Ah, vacation. New territory to explore, the sun at your back, no deadlines, rescued puppies romping at your feet - wait, what?
You read that right. Volunteer vacations are steadily gaining popularity, and these days, there are plenty of ways to help pups in need while you get some R&R. We sniffed out a few destination organizations to help you earn your do-gooder badge next Spring Break.
If you find yourself surrounded by the turquoise waters and stunning beaches of Turks and Caicos, make sure you try the local specialty: potcakes. You can take the potcakes to the beach, help them socialize, even find them new homes.
See, while they may sound like a sweet breakfast treat, potcakes are actually the standard-issue street mutts of Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas - they got their name because locals would feed them the remains of dinners that were caked to their cookpots. A mixture of every breed colonists have brought to the islands, potcakes have evolved to be calm, smart, and resilient.
Sadly, they’re also in jeopardy.
With a limited amount of families to adopt to on the islands, and public misinformation lending to poor population control, Turks and Caicos has thousands more stray puppies than they can handle. That’s where Potcake Place comes in.
“The goal is to go out of business,” says Jane Parker-Rauw, who founded the organization in 2004 on the island of Providenciales after witnessing the stray problem spiral out of control. Parker-Rauw estimates that she adopts out over 500 strays every year, mostly puppies, and predominantly to families in the US and Canada.
Before they can find their forever homes, though, these potcakes need to be socialized. That’s where vacationing volunteers come in. Tourists line up to walk the pups from 8 to 10am, Monday through Saturday. The goal is to get the pups “used to having a little collar on, a little harness, used to different people,” says Parker-Rauw. “So one day I want them out with a family with little kids. The next day, I want them out with a big guy.”
If your trip is coming to a close, but you still crave more puppy time, you can volunteer to export some of that potcake joy by becoming a courier. Potcake Place is always looking for folks to escort pups on their plane trips home to meet their new families. Because most of their dogs are still puppies when they’re placed with adoptive homes, you’ll only need to be able to carry a soft-sided bag on the plane. Potcake Place will handle all of the details; you deliver the puppy joy.
Become the Mayor of Dogtown.
As you drive deeper into southern Utah, toward the Arizona border, the landscape begins to change - the soil deepens from tan to striking red, winding canyons rise around you, the light shifts into dreamy hues. There’s no question - here, hidden in this quiet corner of the American Southwest, is one very special place.
35 years ago, the founders of Best Friends Animal Society felt the same magic when they stumbled upon Kanab, Utah. What started as a group of friends building a sanctuary for abandoned and abused animals blossomed into the largest no-kill animal shelter in the world, with its sights set on the lofty goal of No More Homeless Pets.
On our recent visit to the Sanctuary, there was no shortage of passionate volunteers enjoying the view of Angel Canyon from the vegan dining hall. “My wife and I are looking to buy land here,” one retired gentleman from Oregon told us. “This is my second time volunteering here in two months. We just love it.”
Volunteers have the option of staying in quaint cottages on the property or at one of the dog-friendly hotels in town, five minutes away - most of which offer a discount for BFAS volunteers. Either way, you’ll be able to check a dog out for a “sleepover” during your visit. The sanctuary provides food, bedding, and toys for you to have a slumber party with one of their eligible dogs. Just don’t be surprised if all your loaner pup wants to do is cuddle, like our 12 year-old pit mix, Chrissy, did. “I think they get out of their enclosures and are just finally able to relax,” one of the caretakers told us.
Looking to explore the gorgeous surrounding environment? Take a pup on an outing. Certain dogs are approved to leave the sanctuary for adventures, and there are plenty to be had around Kanab. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is dog-friendly and just across the highway. Not only do these outings provide pups with an opportunity to stretch their paws and run wild, they also glean valuable feedback about how each dog fares outside of the shelter environment. The more notes a pup has, the easier it is to place him in a loving home. Who knows - if you and your canine playmate hit it off, maybe that loving home will end up being yours.
Bark for Baja.
When friend of Atlas, Rachel Hutcheson, found a lone puppy on the side of the road during a surf trip in Baja, Mexico, she knew she had to help; she just wasn’t sure how. Fortunately, she was close to Playa Central, where she found Bark for Baja. The volunteers gave her food, a collar, and connected her with a local vet. When Rachel decided to keep her street mutt, who she named Calle, BFB worked tirelessly to make it happen.
“They found a foster couple to watch her for a month. She was so frail then,” Rachel says. “During that time, they took her to the vet and kept me updated on her health. They also arranged for her to be dropped off at the airport two hours away when I returned to take her home.
So when Rachel learned that Bark for Baja arranges volunteer vacations to help dogs like Calle, she vowed to go back one day to help.
Periodically, BFB organizes trips that make it easy for folks to help their homeless pups - they provide accommodation and access to a kitchen, so you just purchase airfare to get there. Follow their Facebook page to keep an eye out for these opportunities. If you happen to be staying in the area, they’ll welcome your help, too! Email Olivia and let her know your travel plans, and they’ll happily coordinate your volunteer shifts.
Go home with that post-vacation glow.
Sure, heading home a few shades darker and with tales of adventure is worth the cost of a trip. The pride of knowing that you helped homeless dogs in need, though, will last long after that tan fades.