BEFORE SIGNING UP
Please consider carefully before signing up to volunteer at AWARE. We most certainly do need help – with looking after the animals and with a variety of other tasks, and we very much appreciate the fact that people like you are willing to give their time and energy to help out with a good cause. We could never have achieved everything we have done without the help of volunteers.
However, it is important to realise that AWARE is a working shelter, and that the animals need attention 7 days a week. You must be prepared to shoulder the responsibility of fulfilling the volunteer tasks for which you sign up. Signing up for a volunteering stint at AWARE is a commitment.
If your main reason for volunteering is to gain something for yourself – rather than to give something to the animals and help out at a worthwhile project – you would be better off at a more glamorous location.
Research is an essential part of your trip. You should find out as much as possible about Guatemala before arriving in the country. The AWARE website will give you a good idea of your volunteering experience at the Shelter. If there’s anything we haven’t covered and you’d like more info, let us know (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). And if you would like to ask previous volunteers about their experience at AWARE, ask us and we’ll send you some e-mail addresses.
Once you have decided that YES! volunteering at Hound Heights is for you, write to us at email@example.com and we’ll send you in the first instance a Volunteer Questionnaire for you to complete and return.
When you arrive at the Shelter you’ll be given an Information Pack with complete details about the daily schedule, the permanent staff, your routine tasks, and basic rules and requirements (e.g. No Littering!).
What follows is more information on everything we could think of that you might want to know before making your decision. If there’s anything we’ve left out, please let us know!
BASIC DAILY WORK ROUTINE
CLEANING DOG PENS
CLEANING CLINIC, including the CAGES
CLEANING & CHANGING ANIMAL BEDDING
GROOMING DOGS & CATS
ASSISTING WITH VETERINARY CARE – for example giving meds to animals in the Clinic, or helping with shots and de-worming updates.
VOLUNTEERING AT AWARE IS NOT A HOLIDAY
Volunteering at AWARE can be an extremely rewarding experience, but be conscious of the fact that it is hard work, both physically and emotionally. The shelter operates 365 days of the year to provide aid to animals in need in Guatemala. Many of these animals have had difficult and sad pasts, so can be challenging to work with at times. Guatemala itself has many social, cultural, ideological, and logistical differences to many developed countries, a fact which needs to be borne in mind.
It’s possible that you will encounter badly injured animals – road-accident victims, or dogs with machete wounds for example – during your time at AWARE. You may also be expected to care for a litter of puppies or un-weaned kittens – some or even all of whom, and despite your very best efforts and dedication feeding or giving medication every couple of hours, may die. Obviously, this can be a strong emotional challenge.
Qualities we look for in volunteers are: hard working, flexible, committed, responsible, disciplined, and compassionate.
In order for AWARE to provide the very best care to its many animals, it is critical that our volunteers put serious effort into their daily routines. If you possess the qualities mentioned above and want to work hard to make a difference in many animals’ lives, please fill out our volunteer application form.
The Volunteer’s working day begins as early as possible – if you’re staying on site we expect you to show up for Clinic cleaning duties as soon after 7am as you can make it. We expect a good 5 or 6 hours work per day, at least 5 days per week. Sunday is Open Day, plus Spay/Neuter day one Sunday per month, so help on Sunday is always appreciated. We ask for a commitment of a minimum of 2 weeks if you stay on site.
While volunteering at AWARE you will have the choice of staying in the on-site accommodation (we ask US$5 per person per day to cover costs, food is not included), or you can find your own accommodation – probably in Antigua. Both choices come with their own advantages and disadvantages.
The accommodation is basic. It consists of one room plus bathroom, and a very small kitchen. You have the use of a refrigerator, a counter-top gas stove, and a hot shower. You may be sharing with one, or two other volunteers. There’s a set of bunk beds and one other regular bed. There are also 2 (very friendly) resident cats.
STAYING ON-SITE – Advantages:
You are on the spot and can walk to work straight after breakfast, saving money on transport. You will enjoy the rare experience of pollution-free tranquility – fresh air, and a sky brimming with stars on cloudless nights. You will be a part of the life of the Shelter, and of its 400-strong family, enjoying the freedom of Guatemala’s forested mountains.
STAYING ON-SITE – Disadvantages:
Doing your own cooking. No wi-fi. No night-life (in by 6pm). 24-hour on-call – forest fires in summer, escaped dogs any time. There are lots of dogs and you will hear barking– sometimes at night. The day starts at first light (5am summer, 6am winter) with plenty of barking – light sleepers need ear-plugs – or a spiritual attitude to dawn. And (although this could also be counted as an advantage) you might be alone – even the only current volunteer.
STAYING IN TOWN – Advantages:
Antigua: Antigua is a beautiful colonial city that hosts many opportunities for people visiting Guatemala, with its wide array of restaurants, shops, and picturesque streets, ruins, and landscapes. Easter week, especially Good Friday, is incredible – a must-see for anyone visiting Guatemala! You also will have the authentic and thrilling experience of taking the bus to Hound Heights every day.
Sumpango: A real experience of a real Guatemalan town. Your Spanish will improve, and you can learn some Kakchiquel if you try. A few half-decent Internet cafés.
STAYING IN TOWN – Disadvantages:
Antigua: It can get expensive, but if you do your research you can find a good hostel for about $7US a night. Your days will be a bit longer as you will need to bus (2 buses each way) to and from the shelter everyday, or take a cab. The bus is easy to use and cheap, but it can get crowded and it takes about 45 minutes one way.
Sumpango: No entertainment beyond absorbing the atmosphere of Guatemala and talking to people.
You are a Volunteer, donating your time, good-will, energy, knowledge and big-heartedness for zero financial return. It is true that volunteering is not employment with a contract and salary, and the only duty you have is to your own sense of responsibility.
We expect your commitment and concern to be your contract, and we require you to respect that. Your salary will be the unconditional love you receive from the animals, plus the massive bonus of satisfaction and pride in yourself. You will indeed have done a Good Thing.
We expect you to commit to 5 working days per week. If you want to commit to more, please do! AWARE is a working shelter, and the work has to be done, by whoever is here to do it. The Director is counting on your help, so if you know in advance that you will be missing one or more days please ensure to let her know. It’s important that you abide by your commitment: it is not possible to be on holiday and volunteer at AWARE at the same time.
AWARE ADMISSIONS POLICY
The Shelter is a ‘No-Kill’ shelter. A constant dynamic is the search for a balance between taking in every animal who comes our way, and keeping the numbers in a manageable proportion to the available space, the available funding, and the size and quality of the work-force. In practice this means currently that we take in only the worst cases – of medical necessity, neglect, and abuse. And when we find a box of kittens left at the gate, or a starving (often pregnant) dog tied to a tree in the woods, we take them in.
AWARE EUTHANASIA POLICY
All animals are assessed on arrival. It will not be practicable, given local conditions and the availability of resources, to keep them all. Decision-making is a regular responsibility we have to take. Sometimes it’s immediately obvious that an animal is in too bad shape to make it, and the kindest thing we can do for them is euthanasia. Many animals, if not adopted, live out their lives here, and then the time comes to make a judgment on their quality of life. We have held many old friends in our arms during their last moments. If you are here for more than a few days, and do not have rock-like control over your tear ducts, you will cry. And grow.
Decisions to euthanize are made by the Director, who will listen to advice from anyone wishing to give it, Volunteers included.
HOW THE SHELTER WORKS
The ~300 dogs live in runs with 3-6, sometimes 10, dogs to a pen. Each run has a covered area for protection from rain and cold, with wooden pallets for beds.
The ~60 cats live in a large enclosure divided into 3 sections, plus a separate enclosure for the 6 leukaemia-positive cats. The spaces are well-provided with shelves, platforms, cubby holes, beds, feeding stations and a regular supply of toys.
There is a chicken- & rabbit-run (with 2 chickens and 1 rabbit), and a paddock for the young horse.
As of end-2017, the shelter employs 4 full-time and a recently qualified veterinarian completing her studies with the mandatory 6-months of work experience. The Director and her husband live on site.
– 3 grounds maintenance staff
– 1 dog walker (every dog is taken for a walk through the extensive grounds of AWARE each day)
– 1 veterinarian
The shelter boasts a veterinary clinic. The Volunteer Quarters are in a separate building that also houses the animal feed store.
With over 300 dogs living at the shelter, Volunteers staying on-site need to expect a great deal of barking – even, occasionally, at night. Owls and other nocturnal creatures can set the dogs off, as can the sight of a huge full moon. If you’re a light sleeper, it’s a good idea to pack some ear-plugs.
DAILY ROUTINE AT HOUND HEIGHTS
For the dogs residing in the house of the Director and her husband, the day begins at dawn (between 5 – 6 am depending on the time of year) with a race around the woods! The first employees arrive at 6 am to begin feeding; the remainder of the employees arrive at 7, when the first groups of dogs are taken on their walks through the woods. The pens are cleaned daily, including the Cathouse. Throughout the day, the clinic is often busy with animals from the Shelter that require medical attention, as well as with local townsfolk bringing their own animals in for shots, de-worming, or medical diagnosis. Lunch for the Staff is from noon until 1pm. The day draws to a close around 4 pm when the main gate gets locked. Volunteers can enjoy some free time and/or hop on a chicken bus to the colonial city of Antigua!
A LINK TO A RECENT INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEERING WEB PAGE
“Volunteering at Hound Heights is hard work in tough conditions. The work is physically demanding – even walking a group of dogs at this altitude and up these slopes can be very tiring. The work is not all pleasant either – a lot of it consists of scooping poop and cleaning dog runs and the cathouse. Volunteers are expected to work an average of six hours per day, five days per week, with extra duties on Sundays (Open Day), AND 24-hour call (possible forest-fire-fighting in the Dry Season, or mangled dog needing to be rescued from the Highway, for example). It is always possible to arrange extra time off. The Director is not always available, so volunteers are expected to exercise initiative, and to be able to work unsupervised. Volunteers are expected to know what needs to be done, and to get on and do it. If you are not comfortable with any of these conditions, you should not volunteer at Hound Heights.”
– a satisfied ex-Volunteer
“YES, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and with our help those improvements will get done. But – I SURVIVED A.W.A.R.E.
AND I’M GOING BACK FOR MORE!”
– another satisfied (and returning) Volunteer
“With every animal that we managed to save I learned how hard we have to fight to keep that little heart beating and how wonderful it feels. With every animal that we had to see die I learned how fragile life is. With every illness that we cured I learned the value of persistence, every dog with wounds from savage fights was a reminder of life itself… You cry when you see them suffer and you cant help them. But when you smile at them, they smile back at you and you know that it is the only way. Love them, cherish them, help them any way you can.. My 128 days at AWARE were 128 lessons, life changing and eye opening… None of them was meaningless, none of them was useless. I am leaving this place as a better person. And all the credit goes to THEM.”
– KATJA from Holland
“I spent a wonderful week with the animals and people at Animal Aware. The rescue centre supports upwards of four hundred dogs and cats so the challenge is far from easy. Although the days can be long and dusty, and the smells and sounds can be fierce, your reward is the love of one of natures treasures. Dont go there looking for cuddles. This organisation needs hard workers willing to dirty their hands and contribute to a fantastic and rewarding cause. Thank you Xenii, Martin, Patti, The Guys and most of all the animals!”
another happy Volunteer
Article prepared by Stephanie Guiler, a student vet from Canada volunteering at AWARE July 2015