My volunteering experience at Street Hearts BG
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
As you may have noted from last week's post, Street Hearts BG is one of a kind in the world of dog shelters. It goes without saying that Emma & Anthony put lots of love, time, money and effort to render the shelter as impeccable and suitable as possible for ensuring high welfare of the dogs they take in custody. They also built and refurbished a separate house & bungalow, so that they can host volunteers.
The atmosphere here feels like at home - you are part of the big family instantly! During my 2 weeks there, Emma & Anthony were lucky enough as we were 6 volunteers - which is the maximum they can accommodate currently. This brings great opportunities for the dogs & the shelter, and also may pose some logistical challenges at times but all in all the coordination was great.
A typical volunteer day
The day starts around 9.30 am, when one team does the "pack walk" - all dogs who want to join come along and are off the leash - and the other team does the cleaning of the pens and prepare the feeding bowls, change the water.
The pack walk provides some unique opportunities into the magnificent landscapes surrounding the area: fields, hills and forest. Lots of space for the dogs to sniff new smells, run around, or play together. It is a peaceful moment with the dogs while we do a break and observe the nature around us. It's quite fun to witness all of them interact with one another and also sometimes you feel like a parent when you have to separate the ones quarrelling a bit too intensely.
The afternoons are usually filled with 1:1 session with some dogs. This could range from lead training for puppies that are old enough and will be rehomed soon, to solo walk for some of the adult dogs who do not join on the pack walk. We also spend time socializing the young puppies, so they gain the confidence they need for their future life. One has to be patient, as some dogs are extremely scared of humans when they come in, or had a bad experience with humans due to mistreatment (sometimes the abandoned pet dogs even more than the strays). It's nonetheless heartwarming to see how a dog's behavior evolve from day to day and week to week - especially with puppies.
The end of the day is usually the funniest moment, as we put the dogs to their respective pens / sheds for the night. Imagine you have 70+ dogs to put to bed, you need to remember which one goes where and with whom, and of course some are not so cooperative and act like drama queens... The dogs group match is considered carefully. It's important they get along well as you don't want to end up having barking dogs waking you up in the middle of the night. It can be challenging as new dogs often need isolation at first, and there are limited solutions given the shelter is full again at the moment.
Volunteers also help with various tasks, among others: fundraising and social media content creation, photo/video taking of new dogs, bring dogs to the vet for spay & neuter, administer simple medication such as deworming tablets, and also cook for the group.
Several of us took part in the catch of a stray dog that Emma & Anthony have been chasing every 6 months for the past 4 years! That female dog has been nicknamed "grandma" as she gave birth to countless puppies over the years. She was extremely wary and smart, and recognized even Emma, Anthony or their pick-up car so that they could no longer come in close contact to her. It took 6 of us to follow her subtlety through the streets of Dryanovo, provide her with food that had been mixed with tranquilizer and eventually, taaa-daaa, there she was in Anthony's net. The first thing on the next day was her vet appointment for sterilization. We also caught 4 of her latest puppies (around 3 months old) and are working on socializing them.
Each day brings special and unforgettable moments, and I am grateful that I could spend lots of quality time with several dogs. Luckily, many of the puppies are already reserved for adoption. It's a unique feeling & privilege to contribute to their rehabilitation, provide the attention they deserve & prepare them as best as possible for their future loving home.
If you'd like to support Emma & Anthony in this great endeavor and help further the dogs of Dryanovo, please visit their website here. There are many ways you can get involved, and you may decide to fundraise (check out the fundraising pack here), sponsor a particular dog or buy one item off their Amazon wishlist. Of course, the crowdfunding for the second furever bus is still ongoing, and we're at 46% of the total amount currently [Last updated on 04Oct2020]. Any support is greatly appreciated and make a difference to the dogs!
I am now heading back to Bucarest to catch my flight back home to Zurich. I can't believe these 2 months are already over. I will reflect on my overall experience as volunteer in animal shelters in a separate post. I'm also excited as a future volunteering project is in the pipeline. More to come soon!
In the meantime, I will focus on my part-time studies. It's quite a lot of reading and weekly work I need to do - so I better stay on top of it. I am planning to write a post about it to explain a bit more what One Health is all about, as it connects to animal health & welfare too.
Thanks for reading and wishing you a lovely weekend!