This week I volunteered at El Perro Abandonado (The Abandoned Dog), a dog shelter here in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. My Couchsurfing hosts recommended it to me before I came and I’m glad they did!
It was only a 15-minute walk from their house. I just showed up and said I’d like to help and be a volunteer. They asked me what I wanted to do and gave me a bunch of options in Spanish that I didn’t understand. The one word I did understand, limpiar, means to clean. So I said I would help clean. This discussion was happening with the owner of the shelter, Margarita. She said in English “good, we need you.” because from what I understand one of their cleaners quit.
When she passed me off to the two cleaning employees she told them to speak slowly because “he doesn’t speak Spanish very well.” Well, it’s true but I was standing right there!
I worked with cleaners Tony and Bola and had a good time cleaning all of the dog cages. The procedure was simple. Let the dog out, empty the dog’s water bowl, spray the floor with water, pour on some cleaning solution, brush the floor with a broom, add some second cleaning solution, brush the floor again, squeegee the excess liquid, mop up the rest of the water, and put the dog back in the cage. Pretty easy, but it’s important since the dogs make a mess of their cages daily.
Speaking of every day, cleaning is not something I do everyday and after the second cage I could feel my muscles in my arms and back getting tired. I felt like such a city boy wimp!
While the cage is cleaned, a trainer hangs out with the dogs, gives them love, and works with them.
Margarita, the owner of the shelter, and I spoke about what her passions are and what her goals are. Clearly, her passion is dogs, their rights, and their well-being. But dogs is just where she applies this philosophy. She envisions a world free of violence, discrimination, and mistreatment toward every living thing.
The organization has three goals:
I am not Mexican and I didn’t fully understand everything she told me due to the language barrier, but one of her main goals is changing the culture toward dogs in Mexico. Many people see them as animals that belong in the street, that they are dirty, and that they can and should fend for themselves.
To combat this, they do a lot of work with children in San Luis Potosi. She allows the kids to experience the joys of playing with a dog and that natural bond between man and dog. She educates them and sees this as a long-term solution to the problem.
As Bob Barker would always say at the end of The Price Is Right, “help control the pet population.” They are doing their part by sterilizing all the animals they take in and even offering sterilization as a free service to those who bring in their dogs. Of course, the veterinarian only comes certain days a month so you can’t just walk in and have it done. But the service is available and free.
3. The Shelter
The shelter is really remarkable. When a dog is brought in, it often has medical issues that need to be dealt with, as well as mental health issues. They work with the dogs on both fronts to rehabilitate them. Once rehabilitated, they train the dogs to be good pets and the end goal is adoption.
There is a lot of open space for the dogs to run around and enjoy. There is an obstacle course for them to train on. And there are trained professionals pouring their love into the rehabilitation of these animals.
After she explained all this, I thanked her for her time and told her that she is one of the everyday heroes I am trying to find on my trip. They are the people you pass by on the street doing incredible things but you’d never know otherwise. I explained my background and my project and her attitude changed completely. She understood what I am trying to do because I guess in many ways it is exactly what she is doing. She said it was an honor that my first volunteer experience was with them and it was just a wonderful way to end the first day of volunteering. The honor was mine.
She wasn’t there the rest of my time volunteering there, but I enjoyed my time there thoroughly. And I hope my upcoming volunteering experiences are as great as this one was. Even though I was basically just cleaning poop and dirt off the floor in these dog’s cages, it gave me a level of satisfaction I don’t think I could achieve in the corporate world (or at least I haven’t yet).
One more small note. When I first arrived at the shelter I went into the office. The first thing I saw in the office was this magnet. I recognized it immediately because I bought the same magnet in Norway at the Nobel Peace Center. It was definitely a good sign!
The shelter is funded by donations. Feel free to visit their website and, if you feel inspired, send a donation their way.