Volunteering abroad with cats and dogs at an animal shelter is a wonderful idea. I tried it for the first time during my trip to Mexico. For a woman who loves to meet felines whenever she travels, whether Cats of Croatia, Portugal or Cats & Dogs of Italy, it is a dream come true.
Refugio Animal Shelter is tucked away on a back street on Isla Holbox in Mexico. Multiple websites have rediscovered this island hideaway. Just a few blocks away from the town center, the shelter is still relatively secluded. The only hint that I am in the vicinity is the occasional bark I hear as I walk down the street.
Check In With Staff
When I reach the entrance, I think I have accidentally arrived at a vet’s office. I see an older man holding his dog near the door. Then I see the sign—Bienvenidos (Welcome). I try to open the gate but it won’t budge. I don’t see anyone to let me in. Luckily, another woman sees my confusion. She tells me to toggle the lock. Realizing the gate is locked on the inner side, I lift the bar and tentatively walk inside.
Six dogs sprawl on the concrete deck. They each look up into my eyes as if to say “Welcome. Won’t you love me?” I immediately proceed to pet the oldest dog. He has such sad eyes. His black fur feels like felt. Then a younger caramel-colored dog nudges me on my arm. I switch to give him a neck rug. This seems to let everyone know that the masseuse has arrived. All the dogs begin to gather around me.
When an assistant working at the shelter comes out of the screened door, I explain that I want to visit the animals. Although she speaks only a little English, she asks me if I want to feed a bottle to the kittens. I answer “Si!”
Meeting the Kittens
She takes me over to a big cage. It is situated in the middle of the yard. There is no grass. It is just a dirt terrace. The kittens’ cage home is sheltered by a large tree. The canopy keeps it in the shade. She opens the lock on the cage and pulls out a grey and white kitten. His eyes are bright blue. His pink nose is too big for his face so I decide to call him Rosy. He suffers from an eye infection so there is seepage. He is screeching just like an infant demanding to be fed. She lays him on my chest.
The kitten begins to whimper and I snuggle him against me. He immediately tries to creep up my body to get into my hair. His claws feels like sewing needles pricking my shirt. But I disentangle him and turn his wiggling body sideways in my arm. Then I begin to massage his neck and top of his head. He instantly begins to relax.
Feeding Kittens With a Bottle
When his baby bottle arrives, I put it in his mouth. Bottle feeding is a critical skill if you want to volunteer. He sucks eagerly. I can’t believe how he can wrap his paws around his bottle. Clearly he is hungry. He greedily sucks on the nipple which spews milk in his mouth as well as down his neck. Finally after several minutes of frantic sucking, he is satiated. I continue to stroke him until he lays limp against me. Then I deposit him back in the cage.
His companion rushes to escape the cage. I nickname him Creamsicle because he is an adorable orange and white cat. Picking him up by the scruff of his neck (just like a mommy cat), I sit down on the chair to feed him. Although more tentative than Rosy, he too grabs the nipple in his mouth. He furiously begins to suck. I watch him as he eats. I didn’t want him to ever finish his bottle. It is so sweet to just hold him tucked in my arm.
At this point, I am hooked. Volunteer abroad with cats is so fulfilling. Instead of rushing for the beach to swim, all I want to do is stay at the shelter and hold the kittens. They seem so happy when I cuddle them. I can’t imagine not choosing them over beach time.
Next I pull out each of the grey tiger-striped kittens who I believe are siblings. Since they are closer to two months old, they don’t need to be fed with a bottle. They are just content to be held and stroked. I decide to give them a cat massage. Starting with a calm voice, I whisper in a soothing voice. Then I try to find out which area they want massaged. Both kittens appear to love having their backs slowly rubbed.
The massage seems to wear the kittens out, so they sprawl in the cage to take a nap. I stick my mouth close to the cage to whisper goodbye. I promise that I will return tomorrow.
Petting The Shelter Dogs
Before I can leave, I stop again to pet each of the dogs that are lounging on the cement floor. My eyes tear up as I say goodbye to the kind-hearted worker. She proudly shows me the white poodle. A nice couple from New York is adopting him. I hope more visitors will fall in love this week at the shelter and bring home an island dog or cat.
For three more days, I stop at the shelter to feed the kittens. I think they now can recognize my voice because all four rush to the front of the cage when I speak to them. My heart jumps to see how they want to be loved. On my last day, I make a donation for the shelter in the box. I ponder how I could do something bigger to help them. There are so many animals on the island that need help. I am so grateful that Holbox doesn’t leave the animals homeless. Volunteering abroad with cats (and dogs) is a joy.
Volunteering Abroad with Cats
I hope my story will inspire you to consider volunteering during your travels. Rather than feeling like I gave away precious hours of my hard-earned vacation time, I feel elated. This is my new way to help cats and dogs who didn’t have their own furever home. I will never forget my animal friends at the shelter in Holbox. I feel so grateful that I could spend time loving them.
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