Pet owners and world travelers, these two life categories would appear to be mutually exclusive. It is a cruel twist of fate that those of us who love our animals are also so inexplicably drawn to explore the world more fully. Leaving your children behind, no matter how many legs they have, is never easy. Yet, we go. Every year hundreds or thousands of us leave our dogs with family members, pet sitters and friends in order to heed the call of the open road. For volunteer travelers, however, there may be some solace.
Giving back has become a core value for many a worldly explorer. However, when people think of volunteering overseas they often conjure up an image in their mind of building schools or working directly with at risk youth. Others set out to provide health education to rural communities or volunteer as advocates for human rights. Even assisting in wildlife field studies is becoming prevalent. But, pet lovers have another option.
From the cart-horses of South Africa to the cats of Caye Caulker in Belize, animal rescues are now finding helping hands and helpful funds by offering volunteer programs. No domestic species in benefiting more from this altruistic boom than the dog. Unlike any other species, when you volunteer with dogs you become immersed in their pure joy at simply having you there by their side.
There are any numbers of ways visiting travelers are able to help out at animal rescue facilities. Consider the most common projects for volunteers prior to deciding if shelter work is right for you.
- Socialize with the Dogs: Simply sitting and petting dogs can truly make a big difference. Be it adult dogs, or puppies just in from the street, the more comfortable a dog becomes with human contact the more likely he is to warm up to strangers and ultimately to potential adoptive families.
- Cleanings: From changing blankets to poop scooping, cleaning at any animal rescue never ends. It’s part of the gig. Here is what you don’t know: The pros (a.k.a. serial volunteers) love to start off by poop scooping. It’s their little trick. When you clean you are doing exactly as the trusted staff does in a routine the animals are familiar with. You have a purpose and the dogs know what to expect. This puts the animals at ease, shows them you fit in and allows them a chance to approach you at their own pace.
- Walking: Walking does more than exercise dogs. It provides them valuable one on one interaction with a real person of their very own. It also gives a dog a chance to sniff, dig, mark and do what comes naturally. You don’t need to be a marathon runner, just take a dog out for a stroll. You’ll make his day.
- Bathing: Baths offer another great chance for ‘one-on-one’ time with animals, while helping out the shelter team. Bathing at rescue facilities is frequently a part of a medically prescribe regiment to combat mange, seborrhea, etc. Medicated shampoos set for up to 10 minutes after being applied. This is a great chance to just relax, massage and generally hang out with an animal in your care. Add a little rub down with a towel afterwards and you will make a friend for life.
- There’s more: Picking up food bowls, cleaning water dishes, hanging laundry, brushing dogs, cleaning ears, trapping, repairing the facility… Odds are good that if you are around a shelter for more than a couple days you will be asked to help with a growing variety of projects.
These are just a few of the ways volunteers at global animal rescues can help in the day to day running of a domestic shelter. Willing hands and an open heart are all it takes to make a difference in the lives of animals. Like most volunteer opportunities, every dog rescue program is different. However, there are several common question travelers should ask themselves before committing to volunteer.
1) Can I handle the difficult things I will see? Most volunteer travelers come from countries where we race Rover to the vet if he gets so much as a small bump on his skin. That is not the case elsewhere. Dogs in many countries often have no owners at all. From the temple dogs of Thailand to the market dogs of Namibia, the few animals lucky enough to make it into a rescue system often arrive in horrific condition. One key to dealing with this is to remind oneself that the animal is now on his first step towards a better life. Look around at the other animals that are now thriving. Seeing them move from unwanted pests into the arms of a loving family is the brass ring of street dog rescue. Go for the brass ring!
2) Can I think as part of a team, yet work independently? Small rescue’s are often 100% volunteer run or have a small local staff, all stretched thin buy their duties. Medicating, feeding, cleaning and a quick pat on the heads of their charges can take every moment of a dog caregivers long days. Training volunteers at a shelter often only takes a few hours, but even that can stretch personnel resources to the limit. The payoff for the shelter comes when the volunteer then works independently with care and dogged determination. If you expect the staff to hold your hand, wait around to hand you dogs to walk and clean up after you, then rescuing is not the right volunteer work for you.
3) Can I handle the physical work? You don’t have to be Hercules to help dogs, but keep in mind that animal rescue work if physically draining and it is never clean. There is a phrase in the animal rescue business: “A white-pants volunteer.” Imagine a dog caregiver feeding 150 dogs when a taxi filled with much anticipated help arrives out front. The dogs go crazy with excitement. A visitor, a visitor, will they throw the ball for me? Will my belly be rubbed? Then, the dog-hair-enveloped caregiver looks up to see three people carrying large cameras, dressed in white pants stumble up to the front gate. One of them is wearing high-heeled shoes. This is a nightmare scenario and it happens all too often. Arrive prepared to sweat, stink and wallow in mud, not to shoot a cove for Vogue.
4) Am I an independent traveler? By their nature, dog rescue volunteer programs tend to be best suited for independent travelers. While many are fee free, arranging and paying for accommodations, meals and transport are also left up to the traveler. In addition, animal shelters are often located far from tourist hubs. Arrive prepared. Know you accommodation options and be prepared to deal with transportation or immerse in a quiet local community.
Once you have decided to commit yourself to making a difference in the lives of dogs, it is time to decide where to go. Here are some grassroots organizations seeking volunteers. Read up on their program specifics – language needs, rabies and other vaccines requirements, locations, etc., then email them about getting references from past volunteers. Next, ask about your travel dates and any further information you will need. Once you have done the advance work, it is your time to venture forth and see Spot live!
AWARE (Animal Welfare Association Rescue/Education)
Locations: Sumpango, Guatemala Cost: $5.00 a day for volunteer housing (beds, showers, kitchen, etc.), no food included Duration: 2+ weeks Age: 18 Learn more: www.animalaware.org
Baja Dogs La Paz,
Locations: La Paz, Baja, Mexico Cost: None Duration: Open Age: 18 Learn more: www.bajadogslapaz.org
Locations: Beaches throughout Panama Cost: $400 per week Duration: 1 week Age: 18 Learn more: www.spaypanama.org
The Bahamas Humane Society
Locations: New Providence, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Exuma and Abaco. Cost: None Duration: 1+ days Age: 18 Learn more: www.bahamashumanesociety.com
Best Friends Animal Society
Locations: Outside the town of Kanab in southern Utah, USA Cost: None (a few on-site cabins are available to rent) Duration: Flexible—some volunteers help for a few hours and some stay for weeks or longer Age: Under 18 must be with a parent. Learn more: www.bestfriends.org
Abandoned Dogs Home via Otra Cosa Network
Locations: 10 minutes outside of Huanchaco, Peru Cost: $115 Duration: 2 to 16 weeks Age: 19 or 18 with relevant experience Learn more: www.otracosa.nl
Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals
Location: Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India Cost: $100 donation Duration: 2+ weeks Age: 18 Learn more: www.vspca.org
Animal Rescue Kerala
Location: Kerala, Southern India Cost: $145 for any length stay Duration: 6+ weeks Age: 18 Learn more: www.animalrescuekerala.org
Himalayan Nature Society
Location: Dharamsala, India Cost: None Duration: 1+ weeks Age: 18 Learn more: www.hnsindia.org
People for Animals
Location: In the village of Gamru in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, India Cost: $5 for membership Duration: 2 weeks Age: Open Learn more: www.pfabangalore.org
Help in Suffering, Maharani Farm
Location: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India Cost: Varies Duration: Open Age: 18 Learn more: www.his-india.org.au
Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA)
Location: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia Cost: None Duration: 1 day or more Age: 16, or under with parents Learn more: www.bawabali.com
Langkawi Animal Sanctuary and Shelter Foundation (LASSie)
Location: Langkawi, Malasia Cost: None Duration: Varied Age: 21 Learn more: www.langkawilassie.org.my
Care for Dogs Foundation
Location: Outside Chiang Mai, Thailand Cost: None (CfD can help arrange a nearby homestay) Duration: 1+ days Age: 18 Learn more: www.carefordogs.org
Phangan Animal Care (PAC)
Location: Koh Phangan Island in the Gulf of Thailand Cost: None Duration: 2 to 3 months Age: 21 Learn more: www.pacthailand.org
SCAD (Soi Cat and Dog) Bangkok
Location: Two locations (1 for cats, 1 for dogs) around Bangkok, Thailand Cost: None Duration: 2 weeks, 1+ month full-time strongly preferred Age: 18 and mature Learn more: www.scadbangkok.org
Soi dogs Foundation
Location: Phuket, Thailand Cost: None (transportation from a few points on the island is available) Duration: varies Learn more: www.soidog.org
Location: Ndola, Zambia Cost: None Duration: 10 days to 1 month Age: 20 Learn more: http://www.facebook.com/USPCA#!/group.php?gid=6930052438 or volunteer to build them a website.
Mozambique Animal Protection Society
Location: Maputo, Mozambique Learn more: mapsmoz.weebly.com
Esther Honey Foundation
Location: Rarotonga, Cook Islands Cost: None Duration: 2 weeks to 1 year Learn more: www.estherhoney.org
Bulgarian Society for Animal Protection and Preservation
Location: Sofia, Bulgaria Cost: None Duration: 1+ week for at least 4 hrs per day Age: 16 Learn more: www.bsapp.org
Animal Welfare Karpathos
Location: Karpathos Island, Greece Cost: None Duration: Open Age: 18 Learn more: www.animalwelfarekarpathos.org
The Ark, Friends of Animals
Location: Corfu Island, Greece Cost: None Duration: 3+ days Age: 18 Learn more: www.corfuanimalwelfare.com
Others organizations mentioned in this article:
Cart Horse Protection Association, South Africa: http://carthorse.org.za
P.A.W. Cat Sanctuary & Humane Society, Belize: www.pawanimalsanctuarybelize.com