There are almost 339 recognised breeds of dog in the world…. so say this lot (Dog breeds) with many more mixed breeds, or mongrels, ranging from the very small to the extremely large, in every shape and colour.
Simple creatures, all they need is food, exercise, some positive interaction with a little training and they’ll be your best friend for life, your constant buddy, family member and protectorate. The perfect companion for humans and quite possibly the most loyal animal on the planet.
Sadly, some dogs find themselves with the wrong owners – neglected, abused, bred to fight or simply abandoned to the streets. In Mexico city alone, it is claimed the authorities capture and destroy an estimated 20,000 street dogs per month.
Since we began travelling almost 2 years ago I’d been looking to volunteer in some kind of animal work. Our constant travelling arrangements – one week here, two weeks there, sometimes just an overnight stop – made this almost impossible and it was put on the back-burner until we hit the brakes for a year long stop in Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
I began my stint at the Acopio Animal Shelter after answering a call for volunteers through a local Facebook page.
The Acopio is the city run animal shelter in Puerto Vallarta. I’m told it was the first non-kill city run shelter in Mexico and houses approximately 45-50 dogs (mainly Pit Bull Terriers) some cats and various other animals from time to time. It has a few full-time staff caring for their daily needs and enough food for two weeks of the year. As such donations for medication and food is required, along with volunteers to help walk the dogs twice per week, for approximately 15 minutes each, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. A full time ‘walker’ is employed through kind donations to walk them on other days.
Volunteering is done mainly through two groups – Dogs For Life and Friends of Puerto Vallarta Animals and donations are always welcome.
To get there I usually catch one of the dilapidated and often overcrowded service busses across town taking approximately 30 minutes. Sometimes I’ll share a ride with fellow volunteers, Angela and her husband Dave. It’s a bumpy ride which takes you away from the tourist areas through the local colonias to the edge of town where the shelter is situated.
Not really wishing to join a particular group, I merely turn up and muck out where required. I wash food and water bowls, walk and bathe dogs and generally try and give them as much love and attention as possible in the short time allocated. Some of the dogs have clearly been beaten, abused or starved whilst others have lived on the streets scraping a meagre existence. Many have spent their entire lives on roof tops or tied up in back yards to be used as guard dogs. A few have been rescued from dog fights and some have been abandoned by their owners for various reasons. So we help as best we can. It’s not enough but it’s better than nothing.
Trusting humans can be difficult and it takes time and effort. But dogs are the best judge of people and they respond well to those with their best intentions at heart. They love seeing volunteers walk through the gates and can’t wait to be taken out for their walk.
There are four larger kennels where social dogs, up to four at a time, can be housed together, the rest are in single units where most will stay due to their somewhat belligerent attitude towards each other. However, where possible they will be placed together.
The shelter staff and management prefer group-walking to promote re-socialisation and to aid rehabilitation. Though ok for some dogs, at times this can be stressful and a few of them are on edge throughout the walk. Very occasionally human error means they get too close and a fight will break out. As a result I prefer to walk them on my own so I don’t have to worry about getting too close, the dog can relax and take in the various smells as they like to do – I also use some of the walk as bonding time where the unfortunate ones have to listen to me talk some absolute drivel whilst having their belly rubbed.
It’s a difficult place to volunteer and it’s as heart-breaking as it is rewarding. But It’s also addictive. I go home thinking about the dogs and sparse lifestyle they lead, their mental state and the type of home they may find themselves being adopted to. I worry about them in bad weather and I’m concerned about the amount of food they are given. In a way I kind of see them as my extended family and at times give me sleepless nights. When our travels continue it’ll be a wrench to leave and I’ll miss them greatly. But it’s also a comfort to know that they are being looked after and are safe from the perils they once faced.
Donations can be made here.