I’m Zoé. I’m finishing my internship in Gudog and after spending all summer close to doggies, I wanted to write a story about my relationship with them. I decided to write an article about why I decided to volunteer at a dog shelter and what this experience brought me.

March 2008, 12 years old, dreams of being a vet still alive and well, I landed in Cyprus to live for three months. An island full of abandoned cats and dogs which broke my heart. I wanted to help. Mum found the Nicosia Dog Shelter and I realised I could. 

As a dedicated mother trying to open her children’s eyes to the harsh truth of abandoned animals and wanting to please us in our desire to save them, she drove my 9 year old brother and I every Saturday to volunteer in the heat with the dogs. It wasn’t a decision based on the thought that if I didn’t do anything, no one would, but on the fact that I wanted to be one of those people who helped.

Located opposite the old Nicosia airport in the UN buffer zone of the divided island, a rather unsettling deserted area, the dog shelter didn’t look welcoming from far away. The sun was too hot, the smell of dogs too strong, and there were big metal gates around huge pens. But once I arrived, I could see the dedication of the people who worked there and couldn’t wait to join. It was a routine of bathing, walking, feeding, but most importantly loving these dogs constantly. Room after room there were so many abandoned dogs: Cyprus being an island, whichever animal arrives there reproduces and has no way out. There was an overpopulation of stray cats and dogs and it broke my heart. I remember it was just my brother and I over there and the men in charge of the shelter. Mum would drop us off for the day and we’d help as much as we can. 

I was on puppy duty most times, which was the best part. Sat in a pen with dozens of baby golden retrievers, rottweilers, and mixed races whining, licking and climbing all over me. Feeding them the bottle was the best part. They were so small they fit in my palm and I’d cuddle them all day in the shade. I still remember in particular this one puppy, a tiny rottweiler who wasn’t even old enough to open her eyes. She was so chubby and soft and would suck on our fingers for milk. Cute yet heartbreaking. She didn’t have her mum anymore and I remember how badly I wanted to save her. I named her Bubble and gave her all my love and attention, cradling her in my arms every Saturday for three months.

We also had to walk all the dogs. Just imagine two young children holding 5 leashes each with big dogs too excited to walk alongside them. It was a work out but it was worth it to see them run around and play outside.

These animals want to be loved, they deserve to be loved. Dogs are one of the purest creatures on this earth who are so grateful and able to give you unconditional love.The best feeling of  volunteering was entering the puppy pen and having 12 puppies jump on your legs crying for attention and cuddles. It was also the hardest part because I could see how much they needed that attention constantly and had no permanent family to give it to them. I wasn’t a dog person before volunteering. I chose to do it because I was an animal person but now I know how volunteering and/or adopting can change a dog’s life. And yours.

This experience taught me 3 things:

  • Adopt dogs, don’t buy them. Put aside your principles and desire for a pure breed and take a look around a shelter. You could be saving a life. 
  • Don’t neglect spaying your dogs, you’ll avoid abandonment. Yes puppies are adorable but it just creates more dogs who need a home later and might not find one.
  • Every little bit helps. Do your part, volunteer. Even if you think it’s pointless, that it won’t change the situation, it will at least a bit. The people managing the shelter can always use an extra pair of hands to wash the dogs and the pens and the dogs will always welcome someone to play with them and cuddle them. 

Not only will volunteering at a dog shelter make the dogs feel loved but it’ll make you feel like you helped make this world a little bit better. 

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