Volunteer Vacations

See the world, lend a hand
By Twig Mowatt, July 2009, Updated February 2022

Many animal lovers find that visits to exotic locales can be more upsetting than enjoyable. The sight of abandoned or neglected dogs and cats can not only ruin a trip, but will often stick with them long after they return home.

Volunteering with an animal welfare organization is a great way to experience new places without feeling like a helpless observer. Today, these kinds of global opportunities are easier than ever to find (see the World Society for the Protection of Animals’ new database of volunteer opportunities at Compassionate Travel), and you don’t have to be a vet to be useful. The most coveted quality in any volunteer is simply a love of animals.

“Non-veterinary volunteers are especially welcome,” emails John Dalley of the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, Thailand. “The dogs at the shelter love it when volunteers come, because then they receive the kind of one-on-one attention that our Thai staff just doesn’t have time to give.” Farther north on the Gulf of Thailand, Headrock Dogs Rescue is a small operation dedicated to sheltering, healing and rehoming the area’s abandoned dogs. Headrock volunteers are not required to pay for their experience (unlike many other international volunteer positions).

The intrepid traveler can see a good part of the globe this way. In Indonesia, Janice Girardi, founder of the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), is increasingly dependent upon volunteer help to make a difference in the lives of the islands’ estimated 500,000 stray dogs.


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In addition to needing assistance with day-to-day animal care, Girardi welcomes communications and public relations help, as well as people who are good with kids and interested in conducting educational seminars at Bali’s international schools. She’d also like to find a volunteer jewelry designer to create an animal welfare line.

BAWA is located in Ubud, Bali’s art center and home to lots of inexpensive housing and good restaurants. Depending on a volunteer’s skill set and length of stay, Girardi may be able to provide some basic financial support and, at the very least, transport to and from the airport.

If Europe is more appealing, Inside/Out, a tour company that combines humanitarian projects with adventure travel, scheduled a trip to the Zagoria region of Greece for 10 days in June to help local animal activists improve conditions for dogs. Participants helped construct feeding stations for strays, and then took an eco-tour of the region; part of the tour cost supported the project work. The organization plans additional animal welfare projects in Greece and hopes to expand into other countries as well. Future projects may include educational and hands-on animal assistance work or participation in spay/neuter programs.

On the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the Vieques Humane Society offers “rustic” accommodations to anyone who’ll commit to 30 hours of work in the course of a week. President and volunteer coordinator Barbara Rumore welcomes all manner of help—from fundraising and community outreach to yard work and dog bathing. Photographers (and their equipment) are also encouraged to come and take photos of the animals up for adoption. An extra perk for volunteers is the chance to escort an animal that has just been adopted on a flight to its new home on the U.S. mainland.

Lynn Morgan, of Moretown, Vt., who has a background in nursing, spent time at the Vieques Shelter feeding dogs, cleaning cages and assisting the vets. “It was really rewarding,” she says, adding that the apartment had ocean views and a lovely sea breeze. “It was a great way to meet people, and everyone was so grateful to have the help. I’m definitely planning to go back.”

Photo: AdobeStock

Twig Mowatt covered the drug war in Colombia for the New York Times and the Associated Press and now writes about animal issues. She works closely with dog rescue organizations in Puerto Rico and with GREY2K USA.