This grassroots volunteer effort is bringing desperately-needed veterinary services to a tropical island off the coast of Thailand.
When Kevin and Misti Horton decided to vacation on the island of Koh Mak two years ago, they never expected their trip would lead to the construction of a veterinary clinic. But that’s exactly what happened. As of this writing, the Koh Mak Animal Care Center is ready to open its doors to veterinarians who want to volunteer time to help the island’s animals while enjoying a tropical getaway.
An island paradise with a tragic side
Koh Mak lies just off the coast of Thailand. It’s easily accessible by ferry or motorboat, and its breathtaking scenery is a popular attraction for travelers. Though it’s a tropical paradise, Misti and Kevin soon discovered it has a dark side in the form of many homeless and starving animals.
“At one point I was feeding eight dogs and several cats and kittens every day,” Misti says. Without enough to eat, these dogs and cats suffer from weakened immune systems that can lead to potentially life-threatening diseases like sarcoptic mange, which is rampant among Koh Mak’s dogs. “The dogs also often get hit by cars and have nobody to go to,” Misti adds. “They just end up with broken hips or legs and have to learn to live with these injuries for the rest of their lives.”
Homeless dogs and cats are a huge problem throughout Asia, and groups such as Soi Dog are already overwhelmed, working in more heavily populated areas such Bangkok and Phuket. Unfortunately, these organizations are not reaching beyond major cities, and places like Koh Mak are left without much help. The homeless dog and cat population continues to grow in these regions, and so does the suffering.
An idea becomes reality
Kevin and Misti knew that Koh Mak desperately needed a vet clinic, but didn’t know how to make it happen. Then serendipity stepped in to lend a hand. A year ago, Kevin met Dr. Laia Blanco, a veterinarian with a practice in London, England. He talked to her about Koh Mak’s dilemma, and her enthusiastic advice and support turned out to be invaluable. Then came a generous donation of property on the island, with a serene ocean view. As a builder, Kevin had the skills necessary to turn the concept into a plan, and island residents and visitors jumped at the chance to help. Every bit of construction material was donated, from concrete blocks to electrical and plumbing supplies. In fact, the entire project was constructed by volunteers, under Kevin’s careful supervision.
Funding for the clinic has come from a variety of sources. Cash donations are made by visitors to the island, local community fundraisers have helped, and a Paypal account shared through Facebook has resulted in donations from around the world. “We also set up a crowdfunding page at Generosity/Indiegogo,” says Kevin. “There’s no overhead on this project, so everything goes to materials.”
Even medical supplies are being donated, after Dr. Blanco put out the word to her associates. “Some folks came down from London on Boxing Day of 2015 and brought donations so we’ve got a large bag of surgical equipment, retractors, scissors, clamps and everything else, as well as suture material,” Kevin says.
The Koh Mak Animal Care Center was set to open at the end of 2016, but a large surprise donation received in August enabled Kevin to cover the cost of finishing the building and getting the clinic ready ahead of time. As of this writing, the center is set to open its doors on December 1. The facility includes comfortable accommodations for volunteers to stay for free; in exchange, the vets will provide the island’s animal population with much-needed veterinary services.
The world takes notice
Support and advice for the Koh Mak Animal Care Center has come from as far away as the North Sea, and veterinarians are already lining up to volunteer. Veterinarian Dr. Pauline Gunther is among them. She runs a clinic in northern Germany and has been to the island many times. “I was very happy to hear of the clinic,” she says. “I love Kevin for the optimism he has.”
Interest in the project is also growing in the US. Dr. Tracy Huang is a California veterinarian who spent much of her childhood in Thailand, and has volunteered with Soi Dog in the past. “I have organized field clinics in underserved regions such as Nicaragua, and also have a personal interest in animal welfare work in Thailand.”
Future veterinarian and Tennessee State University student Beth Ann Molesky has already started planning her trip to Koh Mak. “I want to volunteer because of the new experiences it will bring me, with the animals and a different culture. I’ll be helping out where I’m needed.”
“I think I know a lot of people who would take advantage of this opportunity,” adds Dr. Karl E. Jandrey of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. “Veterinarians really care enough to ensure their work has impact. It’s a win-win situation when you can combine some volunteerism with a travel opportunity.”
Bringing out the best in people
Kevin and Misti say that building a veterinary clinic on Koh Mak has brought out the best in people. To recognize and thank those who have helped with the project, Kevin is having an image of a Bodhi Tree, known in Buddhism as a Wisdom Tree, placed on the front wall. “Each leaf will have the name of everybody who has helped.”
It’s a fitting gesture, especially as the Buddhist monks on the island already know Kevin by name. They’re excited to see the clinic open because island residents often leave sick or injured animals with them, even though the monks have no medical knowledge, facilities, medications nor equipment to deal with them.
It’s hoped that the Koh Mak Animal Care Center will become a model for more of its kind. Given the interest and support this clinic has already sparked, the idea may inspire others to do the same, potentially saving many more lives in regions of the world where animals are in desperate need of proper care.