After all the general information in my previous blog posts about volunteering abroad and volunteering for FREE with Workaway, it’s finally time to tell you about my own volunteer experience at an animal shelter in Peru!
I used to volunteer in an animal shelter with street dogs & had an amazing experience that I want to share with you in this blog post.
Esperanza Canina- the project
In November 2019 I volunteered in an organization called “Esperanza Canina” that takes care of street dogs. And you can’t even imagine how many street dogs there are in Peru- it’s just crazy!
Exactly this is the reason why it’s so amazing that there is a place taking care and improving the situation.
“Esperanza Canina” is an association that rescues hurt, sick, mistreated and abandoned dogs from the street. They bring them to the shelter where they take care of the dogs, give them necessary medicine and treatment, food and of course lots of cuddles and love!
The end goal is to find a family for the dogs that want to adopt them when they are ready, so they get a nice and cozy home.
The association is 100% dependent on the help of volunteers and donations and are always looking for people to help out in the shelter.
They are doing a great job and you should definitely check out their website! (https://www.esperanzacanina.com/)
A small fisher village called Huanchaco
The project is based in Huanchaco.
That’s in the north of Peru directly located on the coast and also known as a paradise for surfers! 🙂
Not without reason, most of the travelers and backpackers who come here are usually staying longer than planned!
The small fisher town is just a perfect spot to spend the days strolling through little streets surrounded by cute surf hostels, yoga places, nice restaurants, cafes and beach bars!
Not to forget the many surf shops where you can hire boards and catch the waves. Also for beginners there are several classes to book for awesome prices!
All in all, Huanchaco is a place that you can stay for a looong time.
Why this project?
When I applied for the position through Workaway, filled out an application form and got the spot, I was super excited! I’ve always wanted to work with animals and being a volunteer in an animal shelter was the perfect opportunity to finally do it. Especially because I am a dog lover!
➳ Want to volunteer abroad yourself? Become a member of Workaway! I partnered up with Workaway and have a unique link that will give you an extra 3 months of free membership on top.
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I absolutely love dogs and my heart is always bleeding when I see a puppy on the street hungry, sick and without a home. I always feel like wanting to help!
Then, I found this project on Workaway and knew right away that this was what I wanted to do.
I decided to volunteer for 1 month.
The minimum stay with this project is 3 weeks, as you have to get used to the work with the animals and the animals also to you.
That is often the case when working with animals, so the minimum stay in these projects tend to be longer than in other kind of projects.
➳ Read: Volunteering abroad- what, why and how?
Volunteer work at the animal shelter & my experience
We had 60 dogs in the shelter!
2 of them got adopted in my first week (such a nice feeling to see them getting a home!), so we had “only” 58 left. 😀
I know, this seems like a lot and on my first day I was a little overwhelmed by so many different (big, small, young and old) dogs. I thought I would never learn the names haha.
The fact that most of the dogs had their brothers/sisters and mums there (some dogs came to the shelter pregnant and got their puppies there), wouldn’t make it much easier. Some of them almost looked the same!
To my surprise though, I could already make a difference between them after 5 days and knew all the names!
All of the dogs are distributed in 4 different main areas.
The “cages” are big areas outside where the dogs have enough space to run around, play or relax in the “chilling areas”.
After arriving at the shelter, we had several tasks that need to be done. With 60 dogs in a shelter, there is much to do!
1. Pre-feeding & medicine
Some dogs eat separated from other dogs (for example the puppies and very young dogs) and get food first!
Also, the ones in need of medication get their medicine directly in the morning.
2. Cleaning all areas and cages (yes, mainly poo, 60 dogs digest a lot :-D)
Another daily task when you are a volunteer at an animal shelter is cleaning.
This includes cleaning poo, brooming carpets and blankets for the dogs, scrub and clean food- and water bowls & refill the water.
3. Main Feeding
This was always fun- imagine to feed 58 dogs and they all get a different amount of food and also different kind of food!
This task requires a lot of attention and concentration. The dogs need to eat out of their own bowls and of course, often try to steal other dogs’ food when they have finished. This means: paying attention and take care that the dogs leave each other alone eating.
4. Go for a walk with the dogs
If we were enough volunteers, we could go for a walk with the dogs.
Some volunteers stayed at the shelter cleaning and the other volunteers took one dog each and brought them to the beach.
The dogs are so excited when they come out of the shelter, are all good walkers, very human-friendly and just the cutest!
Walking the dogs on the beach.
5. Cuddling & playing
Once we were done with all the cleaning and feeding, it was cuddle time!
Probably the best part of the day.
All of the dogs are very cuddly. They love to get spoiled, brushed and be petted.
It was always a great feeling to see how happy the dogs were to see you too and how much they wanted to show their affection towards you.
6. Rescuing & Vet visits
During my volunteer time, I didn’t have the chance to actually see how a dog is getting rescued. With 58 dogs the shelter was already really full and we couldn’t take any new dogs… I would have loved to take part in this though!
At least I was able to meet the Veterinarian that came by a few times to take care of some sick dogs. That was really interesting to see.
Common questions from Instagram
How many volunteers & where did I live?
In total we were 7 volunteers and all lived in one apartment that was 3 minutes away from the beach.
The group was really mixed: Austrian, Dutch, German, French, Belgian, Kiwi and Australian!
Some volunteers left as their time was over and new ones arrived (some of the volunteers even stayed for 3 months!).
The apartment is big, very light and we were sleeping in shared bedrooms of 2-3 people. We all loved the place!
Also, we volunteers really grew together and became like a small family. We spent our days off together, did activities after work and went out to beach bars in the night.
That leads me to the next point: working hours!
We worked 6 days per week & each of us had 1 day off per week.
The shift started at 9:40 am and ended around 12:20 pm.
That’s a very short shift and we had half of the day left to enjoy our freetime.
In my freetime, I went to the beach, explored the “Chan Chan” ruins close to Huanchaco, went to the market, or just explored the town and its cute cafes.
Once or twice per week, each person had one afternoon shift from 4 pm – 5 pm.
This is just to go back and check if the dogs are okay, fill up the water and feed some of them again.
Besides that, “Esperanza Canina” organizes a Karaoke night once per month, where the volunteers sell cocktails, food and cake.
Meanwhile, the guests can sing and win great prices!
All the funds are used in favor of the dogs to finance the food and medicine.
What did I pay?
You won’t believe me, but the project is for free!
I didn’t have to pay anything for participating in this project. This is the case with all projects you can find on Workaway.
➳ Read: Volunteer for FREE with Workaway- the full guide.
The only thing I had to pay for was my accommodation (140 soles per week = 37,76 EUR per week), as well as for my own food and free time.
Most of the times volunteer projects in animal shelters or in general volunteering with animals cost much more because you also have to pay for the project itself.
Only paying 20 sol per day for my accommodation and free time also saved me money during my travels.
Meet some of the dogs
I won’t be able to introduce all of the 58 dogs, but here are a few!
➳ Thank you Lauren for offering me to use your pictures in my blog!
She was one of the volunteers & took the amazing profile pictures of the dogs. I LOVE her photography! Check out her Instagram here.
Support the dogs
After seeing all these cuties you might feel an urge to help & support them.
Here are two options on how:
1. Be a volunteer!
Maybe you are interested in volunteering at an animal shelter yourself and always wanted to go to Peru? Just apply for a volunteer position!
This is mostly the way you can help best, take action with your own hands- Esperanza Canina is always looking for helpers.
If you don’t have resources to go to Huanchaco, of course there is another way on how to help: donate!
You can easily donate on their website.
Just click here and you’ll find more information.
The money is being used for food, drinking bowls, the maintenance of the shelter, toys / new blankets for the dogs and medical care (e.g flea and tick treatments, vaccinations, sterilizations, etc.).
Just to give you an idea: by donating already 5 Euros you help to feed 1 dog for 2 weeks! Every bit helps. 🙂
Tips for volunteering at an animal shelter
1. Make sure you have all vaccinations.
When working with animals make sure that you have all the necessary vaccinations. It can always happen that you get bitten or have an open wound/scratch & a sick animal transfers a disease to you.
Check especially on rabies and some kinds of hepatitis!
2. Bring basic clothes!
They will get really dirty and you don’t want to mess up your favorite pants or shirts. I had to leave my sneakers with lots of holes behind…
3. Not everything is always nice and cuddly when working with animals
When many dogs are living close together, it can always happen that dog fights occur. Sometimes they are not very significant, but it can get more serious than just growling.
You should be prepared to go in between in case dog fights appear.
The first thing I learned: NEVER go in between with your HANDS, always take a stick trying to separate the dogs.
Water can also help! If you throw lots of water on the dogs, they usually get scared and let go.
This incident only happened twice during my volunteer and both times everything was ending fine.
Still, it was a little bit shocking when it came to the situation because I didn’t expect it to happen.
4. Volunteering isn’t just great for the animals
Even if the work can be exhausting after cleaning for a few hours and being covered in at least 20 different dog’s hair, you feel fulfilled and happy doing that work!
Being a volunteer at an animal shelter is so rewarding!
It’s just amazing to be surrounded by so many loving animals.
You will fall in love with the dogs pretty fast and it will be hard to say goodbye in the end.
After 1 month it was time to say goodbye…
The time went fast and it was surprisingly hard for me to say goodbye to the dogs. Already after the first weeks, I put all of the dogs into my heart!
I got to know them better every day and started seeing how different they are from each other. Every single one is special in their own way!
Of course, I also had my favorites with the time, and then it’s even harder to leave when you can’t take them with you or overtalk your parents to please adopt them haha.
I was leaving with sadness not knowing if I will ever see them again, but also with gratefulness for the experience, the people & other volunteers that I met, the fact that I made a difference to all of the dogs by simply helping in the shelter and giving them love that they need.
I deeply hope each one of them finds a home very soon!!
And who knows? Maybe I will be back sooner than I think! 🙂
Don’t miss: Watch my Vlog about my volunteer experience on Youtube to get a better insight! I take you with me through one day at the shelter. 🙂 Click here.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my volunteer experience in Peru! What do you think- would volunteering in an animal shelter with dogs be something for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!