• Tara B. Vasi

January 5th 2020. Elephant Nature Park: Day 1. THIS IS IT!!!

The van from the Elephant Nature Park picked me up right at 8am. I had snoozed my alarm as much as possible in the morning. I traveled the entire day before, including a four hour layover, a flight delay, and arrived at the hostel around 10:30pm the night before. The hostel didnt leave me a key like they suggested in the email, so the owner came to let me in around midnight. I met some nice drunk people while I waited for the owner.

At 2:30am, a man unlocked the door to my private room and walked right in. I popped out of bed ready to attack. Another predator, so soon, eh?

Turns out the hostel had double booked the room I was staying in. His bags were in the closet the entire time, I just haven’t opened it. He ended up sleeping down the hallway in an open room. He apologized. I apologized. That hostel really has to get its shit together.

Any who, the Elephant Nature Park is located in the mountains a few hours outside of Chiang Mai.

The dog rescue volunteer coordinator greets me and starts to give me the tour around the property. He is from Scotland. He volunteered at the park for a week two years ago and never left. He wears Crocks and so does everyone else. He seems like a really good guy.

There were free roaming elephants, dogs, buffalo, goats, horses, and cats. Just like… chillin…. Right over there…. Just eating grass….

You’d expect there to be heaps of shit everywhere, but it really wasn’t that bad.

I remember when I was a kid and I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I responded, ‘Zoo keeper’. The person who asked the question said, ‘you know, zoo keepers pretty much just shovel up shit everyday.’ I said, ‘Eww.. gross.. I don’t want shovel shit. Ok, then, I’ll be a veterinarian.’ That person said, ‘you know, then you are going to have to put down dogs.‘ I said, Awww... I wont want to do that. I guess I don’t want to be a veterinarian.‘

I didn’t have another response after those two... I discounted being a zookeeper and a veterinarian thereafter...

I wonder what would have happened if that person said, ‘those are both noble professions. It’s really great that you want to help animals.’

The dogs roaming about come right up to you wanting pets and love. Craig tells me to be careful of the dogs with red collars because they can sometimes act unpredictably or aggressively. Noted.

The property is vast. There’s a main road running through the property and it is wide enough for small trucks, though there are mostly people on motor bikes or bicycles.

He shows me the hang out areas over looking the river and the elephants. I note that would be a perfect spot for sunrise or sunset yoga.

There is an entire caged in area full of bananas. Elephants love bananas. I love bananas. There are so many bananas.

Craig shows me the little cafe, canteen, and the dining area where we will be served our vegetarian buffet three times a day.

There are a decent amount of people at the park and I ask if they are all volunteers. He tells me they are one day elephant park volunteers. He says to make sure to get to lunch early because they will seriously eat every morsel. Day peeps are only there for lunch.

He shows me that cat sanctuary. There are a ton of cats lounging about in these huts on stilts. Livin the life.

We loop around and back to the dog rescue center. The place is well kept and organized. There are 512 dogs on the property at this very moment. They follow the same schedule every day. Each day they get fed twice and walked twice. Each day their enclosure or cage gets cleaned. Each day they get socialization time with volunteers and other dogs (if they aren’t injured or assholes). The afternoon activity/chore rotates each week. It could be bathing, grooming, etc So, I know exactly what I am doing every day! It’s written on a board. Holy shit. Amazing.

And, I get to help walk them??? YES!!!!

I try to tell myself to calm down, to not get too excited. I don’t want to get let down again….

There are 16 enclosures they call runs that hold a group of dogs, usually of the same size and temperament. At the front door of each enclosure, there are cards that display a picture of each dog, its name, gender, age, and any other additional information if there is any. I have been having a great time learning names and playing whose who.

I “awwwwwww, hi there, helloooo” for like the next four hours of my life. I am in doggy heaven and they are all so excited to greet me. Its like they have been waiting for me!

Fuck it! This place rules and I am not going to NOT be excited, just because there’s potential that it could NOT work out. Screw that… this feels too good!

There is a very special unit for the disabled dogs and I can see some walking around with their front legs and dragging their back legs. I see a dog in a wheel chair and one in a rehabilitation pool. I can’t wait to visit with the disabled dogs tomorrow.

Theres another special area for the small dogs. There are a ton of Pomeranian mutts and I am surprised to see a frenchie or two.

Craig shows me the clinic. This is where dogs with boo boo’s go to get better. There is a big vet office and a row of smaller separate enclosures holding dogs with cones of shame or casts on their limbs. Each cage has an information sheet on the door that charts walks, meals, and poops. It describes the dogs condition and plan of action. I want to curl up in a ball with them and tell them its going to be OK! Their eyes look so pained….

Within the clinic, there is an area called the Gallery. This a heated area for dogs that are sick with pneumonia or respiratory infections.

Then theres quarantine. Solitary confinement.

I meet the other dog rescue volunteers at lunch. Many of the volunteers have volunteered with the park before and are back to do it again. Others booked one week and then kept extending and have been at the park for months.

I met a girl from Australia named Emily. The fires are super close to her house in Sydney. It’s so sad. She just came from Bali. She stepped on some coral and cut her foot pretty bad. She’s got a hell of a limp, poor girl.

There are also a few couples, one from Australia, one from England, and two ladies that live in Chiang Mai but visit the park quite often to help out.

Everyone is SO friendly and I love hearing them talk about their favorite dogs or what this dog did or that dog, or this dog got adopted or this puppy is all grown up.

They truly care and love all of the 512 dogs and can pretty much name them all too! Looks like I have a new challenge!

Craig shows Emily and I where we will be sleeping. Simple and to the point. Bed, bug net, electricity. Fine by me…

The volunteer house comes with house dogs, that aren’t actually let into the house. They are all soo cute and its been fun learning their personalities. Emily and I lay on the ground and they all swarm us. Jenson is the alpha. He is a black wise old man dog with piercing brown eyes. There’s James, who we call Skinny James, that looks like a hyena or a super high Snoop dog. He plopped down right in my lap and licked my face and I am pretty sure we are now best friends.

Theres a nibbly little lady with a blue spotted tongue, and a licky girl with a mohawk, and then the black brothers with the white patch on their chest, and the fluffy white biotch that just barks and barks and barks…. Hahaha I’ll learn their names in no time….The dogs start shedding with all the petting and I start sneezing…. Have I mentioned that I am allergic to dogs…..? Yeah...

When I was young, I remember the doctor told me I was allergic to dogs. I cried and called her a witch 🤷🏻‍♀️

In the afternoon, Emily and I are in charge of the feeding, walking, and cleaning the cages of the dogs in the Gallery. We take turns cleaning and walking the dogs, though I do much more walking then cleaning because Emily can’t walk too well with her bummed food. Depending on the dog, some dogs take short walks and some take normal walks. There are signs as to where to stop walking for each kind of walk on the street. They really take the guess work out of everything…

Some dogs LOVE the walk, others just sit there and stare at you. Some are super sniffy and ignore other dogs, others bark at everything even the elephants and the buffalo. One sweet old lady Margie who had a respiratory infection didnt want to walk, so I carried her around the grounds for a bit to get some fresh air. We danced. She seemed grateful.

Emily and I mopped the floors, gave everyone fresh water, and cleaned the breakfast bowls from the morning. I loved every second of it. Until I slipped and fell. I’m ok. I’m ok.

We ended early which meant I could do some yoga before dinner. I was fortunate enough to practice yoga during the sunset, overlooking the river and the elephants. The river and the ELEPHANTS.

My mantra for practice was, This is IT! THIS IS FUCKING IT!!!

It was all right there.

Dinner was delicious. I left soon after to call it an early night. I walked back to my room alone and in the dark. I wasn’t scared at all.


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