It truly brightens the room when a child comes into the shelter with donations which he raised at his birthday party, or when a person brings in blankets to warm the shelter’s animals at night. HSCAZ is lucky to have such a compassionate community which supports its work and ideas. It’s the everyday contributions from the people that clip coupons for pet food or sew blankets for the shelters animals that make HSCAZ a great facility. The Payson and surrounding communities have truly shown to be remarkable people and this is something that we need to share with the rest of the world.
The United States has over 3,500 animal shelters (HSUS estimate) across the country. Not only do we have a tremendous amount of shelters, but we also have an enormous amount of homeless animals. Unfortunately there aren’t enough homes for the amount of companion animals in shelters, but we do have a society that truly cares. Our society may not be perfect and not everyone may see companion animals in the same way, but we do have a society packed with progressive thinkers and animal welfare activists.
A couple of years ago while working at an animal shelter on the east coast, I felt like I was taking United States animal shelters for granted. I was frustrated with my previous shelter’s policies (though a year later I realized why polices were strictly in place) and I decided that I needed to experience animal welfare abroad to put things into perspective. I left my job and sold all of my belongings that wouldn’t fit into a backpack, and purchased a one-way plane ticket to Guatemala in order to start my independent volunteer adventure. Risky, yes, but I knew it would be worthwhile in the long run.
As I stepped off the plane in Guatemala, I listened to locals chatting away in Spanish. I realized I was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I had a mission to accomplish and needed to adjust quickly. I later caught a bus and headed out to a small town in order to volunteer at an animal shelter that was aiding animals in a society submerged in poverty. As I rode along in the bus, I anxiously watched what seemed like hundreds of street-dwelling animals flow through the streets. Like many countries, Guatemala was full of people struggling to feed themselves, and more street animals than one could possibly count.
When I arrived at the shelter I was in total shock. The shelter was surrounded by tropical beauty, but the shelter itself told a story of many lost souls. The shelter was packed with some owner surrendered animals, but mostly animals which once roamed the dusty streets of Guatemala. The shelter lacked simple resources such as paper towels and cleaning agents, but the people who worked at the shelter were full of life.
The sanctuary housed what seemed like hundreds of animals in outdoor pens. Each and every animal had a canine friend and received daily walks through tropical Guatemalan mountains with a young Guatemalan boy. This boy was no ordinary 16-year-old though. He was years beyond other boys his age, and he took on a great deal of responsibility at the sanctuary. He didn’t speak a word of English and I knew about five words in Spanish at this point, but we walked through the rugged terrain with about 30 some dogs following us. He would point to interesting birds and try to speak to me loudly in Spanish, but no matter how loud he spoke, I still didn’t understand a word he was saying.
The courageous young boy and I took daily walks with the dogs and I slowly observed the challenges in the surrounding area. The sanctuary was quickly losing land to slash and burn fires ignited by locals trying to increase their impoverished neighboring farm lands. Some days the smoke was so thick that it was hard to see a good distance in what should have been a couple miles of mountain views, but the surrounding farmers were struggling to make ends meet or feed their own families at that.
After a couple of weeks of volunteering at the shelter, I learned the personalities of the dogs and the stories which led them to the sanctuary. Stories were graphically told by the founder of the sanctuary. The founder was a brave American woman who came to Guatemala several years back to start the sanctuary after seeing the conditions of the street dogs throughout the country. She started the sanctuary with the help of several generous American and European donors, and made the best of what resources she had while maintaining ongoing support by becoming part of WSPA (an umbrella-like non-profit that supports animal welfare efforts around the globe).
My days at the shelter consisted of training dogs and medicating those in need, along with quiet nights occasionally being interrupted by howls from the surrounding sanctuary dogs. I felt at peace where I was and what I came to Latin America to do. I started to appreciate how fortunate the United States was with all of the luxuries that we have and financial capabilities (and even canned food for that matter. At the sanctuary we had to make our own wet dog food). I missed the medical technology from the U.S., but the experience was exactly what I was looking for.
The day I left, I had a knot in my stomach. It was time to leave the place I temporarily called home and bus down throughout Central America to other animal shelters. I knew I would miss the sanctuary along with the cheese tortillas that I never seemed to master and burnt on a daily basis, but I said “goodbye” to the sanctuary and made way by bus (it was an old yellow school bus from the U.S.) to Guatemala City. Later that day, I grabbed an international bus and rode down throughout Central America.
As I watched the street animals through the windows of the bus, I felt absolutely helpless. “What was I to do?” I thought. Bring them all back to the United States? Our nation is already full of shelters with thousands of homeless animals and a dramatic pet overpopulation problem to boot. I felt absolutely helpless.
As I continued my journey throughout Latin America, I knew I was going to see more than I could sometimes handle. I kept a letter in my bag that a previous animal shelter co-worker gave to me before I left the U.S. She wrote “You can’t save them all, but you can sure make a difference.” When I saw the street dogs surrounding the bus awaiting scraps to be thrown out of the window, I gripped the letter tightly in my palm. I knew she was right, but I wanted all countries to be like the U.S. and have compassionate shelters for homeless animals.
Each and every time I hopped off the bus throughout Central America, I saw street dogs either scavenging for food or being swatted away. I’m not going to lie; I kept food scraps with me to feed the strays, but I knew I wasn’t changing anything. There was still a pet overpopulation problem that was out of my hands. I missed United States shelters, and who knew we were so lucky?
To be continued…
Now it’s time to meet some of the wonderful pets available for adoption at the HSCAZ animal shelter, located at 812 S. McLane Road. For more information, call (928) 474-5590 or visit us online at humanesocietycentralaz.org.
Shylyn is a 4-year-old Mastiff/Shepherd mix. She is good with other dogs and children and has been around both all of her life. She is pretty easygoing and would do well in a calmer environment. She is affectionate, loyal and intelligent. She even sits on her back legs and “prays.” She is spayed, current on her vaccines and is house and leash trained.
My name is Jack and I’m a 2-year-old Catahoula/Shepherd mix. I LOVE to play ball!! I am a fun-loving guy who likes to play, play, play. I will need a secure yard and fence at my new home. I have been around cats and children and really love everybody. Long hikes and chasing balls are my favorite hobbies. All I need is someone who shares those same interests. I am neutered and up to date on my shots. Bring the family down to meet me!
CHAUNCY and TUFFY
Chauncy and Tuffy are the cutest brothers ever. They are both playful, outgoing and full of life and spunk. They have been neutered, have passed their health tests and are up to date on their vaccines. If you’re ready for a kitten, come on down and meet these two handsome guys.
Miley is a 6-month-old Ridgeback/Shepherd mix. She was brought in to the shelter as a stray. Miley is super affectionate and so sweet. She gets along with other dogs and loves being around people. She is spayed and current on her vaccinations. Miley will make a wonderful addition to a loving family that enjoys being active and will give her the amount of exercise and love that she needs.
Pammie is a 9-month-old black lab. She was brought to HSCAZ as a stray. This is one active girl! Pammie loves to run and play. She would love to be your hiking or jogging companion. If you are active and are looking for a partner, this is your girl. She gets along with other dogs, is spayed and current on vaccines.
Look at this face. How adorable is Max? Super cute, right? Max is a 9-month-old yellow lab. He was found as a stray and brought here to us. To our shock,, no one ever came looking for him. Max is the friendliest guy there is. He greets you with a tail wag and lots of kisses. This playful pup is looking to find a loving, forever home. Could it be yours? He is neutered and up to date on his shots.