When you first drive from the airport in Koh Samui (or just about anywhere in Thailand), you might be surprised to see Koh Samui dogs going about their day – walking along the roadside, or sleeping in the dust. Find a particularly scruffy one and set it to sad music, you’ve got an adopt-a-tragedy infomercial. Take another look with Thai eyes, and they’re just part of the scenery. What should you know about dogs on Koh Samui?
Koh Samui dogs: What to know?
Stray dogs? Beach dogs? Pet dogs? Koh Samui dogs are a noticeable population, but they won’t feature in your holiday unless you seek them out. ‘Stray’ is a term that doesn’t really translate in Thailand, as these aren’t dogs really looking for human affection or an indoor home. Nor are they wild. They’re just… Samui specials. Fairly independent with an uncanny sense of traffic, these dogs are familiar faces around the community. (Locally they’re called ‘soi dogs’, which means street – they tend not to venture very far from home turf and are able to sleep soundly, inches from the street). Often a local resident feeds them, or restaurants give them scraps.
Koh Samui dogs with collars: These dogs have owners, but still tend to entertain themselves – as dogs did in the olden days before bylaws, licensing and animal control. Here again, we don’t think the Western term ‘dog owner’ has a direct Thai equivalent. You won’t see owners taking their dogs for a walk, or training them to shake a paw. Think more along the lines of ‘fairly disinterested teenage babysitter’, one who will probably feed the kids and generally keep them alive – but won’t dispense bedtime stories or take them on holiday. They’re just dogs doing dog things.
Dogs at Koh Samui restaurants and small hotels: Many restaurants have their own pet dog/s (and/or cats) ambling around (and such pets are often a good indication that the premises are kind to animals), but strays aren’t allowed close.
Who looks after the dogs on Koh Samui?
We recently mentioned the noticeable decrease in the Samui dog population over the past 10 years. Behind everything good for animal welfare on Koh Samui is Dog and Cat Rescue Samui (DCRS), the Bob Geldof to island dogs. Opened in 1999, their Chaweng clinic provided the island’s first vet. Today they operate from two sites (one in Chaweng and one towards the island’s southwest, in Taling Ngam) to provide an animal rescue, veterinary clinic and shelter services. A quick scan of any street corner now and then would demonstrate their huge strides:
- 1999: Samui’s stray population was increasing by 10,000 puppies each year.
- 2012: Thanks to an ongoing spay/neuter programme (over 13,000 animals), there are 10 times fewer dogs on the island now than in 1999.
- 6 x 6: The old snip-snip? Six lucky dogs, six days a week say bye to their bits.
- 300-400: Combined, the two DCRS sites house between 300-400 dogs and approximately 100 cats.
The great success of DCRS is obvious to many return visitors. On our first visit in 2003, we saw a lot of skinny, sorry puppies. While DCRS must see sad stories on a daily basis, their work means that a majority of Samui dogs today look healthy and well fed.
How to help Koh Samui dogs?
1. Donate your spare Thai Baht
Of course, donations are always welcome – largely to cover the cost of food. Feeding up to 500 animals can require between 4,000-5,000 kilos of food each month (the weight of a full-grown, male Asian elephant). Many hotels and restaurants have donation boxes, a great home for your loose change at the end of your trip.
If you’ve got a soft spot for animals and want to fill a rainy afternoon (or beat the heat when you’ve had enough sun), volunteers are very welcome and no experience is required. (The DCRS has a story about building a new cage for an abandoned pet monkey, with some funny pictures of volunteers walking the garden shed-sized cage down Chaweng beach). Centres are open daily between 9 am and 6 pm (details here).
A Koh Samui Guide customer, Luna, kindly shared her experience volunteering at DCRS:
About 80 dogs a year are adopted overseas. It’s a long and costly process, but DRCS has resources and willingness to help anyone interested.
Dogs on Koh Samui: Your FAQs
Is there rabies on Koh Samui? Since opening in 1999, DCRS has been giving island dogs (including strays in their care, and across Samui) a range of health treatments including rabies vaccinations, mange treatment, de-worming and first aid. Thanks to their efforts, rabies on Koh Samui has been all but eliminated.
Should you feed Samui dogs? Speaking for ourselves – as total dog lovers – we don’t. Our view is that teaching a dependency on us (tourists who will leave in short order) doesn’t do them any favours. It could also habituate a dog to return to wherever you’ve fed it, causing problems and confusion when the next tourists to visit. (Obviously, we’d call DCRS if a dog looked in particular distress – they will happily dispatch a team to collect it).
What breed are Koh Samui dogs? It’s not a technical term, but we call them ‘Samui specials’. The Mr. Potato Head version of Koh Samui’s dogs: all built from the same parts, with slight variation – a few of which, those at the extremes, can really make you laugh.
How to avoid Koh Samui dogs? Are you scared of dogs? Can you handle mutual ignoring? Dogs on the beach are very easily avoided, they spend 99% of their time sleeping or trotting elsewhere on Official Dog Business. Unless you make earnest invitations to hand-feed them sausages, they won’t come near you. You might occasionally see a pack of beach dogs chasing off a new dog, but such spats are short-lived. You won’t find dogs within restaurants or hotels (unless they belong to the establishment as pets). In such case, if you indicate to the proprietor that you don’t want to be near the animal, he’ll be quickly shooed away. Tourists come higher in the pecking order.