Volunteer Abroad: Dog Rescue and Dog Shelters

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Updated for 2023-2024

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.

For example, through International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), a top-rated international volunteer organization, you can improve animal welfare in developing (and developed) countries such as Costa Rica, Greece, Romania, and help stray dogs find loving homes. In fact, IVHQ offers over 30 wildlife and animal care projects in 23 destinations around the world!

As well, GoEco, another trusted volunteer organization, known for a variety of wildlife and animal rescue programs, has a dog rescue project in beautiful Sri Lanka. Read on to find out more!

And through Projects Abroad, a reliable volunteer organization that’s been around since 1992, you can play a critical role in rescuing injured and abandoned dogs in Romania or helping stray animals in Belize find human friends to care for them.

Motivated yet? If you’re ready to serve as a dog rescue volunteer abroad, then begin looking at programs. Immerse yourself in another culture while providing critical support to animal welfare with the award-winning organizations listed below.

Best Dog Rescue Volunteer Programs

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ),

VolunteerForever

Since 2007, International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) has placed more than 130,000 volunteers in programs around the globe. IVHQ operates a variety of projects in more than 50 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. 

If you love to work with animals and wildlife, consider volunteering for animal care abroad. There are 30 animal welfare projects in 23 destinations available from IVHQ. Their projects aim to rehabilitate the animals, preserve their environments, and protect endangered species. Here are a few programs to consider. 

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 or Siem Reap, 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 Baroque antigüeño 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 even an exotic animal rehab center. You will participate in all sorts of activities that directly benefit the animals, 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 Costa Rica

IVHQ’s animal care projects in Costa Rica are located either in Manuel Antonio or San Jose. Stray cats and dogs are numerous on the streets of Costa Rica. For the project in Manuel Antonio, you work in local vet clinics or animal welfare organizations and are for stray cats and dogs, improving their prospects of getting adopted. Tasks may include grooming, cleaning cages, obedience training, as well as helping on fundraising campaigns and educational outreach. For the program in San Jose, you will also help to rehabilitate and rehome stray animals. You may also be able to help with medical treatments, but most importantly to care for them. Program fees start at $445 for one week. For more information, click here. 

GoEco 

Since 2006, GoEco has offered affordable volunteer abroad programs and internships in over 40 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. With more than 150 different programs, GoEco is a great organization to check out if you’re looking for a variety of impactful trips to choose from, from wildlife conservation to teaching English. GoEco was recently recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization from GoAbroad, Top Eco-Enthusiast by Greenmatch, and has been recommended by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, and more. As a volunteer, you will have 24-hour support from the GoEco team, from start to finish. Currently, GoEco is offering a special travel grant where you can stay for the 3rd week free! Check out the qualifying programs here

Sri Lanka – Dog Care and Veterinary Assistance

If you love playing and caring dogs, then look into this amazing program in a renowned and ethical dog shelter in Sri Lanka. There are over 2000 dogs that need your help. They need medical attention as well as emotional well being to be nursed back to health by volunteers. You will help with routine care such as playing and socializing, grooming, feeding, etc. and some medical care. There will be lots to do in this sanctuary so the longer you stay, the more impactful your experience will be. In addition, in your free time, there will be lots to explore including the many beautiful beaches, temples, yoga sessions, etc.  For more information, click here

Maximo Nivel

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.

Plan My Gap Year (PMGY)

An award-winning volunteer abroad organization, Plan My Gap Year has service opportunities across 17 countries, including dog rescue volunteer projects. Known for their affordability and commitment to uplifting local communities, PMGY sends more than 4,000 volunteers overseas each year. The quality of their programs can be seen in the great reviews past volunteers have given. On Volunteer Forever, PMGY has a rating of 4.82 out of 5 stars across nearly 2,200 reviews.

Here’s what Alivia, a past volunteer, had to say about PMGY:

“I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the Plan My Gap Year organization. It allowed me to meet new people from all around the world, learning about a range of cultures as well as expressing my own! The trip was an experience I will never forget.”

Plan My Gap Year has two great dog rescue volunteer programs (see details below). You can help out as a dog shelter volunteer for as few as one week or as long as 24 weeks. Fees get much cheaper per day the longer you stay.

Dog Rescue Volunteering in Sri Lanka

Make your way to Ambalangoda, a peaceful town in southern Sri Lanka. There, you’ll help address the stray dog problem and tackle the rising risk of rabies. As a dog shelter volunteer, your duties include creating training and enrichment activities, assisting with vaccinations, providing meals, and helping with shelter maintenance. You’ll also walk, exercise, and shower the dogs. Another cool thing you’ll do is take part in animal welfare education initiatives in the community. These campaigns shed light on the importance of reducing the number of stray dogs on the streets and beaches, and the need for more compassionate care of canines.

When you’re not serving as a dog rescue volunteer, enjoy the local beaches, sample the cuisine, plan a safari in Yala National Park, and more. Find out more about this dog rescue program here.

Dog Rescue Volunteering in Peru

Care for injured and abandoned street dogs in Cusco, a wonderful city in the Peruvian Andes. As a dog rescue volunteer in Peru, you’ll provide much-needed support to local staff, doing everything from feeding and walking the dogs to creating enrichment activities and helping with general maintenance. The local dog rescue shelter does a lot to raise awareness about animal welfare too, and you’ll have the amazing opportunity to educate the community about caring for dogs. If you want to improve the well-being of your canine friends, this is a program where you can make an impact.

What’s also great is that Cusco is a world-class destination. Visit Machu Picchu and explore the Incan citadel. Trek through the Sacred Valley and soak in the views of the highlands. And taste your way through Cusco’s top-notch dining scene. Sound like the trip for you? Learn more about being a dog rescue volunteer in Peru here.

Love Volunteers

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

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