22 December 2010
january project preview | animal aware | near sumpango sacatepéquez, guatemala
What: AWARE (Animal Welfare Association - Rescue/Education) is a non-profit, non-governmental charitable organization, founded in Guatemala in 1998 by Xenii Nielsen (USA), Gina Illescas (Guatemala), and Pamela Hirst- Prins (England). The principal activity of AWARE is rescue and rehabilitation of domestic animals. AWARE has a permanent on-site spay/neuter clinic, and plans to build an education center to provide free environmental education to local children, eventually including basic literacy and numeracy, and perhaps English language teaching. At the moment AWARE’s educational provision includes visits in schools and colleges - and even, on occasion, private homes - in and around Antigua and Guatemala City. AWARE is financed solely through membership subscriptions and private donations - either financial or in-kind.
AWARE operates a No-Kill animal shelter. This means that they do not euthanize any animal brought to them, as long as they feel that the animal is still able to live a reasonably normal and enjoyable life. All animals that are not adopted are kept and provided for. They sometimes participate in AWARE’s school visits, and all of them give Hound Heights its special character.
Where: Hound Heights is located just off the Pan-American Highway - at Km 40, between San Lucas and Chimaltenango - close to the village of Sumpango Sacatepéquez - very handy for the spectacular kite flying on All Souls Day (1st November). This is Guatemala’s Central Highlands, and the farm is about 2300 meters (7500 feet) above sea-level. Although AWARE is only 14° north of the Equator, it gets cold enough for a touch of pre-dawn frost during the winter at this altitude.
The Shelter sits astride a ridge, nestling amongst woods and the tiny fields of maize and beans of the local Kakchiquel Indians. It’s a very peaceful spot, and listening to the whippoorwill at night it’s hard to imagine that these apparently gentle hills and valleys owe their steep inclines and jumbled configuration to terrible seismic convulsions resulting from Guatemala’s situation on the junction of no less than three tectonic plates.
Volunteer work: With over 200 dogs and nearly 100 cats, AWARE always need help with anything from building dog-runs or putting up fences to bathing, brushing, or walking dogs, providing some human company for both the dogs and the cats, or helping out with their educational programs. From time to time, AWARE needs help with their spay/neuter and rabies vaccination clinics, garage sales, and other fund-raising events.
Possible duties include:
• Dogs: bathing, brushing, obedience training, medicating, cleaning cages, walking, and socializing.
• Cats: brushing, medicating, cleaning the cages, and socializing.
• Educational programs in local schools.
• Helping with spay/neuter and rabies vaccination clinics in local villages.
• Thinking up and organizing fund-raising events.
• Sunday: Hound Heights is open to the public from 10 am to 3 pm. Volunteers can help show people around, assist parking, discourage littering, show animals to potential adopters, etc.
Significance: I adopted Gus, my four-legged sidekick in the throes of a messy break-up. Some women buy shoes or binge on Ben & Jerry’s – I rescued a three-month old puppy on SPCA doggy death row. Adopting an untrained, abused puppy presented all sorts of challenges I wasn’t prepared for, but this beast dressed in brown fur taught me to let go and believe in my ability to love without all the bullshit riders and clauses and exceptions I’ve managed to build like a fortress around my heart for decades. Animal rescue and spay and neuter programs are causes I strongly believe in and I look forward to working with animals in a country where animals are generally not treated well or considered a status symbol (versus a well cared for pet). If I can help connect one animal with an owner who will give 'em a lifetime of love like I've given Gus, I'll be happy.
As an added bonus, I get to volunteer with my food and travel writer friend, Lisa Rogak of Where In the World is Peckerhead? fame. This gal has been incredibly kind to me on so many levels and such a source of creative and travel inspiration, that I am pretty damn happy that I finally get to meet her live and in the flesh in Latin America. Volunteering pretty much kicks butt, but getting to share the experience with people you respect and admire takes it to a whole other level of awesome (as I learned this month at Food Lifeline). So, thank you Lisa for putting AWARE on my radar!