Be it a rich history, cheap duty-free shopping, great aquatic life, and pristine beaches; Langkawi is a destination to be at. However, it has something special for animal lovers. The gentle pitter-patter outside our open-shuttered verandah windows; the friendly cats roaming the grassy grounds—some nuzzling up or others snuggling onto a welcoming lap and dogs barking in the distance told me that one is in a very special place for animal lovers.
Langkawi’s adjoining twin BonTon and Temple Tree resorts would earn plaudits alone just for its heritage conservation achievements—restored Chinese and colonial-era heritage bungalows brought over piecemeal from neighboring Penang island and the simpler wooden and bamboo kampong (Malay village) hut structures that dot the property. Also, the addition of an animal sanctuary called LASSie (Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary) for the care and treatment of stray cats and dogs make for a unique stay on this holiday island.
Founded by Australian ex-pat restaurateur and animal-lover Narelle McMurtrie, the Bon Ton and Temple Tree resorts, a short distance from Langkawi’s famed Pantai Cenang beach area, are established and fully support LASSie financially. LASSie was set up in 1994 to receive, rehabilitate and care for neglected, abused, and needy animals. The organization also runs the Langkawi Island Animal Clinic which is a charity project aimed at the sterilization of the stray cat population.
The Sanctuary has a no-kill policy and cares for animals whose age, disposition, or disability make them unlikely to find homes. Under the care of in-house veterinarian Dr. Tim Lim, these animals are given the opportunity to live their lives in dignity. An adoption center is also operated and animals put up for adoption are spayed, neutered, de-wormed, and vaccinated.
After getting oriented from the ferry from Penang and getting settled in our spacious, stately Colonial House dating from the 1920s, a former mansion of Arab traders settled in Penang, we gorged on delicious Middle-Eastern style mezze for lunch in the Bon Ton Restaurant and took a refreshing dip in the lap pool facing the marshlands.
Helping our furry friends
The next morning we got up bright and early to join the Nepalese staff and volunteers to help walk 40 dogs in the sanctuary. We were greeted by Dorothy, a Chinese-Malaysian fitness instructor who volunteers two hours a day to walk and take care of the dogs. The two sleek black male and female dogs straining at the leash, she told us, were named Posh and Becks, named after the UK celebrities. We were told that due to local culture and religion dogs were shunned, but cats seem to have a better fate, as the Prophet (PBUH) is said to have kept a cat and the cat was so beloved that once when the cat was sleeping on his coat, the Prophet cut off the sleeve of his coat rather than disturb the cat’s nap.
Before leaving, as a souvenir, I purchased a t-shirt in the Bon Ton gift shop with a printed design of a cartoon cat sheltered under an umbrella. The writing on the umbrella read, “Shade me if you love me”, and the caption underneath said “LASSie for Stray Animals”, a fitting remembrance of our stay at Temple Tree, Langkawi.