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Volunteer Abroad

Save the Pets

Volunteer Opportunities Abroad for Animal Lovers

When Donna Baer went to the Bahamas for a vacation she came back with more than just a few grains of sand in her luggage. She had a 10-pound, flea-infested, mangy mutt named “Potcakes” listed on her baggage claim tag. Distinguished by their unique coloring, Potcakes are an officially recognized breed of dog in the Bahamas archipelago, deriving their name from eating the cake (grits or rice) left in the bottom of the cooking pot. They are also a heart-breaking sight, often seen on the streets begging for food scraps and suffering from diseases.

For many world travelers such as Donna the plight of animals they meet during their travels can be disturbing. What can be done to help? While a new pet might not be on your list of vacation souvenirs, other options include making a donation to an animal welfare organization or volunteering. Here’s some to consider:

Nigeria: The Centre for Education, Research and Conservation of Primates and Nature (CERCOPAN) operates a monkey sanctuary that works with communities toward forest protection, land management, protection of endangered species, and research. They accept both long-term volunteers (six months to one year), and short-term volunteers who are self-supporting (three months or less). CERCOPAN believes volunteers provide a variety of skills and expertise for minimal cost, thus conserving scarce resources for project development. Contact: www.cercopan.org.

Asia: While some countries have banned the practice of dog eating, Animals Asia Foundation reports that the practice is growing in China. Up to 10 million dogs are slaughtered there annually. A new Hong-Kong based program “Friends… or Food” is focused on ending the trade in dog and cat meat. Animals Asia Foundation also offer tips for travelers that include asking that no animal parts are used in traditional medicine treatments, voicing concerns to management if you observe animals chained as tourist attractions, and avoiding the consumption of dishes containing endangered species such as shark’s fin or bird’s nest soups. They also appreciate it if travelers catalogue any animal abuse witnessed. Contact: www.animalsasia.org.

Travel the World with WWF: This global conservation organization has an experiential travel program that brings members close to nature and explores the regional issues surrounding wildlife and their habitat. Their itineraries offer authentic and participatory experiences guaranteed to deepen your understanding of the surrounding natural world in a manner that is respectful of local culture and sensitive to ecological principles. An exciting lineup for 2007 includes India’s national parks, whale-watching in Alaska, and the monarch butterfly migration in Mexico. Contact: www.wwf.org.

Bahamas: Project Potcake was a highly successful spay/neuter/return program that began in the Bahamas in 1999. The program’s goal—to efficiently and humanely reduce the number and therefore the suffering of the islands’ free-roaming dogs—gained considerable community support. While the reproductive population of strays was reduced by 75 percent, the Bahamas Humane Society is always in need of donations of cash, food, cleaning supplies, old towels, and volunteers to walk the dogs in care. Contact: www.bahamashumanesociety.com.

The opportunities to improve the situation for the worldwide animal community through volunteering are as wide and as varied as the interests of the world’s animal lovers. But if in your travels you should happen to lose your heart to an island stray like Donna Baer did, The Potcake Foundation can also arrange to have your very own Potcake shipped to your home. Contact: www.potcakefoundation.com.

Michele Peterson, Local Encounters columnist for Transitions Abroad Magazine, has written for The Boston Herald, The Christian Science Monitor, The Globe and Mail, 50Plus, The Toronto Star, and The National Post, as well as many more.