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In the lush green guatemalan countryside, near a village named Sumpango, a small shelter takes in injured, starving, sick and abandoned dogs, rehabilitates them and tries to find them homes. Operated by Animal Welfare Association: Rescue/Education (AWARE), the shelter—referred to as Hound Heights—perches on a ridge 7,500 feet above sea level, a peaceful location far removed from the teeming streets and garbage dumps from which many of the dogs are rescued.
AWARE—founded in 1998 by Xenii Nielsen, Gina Illescas and Pamela Hirst-Prins and now overseen by Nielsen and her husband,Martin Leadbitter—runs on a shoestring and is funded completely through private donations.With 250 resident dogs, many of whom will never find homes, the shelter does an amazingly good job of making sure the dogs are well fed and cared for. The shelter is also responsible for the spay/neuter of more than 2,000 animals in the past three years—quite a feat when you realize that its annual operating budget is less than $30,000. A donation to AWARE goes a long way; for instance, $100 will spay seven dogs or build a simple dog enclosure.
AWARE connects with a tight network of people in the U.S. and Guatemala who work tirelessly to get adoptable puppies out of the country—an “underground railroad” of sorts. They quarantine, inoculate, and spay/neuter the dogs; do the paperwork and get it approved by a vet and the American Embassy; and several times a year, buy a few lucky pups one-way plane tickets to a better life in the United States. This issue’s cover dog, Charlie, is one of those fortunate canines.
There might not be a perfect solution to the homeless dog problem in Guatemala, but dedicated people are working hard to save the country’s lost dogs. To learn more about AWARE and how to donate or volunteer, go to animalaware.org . Or email AnimalAwareUSA@yahoo.com  for more information.
Photograph by Jemma Jackson