It will soon be the end of 2016 and thoughts will turn to holidays in 2017. Regular readers will know I suggest that volunteering at an animal refuge is a wonderful way to spend a week – but there are some ground rules which need to be born in mind. It’s not actually a holiday as such – cleaning kennels, feeding dogs, washing bedding...but there is always time off to do sightseeing, or just play with the dogs!
Most volunteers know this; many return year on year to their preferred refuge whilst others like to go to a different area and meet different people. But the ground rules remain the same!
1. Remember that the people who own/run the refuge are the ones there 24/7 365 days a year and know the dogs in their care inside out. They know their characters, likes and dislikes, which dogs get on with others, or not.
2. Do not question any instructions relating to the care of the dogs – helpful suggestions will be considered.
3. Dogs like routine, refuges run on routine, so please adhere to the daily routine of the refuge wherever possible – obviously if bad weather hits and it’s all hands on deck, then carry out the emergency tasks asked of you.
4. Chat to the team who run the refuge. If you see a thin dog, ask why it is thin. Don’t publish a picture on the Internet assuming the dog isn’t fed! It is likely there is a medical reason the dog is thin – it may have survived the parvo disease, for example, which can affect a dog’s digestive system and mean however much it is fed, it still looks ribby! Even though it is healthy and happy!
5. Many dogs suffer stress when first arriving in a shelter – the time it takes for them to adjust varies. Ask how long the dog has been in the shelter, what condition it was in when it arrived. All volunteers at a shelter work hard at rehabilitating the dogs – some take months to adjust. Remember, dogs are not made available for adoption until the refuge staff are satisfied the dog is ready.
6. Most refuges provide accommodation where possible but don’t expect it to be free. You may be asked to pay a nightly rate and provide your own food. Alternatively you could book into a local hostellery.
7. If you want to explore an area in your free time, consider hiring a car locally.
Volunteering at a shelter in Spain is about experiencing life on the front line – what the volunteers live with day in and day out. It’s a working holiday which can be great fun, so long as the above points are noted. And remember, any decent refuge can give a volunteer a wealth of information about all the dogs IF ONLY YOU BOTHER TO ASK. DON’T publish on social media criticizing before you know the true facts and have given the shelter team to answer your query!
But these latter people are in the minority, most volunteers appreciate that they go out to work with the animals and help with the daily workload of the people there fulltime. It’s a really wonderful way of getting to know lots of different dogs, and experiencing for a short time what life is like for the amazing people who devote their every-day life to rescuing, caring for and rehabilitating the unwanted hounds of Spain.