Written by Vytautas Vaitkevicius.
Vytautas is a passionate freelance writer, traveler, and nature lover. During his travels, he met countless stray dogs and volunteered in an animal shelter, inspiring him to write more about animals.
I was traveling in Latin America for almost six months already when I decided it was time to stop for a little while and do something for others, not just travel for myself.
A break was needed – especially a meaningful one.
And after seeing so many stray dogs in Latin America, an animal shelter was a perfect destination.
I invite you to read the short yet meaningful volunteering journey.
The one that allowed me to improve the lives of those who needed it the most.
Here’s my experience of volunteering in an animal shelter in Colombia.
Finding The Opportunity to Volunteer
During my trip to South America, I was constantly searching for opportunities to volunteer.
It’s not easy, but I managed to find a few via Workaway – a platform connecting travelers with hosts to arrange homestays, cultural exchanges, and more.
Volunteers or “Workawayers” contribute a pre-agreed amount of time per day in exchange for accommodation or food (sometimes both).
Some other types of volunteering available include gardening, babysitting, farming, and many more.
After sending out multiple inquires in Colombia, the opportunity finally revealed itself!
Real-Life Heroes And The Foundation
The foundation is located on the outskirts of Campoalegre (Google Maps link), a small, non-touristic town in the vast country of Colombia.
The organization is entirely non-profit and often struggles with finances.
That’s why some volunteers end up leaving a donation, even after they have dedicated their time and effort for weeks.
Gloria, the woman running the foundation, is in her seventies and is giving all of her time and energy to the animals and the sanctuary.
Every day, all day, with no days off – she’s an actual real-life hero.
I have never seen a person devoted so much to something as Gloria is to other living beings.
When I arrived, I was met with a symphony of barking by around 50-70 dogs! A loud and warm welcome indeed.
I found three lady workers on the property and two other volunteers from France and Germany.
My accommodation was a room and a mattress in an exotic maloca-style hut.
I also got three excellent meals per day throughout my stay.
But if there is one thing to point out, it is that the conditions here are very, very simple and without modern luxuries we’re so often used to. Living here is not for everyone!
And since the shelter has nearly 200 cats and dogs combined, the work sometimes can be pretty intense and unpredictable!
Activities And Work Load
My day usually started early, at around 5:30 AM.
I was permanently assigned to the morning shift, and the work usually had some extra hours every day.
After all, we are dealing with live creatures that need care and attention all day long!
So, instead of 4 hours a day, I usually worked for 6-8 hours.
Some of the main tasks included:
- Sweeping the territory.
- Cleaning the cages and litter boxes.
- Feeding the animals.
- Washing dishes.
- Painting cages and fences.
- Paving the pathways.
- Removing ticks from the animals.
- Giving animals bath and medicine.
- And of course, playing with them!
Unfortunately, saying goodbye and burying was also one of the activities I had to do.
Sometimes, despite all the efforts, animals were not able to survive.
Most of the animals coming into the shelter are from the streets; therefore, they usually come with small/medium-sized wounds.
But even those wounds are only a tiny part of the baggage they carry.
Diseases like cancer, flu, and other serious health problems are common among dogs and cats in the shelter.
They also come in hungry and weak, and sometimes, it becomes hard to keep some of them from overeating.
The most vulnerable are the youngest animals, who sometimes do not make it due to their weak immune system and lack of strength.
The Element of Compassion
Seeing them get adopted, witnessing them get much better and happier in a matter of days is simply incredible.
Before coming here, I already knew that there would be a lot of work and extra hours every day.
And even when you work the extra mile every day, the result is satisfying most of the time.
Being able to impact other lives directly is a feeling like no other that builds more compassion, which then can be carried to other life ventures.
To Sum Up
During my two-week stay in this shelter: two animals died, three were adopted, and eight new ones were brought in.
Some of the animals brought in are very weak and have a low chance of survival from the very beginning.
Even with all the help and love, some of them don’t manage to survive.
However, I mostly saw the bright side and how they get so much better, healthier, happier, and playful from being miserable, not moving, and barely eating.
That’s why it was one of the most memorable volunteering experiences in my life.
Photos by Vytautas Vaitkevicius.