Part of what the Animal Shelter does here, aside from the everyday free care and treatment of animals, is to go to neighboring villages and monasteries to spay and neuter dogs and cats of the area. These spay camps (as we call them) are great opportunities not only to get a day out and away from the everyday tasks of running a shelter, but also to better the community so animal populations don’t run amok and also provides a way for surrounding villages to get to know who we (the animal shelter) are so they can feel more confident about coming to us if ever needed.
Dr. Mays set up several camps for us, two running on consecutive days and then two more for the following week. Though I have had experience in basic horse care/vet skills, dogs and cats are a different beast. I had no experience in giving shots, IVs, prepping animals for surgery, etc. The spay camp I attended quickly changed all that very quickly for me however 🙂
We set off around 10 to a nearby monastery about 30 or so kilometers away (myself, Jo, Nyzil and J. (the vets)) and arrived about a half hour later to an absolutely serene and beautifully peaceful monastery nestled off the road among gentle slopes and lush vegetation. We were greeted by residents of the monastery and were shown to a large covered car port where we began to set up two tables for surgery. Since this was my first go round with spays, I was mainly just taking instruction on how to set up the table and basically aped Jo (who is well seasoned with spay camps) asking about a trillion questions along the way.
I was paired with J., the newest vet on the team, and Jo was with Nyzil. I will admit I was at first a bit reluctant about how J. and I would work as a team because we had several miscommunications that led to many frustrations in times before. I don’t know what it was exactly that happened however in the first few minutes of setting up the camp. To this day I still can’t pin it exactly. But what I do know is that as the table was set and the first two cats were starting to doze into a deep sleep in preparation for the surgery, something just clicked with J. and I. It wasn’t spoken, it just happened and suddenly I began to understand how she thought and worked.
She taught me how to shave the cats, how to give injections, tricks on how to tell whether the animal was starting to come out of their slumber, how to check the heart rate and much more. We worked fabulously together and by the end of the day, after a lovely lunch provided to us by the monastery residents, we had banged out 8 cat spays. Well, in all honesty one of the cats whom we tagged as being female turned out to be male after failing to find the uterus! Hey now, we all make mistakes! No judging!! 😉
We finished about 3pm, packed up and headed out. Since it was still relatively early and we had not received any news from the shelter about needing to return immediately, we decided to check out the Khao Laem National Park, just a few kilometers down the road. The park boasts a nature trail several kilometers long with 9 different waterfalls and a rather impressively large tree. We all set off for the hike and crossed the river about 250 meters in to see the tree, but when we crossed back over, Jo broke one of her flip-flops making it basically impossible for us to hike any further. We instead opted to swim in the river for a bit then made our way back to the car. The day was still young however so we decided to head off to a village Nyzil knew about that had elephants!
The turning for the village was only about 10km from Sangkhlaburi, but getting to the village required quite a bit of off-roading and a few minutes of scary grounds to drive across. The dirt road kept splitting and though Nyzil was navigating, every now and again he’d say out loud “I’m not sure this is the right way because we are supposed to be heading toward the mountains”, lol!!
Luckily he did get us to the right place and my oh my, what a beautiful little village it was!! Nestled at the base of a mountain, across the river on a rather shady yet sturdy bamboo bridge lay a magnificent quiet little community full of life of all kinds. Nyzil had been there before on a previous spay camp and even recognized several of the dogs he’d operated on by the little notches left in their ears. No one in the village spoke even a word of english and of course none of us knew the word for elephant in Thai, so we were left to a game of charades. Correction: we actually left the game of charades to Nyzil who proceeded to try to act out what an elephant looked like to the locals all while repeating the word “elephant?”. It was seriously quite amusing to watch and I’m sure the villagers were probably playing dumb for a bit just to keep watching him make impressions, lol!!
We finally found one villager who acquiesced to knowing what we were trying to get to and he led us the way. We walked through a rubber plantation… Here I have to stop because I had no idea that rubber is made from tree sap!!! There were hundreds of trees lined and tapped with a little collection basket for the sap and when I was told it was a rubber plantation, I just kept repeating “rubber??? As in rubber tires??” because I’d just no idea that’s where rubber came from. I just assumed it was all a petrochemical production! Just goes to show you learn something new every day:)
Moving on, we walked past the rubber plantation following the sound of a distant bell along a wee path. Our guide then started off the path through the field to which Jo wasn’t able to walk on (no shoes) so she headed on the path just to explore while myself, Nyzil and J. followed our guide.
The sound of the bell grew louder and louder and a few minutes later, up ahead in the bushes enjoying a meal of various natural vegetation stood Moosa!! What an absolutely BEAUTIFUL creature!!! She wasn’t scared of humans as she worked in the village but when not working she had the run of the land, going where she pleased and had only a rope with a bell around he neck so she could be found when needed.
I had never touched an elephant before. Had only fed them cucumbers and other veggies when in Ayutthaya. This was how I’d wanted to experience them though. In the wild, free from cages and tourists, no forced tricks or contraptions on her back to give tourists rides, no sticks with sharp hooks at the end to make her go one way or another, simply living free. I couldn’t stop petting her and telling her how beautiful she was!! We spent probably a good half hour with her as she continued to nibble then said our goodbyes and headed back to the path. Interestingly enough our timing was just right as Jo was also returning from her walk along the path and she too had spotted the other elephant of the village down the way.
The sun was starting to set at this point and we were all getting hungry, so we set off for another spot along the way back to Sangkhlaburi for some dinner. The Nature Club, a hotel and activities center only about 5km from the town was where we chose to stop. It too is set in a beautiful location surrounded by mountains and a rather large lake. We had a few drinks and food, then headed home. The days activities and bonding that occurred throughout the day between the four of us was unexpected but absolutely amazing. That day is now one of my fondest memories of Thailand. It was truely a day I think we all came away feeling absolutely blessed and thankful.