please also make sure you are up to date with your tetanus shots.

The WHO warns that rabies is a risk in Thailand. PACS and local vets work hard to vaccinate as many animals as possible. We have not seen a case on this island for over 20 years but ask that all visitors do get their vaccines up to date before arrival.

Please take out comprehensive travel medical insurance, including medevac (emergency evacuation) as there are no provisions for medical cover under the terms of this volunteer project. Please also check carefully that your insurance will cover you for volunteer veterinary work.

Heed medical advice for travellers to Asia to minimise the risk of preventable illness. The old maxim, “don’t drink the water”, is certainly true but safe drinking water is provided on site. For further health information the WHO (World Health Organisation) website provides a very comprehensive report on ‘International Travel and Health’ (http://www.who.int/ith/en/ )

Getting to Koh Phangan

Volunteers need to plan their own travel arrangements but we have outlined some tips to get you started. There is no airport on Koh Phangan: the most convenient way of getting to the island is to fly to Koh Samui, then take a ferry to Thongsala Pier.
There are also several ferries and fast speed boats operating from the mainland ports of Suratthani, Chumphon and Donsak. It can be cheaper (but take longer) to fly to Bangkok and get a flight to Suratthani with transfer to Donsak pier and take a ferry to Koh Phangan so do check out the options online.

From Australia: The most convenient flight from Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney is on Thai Airways via Bangkok. Etihad Airways offers a flight from Brisbane to Singapore with connecting flight to Koh Samui on Bangkok Airways; Jetstar offers a flight to Singapore from Melbourne with connecting flight on Bangkok Airways; and Qantas offers a daily flight from Perth to Singapore with connecting flights on Bangkok Airways to Koh Samui.

From New Zealand: The most convenient flights from Auckland are via Bangkok on Thai Airlines or via Singapore on Jetstar with connecting flights on Bangkok Airways to Koh Samui.

From the UK: There are daily flights from London Heathrow to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur with connecting flights to Koh Samui. British Airways, Qantas and Thai fly non-stop between London and Bangkok. There are numerous other, cheaper alternatives via other countries with much longer travel times.

From the USA: Numerous airlines offer connecting flights from New York to Koh Samui via Bangkok including Etihad Airways and Air France. From Los Angeles, the most convenient is the daily Thai Airways to Bangkok and Koh Samui.

Approximate flight times:

Bangkok to Koh Samui is 1 hr, direct flight
Brisbane to Koh Samui is 11 hr 45 min, with connecting flightˆ
Sydney to Koh Samui is 12 hrs 30 min, with connecting flightˆ
Melbourne to Koh Samui is 12 hrs 35 min, with connecting flightˆ
Perth to Koh Samui is 8 hrs 40 min, with connecting flightˆ
Auckland to Koh Samui is 14 hrs 30 min, with connecting flightˆ
London to Koh Samui is 14 hrs 5 min, with connecting flightˆ
New York to Koh Samui is 21 hrs 55 min, with connecting flightˆ
Los Angeles to Koh Samui is 20 hrs, with connecting flightˆ
(ˆIncludes layover time.)

Take a little time to research local culture and etiquette and check government advisory websites to obtain up-to-date travel warnings (www.smartraveller.gov.au; travel.state.gov/; www.fco.gov.uk, etc).
Additional advice can be found in good guidebooks, such as The Lonely Planet Guide (www.lonelyplanet.com).

Entry requirements

You will need a passport valid for at least six months beyond intended period
of stay, a return/onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds. At the time of writing, for many nationalities, no visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days but please do check with your local Thai Embassy as rules do change and also vary according to the nationality in your passport.
This would be a tourist visa – we do not offer work visas. Please be aware that legally you are not entitled to work, even as an unpaid volunteer in Thailand.

Getting around Koh Phangan

Apart from walking, you can easily rent cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Songtaews (open back jeep with two rows of seats) provide an efficient way to get around the island but are not as cheap as the mainland. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road. Water taxis are available to explore the coastline. Taxis are not cheap however and it’s a long and hot 20 minute walk to the nearest supermarkets and main town from PACS, so your own transport is handy – especially if you are staying on-site. The most efficient way to get around is by scooter but it is not an ideal place to learn, as there are high incidents of accidents here. Many places want to keep a hefty deposit or your passport. There are some scams on the island where people are forced to pay huge fines for a small scratch, even if not your fault. A new scheme has been set in place to stop these incidents by setting a fixed price for the scooter rental (at time of writing 250bht per day) which also means there are fixed prices for any damage caused.
There are also several ferries and fast speed boats operating from the mainland ports of Suratthani, Chumphon and Donsak. It can be cheaper (but take longer) to fly to Bangkok and get a flight to Suratthani with transfer to Donsak pier and take a ferry to Koh Phangan so do check out the options online.

From Australia: The most convenient flight from Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney is on Thai Airways via Bangkok. Etihad Airways offers a flight from Brisbane to Singapore with connecting flight to Koh Samui on Bangkok Airways; Jetstar offers a flight to Singapore from Melbourne with connecting flight on Bangkok Airways; and Qantas offers a daily flight from Perth to Singapore with connecting flights on Bangkok Airways to Koh Samui.

NOTE: If you do hire a scooter, take lots of photos of every part of it BEFORE you drive away from the shop as photographic proof of its condition at the start of rental. Make sure your insurance will cover you for motorcycle accidents and remember if you are unfortunate enough to have an accident, many insurance companies will not pay out if you are found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or not wearing a helmet. Local police often do roadside checks and will fine you on the spot for no helmet. The roads are being improved but there is no lack of sand on the road in places, flooded areas after heavy rain, the odd falling coconut/big palm branch, stray dogs, rubbish drivers/drunk drivers or often a scooter shooting out of a hidden entrance without looking straight onto the road.

From the UK: There are daily flights from London Heathrow to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur with connecting flights to Koh Samui. British Airways, Qantas and Thai fly non-stop between London and Bangkok. There are numerous other, cheaper alternatives via other countries with much longer travel times.

From the USA: Numerous airlines offer connecting flights from New York to Koh Samui via Bangkok including Etihad Airways and Air France. From Los Angeles, the most convenient is the daily Thai Airways to Bangkok and Koh Samui.

Arriving in Koh Phangan

There will be many taxis at the pier when you arrive and it’s a short ride to the clinic. Many taxi drivers are familiar with PACS and can understand some English but in case you have problems, you can show them this map and also these directions in Thai:

ศูนย์อภิบาลสัตว์เกาะพงัน
ศูนย์อภิบาลสัตว์เกาะพงัน
14/1 ม.4 วกตุ่มเกาะพะงันสุราษฏธานี 84280
ซอยถนนโรงพยาบาลเกาะพงันเลยโรงพยาบาลประมาณ 200 เมตรอยู่ฝั่งเดียวกันกับโรงพยาบาล

You will need a passport valid for at least six months beyond intended period
of stay, a return/onward ticket and proof of sufficient funds. At the time of writing, for many nationalities, no visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days but please do check with your local Thai Embassy as rules do change and also vary according to the nationality in your passport.
This would be a tourist visa – we do not offer work visas. Please be aware that legally you are not entitled to work, even as an unpaid volunteer in Thailand.

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