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Volunteer Abroad: Dog Rescue and Dog Shelters

By Rachel Roderick
Guest Writer
dog shelter volunteer

More than 62 million US families share their homes with dogs. While there are still millions of dogs waiting for homes around the country, the number of homeless animals is on the decline. Education, spay/neuter programs, and hard work from a variety of nonprofit organizations has made an impact on what was once an overwhelming problem.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case everywhere in the world. Developing nations have fewer resources to care for their population of homeless dogs. Struggling shelters rely on devoted volunteers to keep their doors open, so they can tend to animals that are stray, injured, hungry, or sick.

When you volunteer abroad with a dog shelter, every minute you contribute has an impact. In many cases, your efforts are the difference between comfort and suffering for the furry shelter residents. Immerse yourself in another culture while providing critical support to animal welfare with these award-winning organizations:

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)

dog shelter volunteer in Cambodia

Since 2007, International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) has placed more than 100,000 volunteers in programs around the globe. IVHQ operates a variety of projects in more than 40 destinations worldwide, and it has earned accolades for affordability, safety, and community responsibility. IVHQ is the trusted partner of major companies like Microsoft and Salesforce, and offers programming for students of leading universities, including UCLA, Northwestern University, and the University of Michigan. These are just a few of the animal welfare projects available from IVHQ:

Animal Care in Cambodia

Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital city, and more than 1.5 million people make their home there. Two rivers intersect here, which makes for a bustling waterfront where you can enjoy parks, restaurants, and nightlife. When you aren’t volunteering, you can visit the National Museum, which offers an in-depth look at the country’s history.

If you are interested in taking a piece of Cambodia home with you, the nearby Central Market is a hub for local merchants. You can browse a seemingly endless array of stalls that sell everything from locally-crafted textiles to cutting-edge electronics.

When you participate in IVHQ’s animal care project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, you will be placed in one of the city’s clinics for injured and abandoned dogs and cats. You will spend your days providing hands-on care for dogs, including feeding, cleaning, bathing, grooming, and exercising. Depending on your interests and experience, you will have opportunities to participate in medical procedures, such as administering medications. Most importantly, you will work with shelter staff to respond to reports of animals in need of assistance.

While this opportunity is well-suited for students in veterinary programs, no experience is needed to participate in the project – however, you will need up-to-date vaccinations against rabies before you leave for Cambodia.

Animal Care in Guatemala

For more than 200 years, Antigua served as the capital of Guatemala. Through fires, floods, earthquakes, and erupting volcanoes, residents created a thriving city of cobblestone streets and magnificent buildings in the Barroco antigueño architectural style. Sadly, in 1773, much of the city was destroyed by the Santa Marta earthquakes, and the decision was made to relocate the capital to Guatemala City. The remaining ruins were preserved, and the city was rebuilt in a way that honored the original style and layout.

Today, Antigua is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and it is a popular travel destination. Visitors find the city safe and welcoming, and there are unique historic sites to examine up-close. During your off-hours, you can explore the region’s many wonders. See Volcan Fuego. Tour a coffee farm. Shop for goods crafted by local artisans at Chichicastenango Market. Learn how chocolate is made at the Chocolate Museum. The list of attractions is long and varied with something to suit every taste. That’s why so many people return to Antigua again and again.

Volunteers focused on animal welfare are sorely needed in this part of the world. In Guatemalan culture, dogs aren’t as highly regarded as they are in the US, so they are more likely to be left to fend for themselves. As you might expect, that results in a large population of sick, injured, hungry, and homeless animals that need intervention for their very survival.

IVHQ’s animal care project in Antigua was specifically designed to address this need. Depending on your experience and interests, you will be placed in a dog shelter, veterinary clinic, or other type of animal refuge. You will participate in all sorts of activities that directly benefit dogs, such as cleaning enclosures, training, socializing, grooming, exercising, and administering medications. You don’t need any specialized skills to be a part of the program, though a background in veterinary work is helpful.

Animal Care in Jamaica

Combining the balmy weather and gorgeous beaches of Jamaica with a passion for four-legged furry friends is a dream come true for many volunteers. IVHQ’s animal care projects in Jamaica are based in the parishes of Saint Mary and Saint Ann – the smallest and largest parishes on the island respectively. You will be located on Jamaica’s northeast coast, in easy reach of Ocho Rios, a popular port town.

Prepare yourself for glorious flora and fauna, as the entire area is home to rainforests, rivers, and waterfalls. You will work in the morning, and afternoons are your own to spend exploring the island’s natural wonders. Participate in snorkeling or ziplining adventures, relax on the beach, or wander through shops and eateries to sample local cuisine.

The animal care program offers you an opportunity to gain real-world shelter experience while you care for dogs who have been abandoned. Your responsibilities may include socializing the animals, providing medical treatment, cleaning, grooming, and maintaining the facilities.

Sometimes, you may have a chance to participate in field work that includes locating and rescuing dogs in need of intervention. Best of all, you will help prepare the animals for adoption, and in some cases, you will coordinate the adoption process from start to finish. Many dogs find their forever homes with families from other parts of the world, so your support is critical to the process.

You aren’t required to have any particular skills or previous experience to enroll in the animal care program. However, it may be an especially good match for veterinary students who wish to build their resumes.

Maximo Nivel

dog shelter volunteer

If you are itching to explore Latin America, Maximo Nivel has an amazing project for you. This organization focuses exclusively on the countries of Costa Rica, Peru, and Guatemala, ensuring every volunteer has dedicated support while in-country. There are two animal care projects available, giving you the choice of visiting either Guatemala or Peru.

In either case, every detail of your experience is carefully planned, from your project placement to optional tours and excursions. Maximo Nivel staff use the expertise gained from their many years of experience in the field to craft an unforgettable adventure that combines travel and service.

Animal Care in Guatemala

Maximo Nivel’s Guatemala animal care project is based in scenic Antigua. Though the minimum assignment is one week, you will want to stay much longer: there is simply too much to do and see while you are there. As you explore, you are sure to notice that many local residents live comfortably. However, this is not so in other parts of the country. More than half of Guatemala’s population is economically disadvantaged. A scarcity of resources means that caring for animals is not high on the list of priorities. As a result, there are many homeless dogs facing hunger, illness, and injury.

There are a variety of animal-related assignments to choose from in Guatemala, though not all are available year-round. If you choose to work in a shelter with dogs waiting for adoption, you will spend approximately four hours per day providing basic care such as grooming, socialization, cleaning, and administering medication. Some projects include an education component, which gives you an opportunity to work with members of the community. You will offer information on providing appropriate care to keep animals safe and healthy, as well as insight on the benefits of spaying and neutering dogs and cats.

Volunteers age 16 and up are welcome in the animal care program, and you do not have to speak Spanish to participate. Your time in Guatemala is a great chance to immerse yourself in the language, so you can gain new skills or improve your fluency.

Animal Care in Peru

Cusco, Peru, is an extraordinary city with a colorful history. It was once the capital of the Incan Empire, and there are still remnants of ancient structures visible along the winding streets. When you aren’t working, there is plenty to see within city limits, and you won’t want to miss the many wonders of the surrounding area. Peru is home to a variety of landscapes, including the Atacama Desert, the Andes Mountains, a swath of Amazon jungle, and a length of Pacific coastline. In a single day, you can travel from the top of the world to the sea or from dry desert to wet rainforest.

Peru is a country of contrasts. While it is rich in natural resources, many citizens are not yet seeing economic benefits. Low-income Peruvians struggle to access healthcare, education, and other basic necessities, which leaves very little available for the large population of homeless animals. As a result, dogs suffer from malnutrition, illness, and injury. In the most serious cases, they pose a risk to members of the community. When you choose the Maximo Nivel animal care program in Peru, you will work in a local shelter housing 50 or more dogs. Your support is needed to keep the shelter and animal enclosures clean and sanitary, and you will help with socialization, grooming, and exercising to make the shelter dogs better candidates for adoption.

There are opportunities to participate in education activities, and there is always a need for energetic volunteers to help with fundraising. Unfortunately, there is no financial support available from the government for animal care, which means all shelters operate on money raised from private donors. Any assistance you provide in this area makes a critical difference in the shelter’s ability to continue providing services.

The minimum age for this project is 16, and no special skills are required. If you aren’t already a Spanish-speaker, you can look forward to growing your level of fluency during your visit.

Love Volunteers

veterinary volunteer

The name says it all: Love Volunteers was designed to connect caring people with communities that need a hand up. This organization is committed to social responsibility, and each project is carefully crafted to ensure resources are used efficiently and effectively.

There are no hidden program fees, and Love Volunteers is proud of its policy to direct all proceeds to the charities and community partners hosting participants. Though Love Volunteers launched in 2010 with just 20 projects in 12 countries, it is now an industry leader. Today, you can choose from more than 100 projects in nearly 40 countries around the world.

Some of the most popular Love Volunteer projects are those that allow participants to work with animals. Whether you want to focus on shelter pets, wildlife conservation, or something in-between, you are sure to find a match that suits your interests.

Animal Care in Argentina

Buenos Aires has been called the Paris of South America. When you choose Love Volunteers’ animal care project in Argentina, you can find out why. On your off-hours, walk through streets lined with architecturally magnificent buildings and visit the MALBA museum to see works from Latin American artists. Learn to tango, bicycle through city parks, and savor steak perfectly seasoned with Argentinian flavor.

Your working hours give you an opportunity to contribute to a very special animal shelter. The Sanctuary was founded less than 10 years ago by a mother and daughter team determined to make a difference for homeless dogs. Of course, they didn’t stop with just dogs, and thanks to support from local and international donors and helpers, the Sanctuary now cares for an average of 150 animals ranging from dogs and cats to cows, parrots, rabbits, ducks, and more.

Each of these creatures faced a grim future before arriving at the shelter. Disease, injury, and hunger were constant threats. With your help, shelter residents get the care they need to recover their health and perhaps be adopted into a forever home.

There is always work to do at the Sanctuary, and your tasks will include socialization, cleaning, training, feeding, and providing medical care to the animals. Perhaps more importantly, you will be immersed in Argentinian culture throughout your time in Buenos Aires, exchanging ideas with city residents and learning more about each other.

Animal Care in South Africa

South Africa has a place on travelers’ bucket lists, because it is a country rich in history and full of unique landscapes. You can see the Big Five on photo safari, or scuba and snorkel in some of the world’s most beautiful reefs. If you want to combine your visit with much-needed support for the country’s large number of homeless dogs, Love Volunteers’ animal care program in Philippi, Cape Town, is a great choice.

Philippi is one of Cape Town’s larger townships from a geographic perspective, but it doesn’t have a large population. Most of the land is devoted to farming, and many community members live in poverty. As a result, most households don’t have the resources necessary to care for dogs. A number have been left to their own devices, and since they have not been spayed or neutered, the population is growing. All are at risk of injury and disease, and most face on-going hunger.

An animal rescue and rehabilitation center opened to address the issue, and a small group of staff are working hard to rescue and care for the homeless dogs. The center arranges for spaying and neutering in an effort to keep the population under control. When you volunteer with the animal rescue center in Philippi, you bring hope to what often feels like a hopeless situation. The work you put into grooming, feeding, cleaning, and socializing dogs makes them more adoptable, and it takes some of the burden away from staff who are always stretched too thin.

You may also have an opportunity to provide education to members of the community, and any assistance you can offer with fundraising is deeply appreciated. Every penny is sorely needed to ensure the center can continue this important work.

Ready to Travel?

If you’re ready to travel and make a difference, there are tons of opportunities for animal lovers all over the world! Have a look at these other articles for inspiration, whether you want to volunteer with domestic animals or wild ones:

Volunteer Abroad With Animals: African Savannah, Shark Conservation & More

Veterinary Volunteer Programs and Internships

Wildlife, Marine Animal, Veterinary, & Conservation Volunteer Abroad