The Dogvine

An Amazing Experience Volunteering At Animal Rescue Kefalonia

For those who read my post on Animal Rescue Kefalonia | Hope For 400 Stray Dogs & Cats, you will know I headed back to volunteer for Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK) for a week at the end of last year. A lot has happened since then (more on that in a moment), but I wanted to share with my volunteer experience at ARK which I can honestly say has been life-changing! It was probably simultaneously one of the hardest yet most rewarding things I’ve done in a long time. So now’s the time to grab a cuppa and read on to find out why…

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Volunteering 1

The Welcome Committee

When I arrived at ARK for my first day of volunteering, I was met with a warm welcome from the band of ARK dogs (and Memas the ginger ‘boss’ cat) who roam free at the entrance of ARK, keeping a watchful eye on all new arrivals. After a quick catch-up with Marina and Joyce who run the shelter, it was time to get stuck into the daily tasks.  Armed with gloves, a shovel, rake and bucket my main task for the day (and every day it turned out) was cleaning the pens of poo or kaka as it’s endearingly called in Greece. No, this is not glamorous and yes, I was surprisingly bad at it and to start with quite squeamish.

There is certainly an art to getting the pen door open, ensuring you get in and no dogs get out (didn’t have a 100% success rate on that I’m afraid) and the kaka cleaning tools make it in with you. By the end of day one I would like to say that I had developed a system of holding the bucket, rake and shovel out in front of me to shoo the dogs back and on the way out backing out in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, this was by no means elegant and often thwarted by the eager affections of several dogs ready to greet you from all directions. However, after ending up wearing the contents of said bucket on several occasions and having one dog mistake my leg for a peeing post, any squeamishness I may have had quickly went out the window.

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Volunteering 2

The dogs are busy smelling my legs as by this point I was definitely wearing some of the bucket contents!

It quickly became apparent to me that even with me helping Joyce and Marina on cleaning duty it was going to be tough work to get around all the pens that need cleaning daily. Volunteering lesson number one…with all the work to be done to care for circa. 400 animals, quite simply ARK needs more help.The cleaning takes most of the day and of course you have to allow time to make a fuss of all the animals each time you go into a pen which as you can see from the video below can take some time…

Then there are the water bowls to clean and refill, bedding to wash, any animals needing special care to look after and finally the food to prepare at the end of the day. At the end of the first day, I was absolutely exhausted, ready for a shower and bed. However, Joyce and Marina kept going – even though it was nearly dark by the time I left, I found out that most days Joyce and Marina stay at the shelter to finish things up and if there’s no light, they wear head flashlights to see what they’re doing. These women are incredible!

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Volunteering 3

The animals are crazy about Marina…

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Volunteering 4

And Marina about the animals…

The next day, we had an additional pair of hands as Gill an English lady who lives on Kefalonia was there to help. Gill is a teacher and when not teaching, volunteers at ARK about 4 days a week (bless her) and has been doing so for years. Having that extra pair of hands made a huge difference. Not only is Gill super efficient but she knows the names of pretty much all of the dogs at ARK and the quirks of their personalities. Oh and she often sings to them as she cleans their pens. As you can guess the dogs love Gill (and she certainly loves them). On the third day, my friend Thao arrived in Kefalonia to come and help volunteer. I met Thao years ago when I lived in Rio and hadn’t seen her for about 5 years. Thao had actually never been to Greece but when she read my previous post on ARK decided that coming to volunteer at ARK would be the perfect way to get an intro to the country and do something to give back at the same time. Turns out Thao imagined the volunteering experience would involve taking the dogs to the beach each day, little did she know…

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Volunteering 5

“The (Hard) Workers…well the three on the left at least’ – Joyce, Marina, Gill, Thao & myself

By now, I thought my pen entering technique had become a lot more polished and I was feeling quite confident in demonstrating it to Thao. What I didn’t know, was that there were a trio of dogs who look out for the newbie volunteers and use it as an opportunity to make a run for it. Despite me diving on top of one dog trying the run round my legs approach, two other dogs jumped right over me and straight out of their pen. I was absolutely horrified at the thought of them never coming back or worse something terrible happening to them. Marina and Joyce immediately got in their cars to go and look for them, leaving myself and Thao mortified at the shelter. Not long after, we spotted the two (very gleeful) dogs in question running down the road next to the shelter looking very pleased with themselves indeed. Fortunately Joyce was able to catch them and they were soon returned to their cages where they promptly went and stood in the water buckets to cool down. Honestly, call me a crazy dog person but the look on their faces couldn’t have said louder and clearer how pleased with themselves they were. Here the guilty trio are…they must have seen us newbie volunteers coming a mile off!

Fortunately the rest of the week went by without any other dog escapes or dramas. However, it didn’t take long to become attached to the dogs. Of course you don’t mean to have favourites but you end up having them nevertheless. The dogs start to get to know you and you can tell they look forward to you coming. The shy ones start to come out of their shell and you get to know their individual personalities. Every day at some point I sat in one of the cages and bawled my eyes out. The thought of all these beautiful dogs so desperate for love and affection and knowing that some of them had been at ARK since it started more than five years ago, was just heartbreaking. Of course they are most certainly loved at ARK, but there are so many animals and a finite amount of time each day so having a home of their own would just be incredible.

Sadly there are simply too many to put each of their photos in this post but here are some of the faces that pulled on my heartstrings and I’ll be uploading more to our Facebook page soon…

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Collage 1

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Collage 2

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Collage 4

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Collage 3 v2

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Collage 5

By now, it was most definitely apparent that cleaning is not my strongest skill. Don’t get me wrong I worked hard at it for that week but I could see that I could help in so many other ways too. As you can imagine with all the work there is to do at ARK, this doesn’t leave time for things like taking photos of the dogs to share online or making videos to promote the dogs for adoption. Well, that was something myself and Thao could definitely help with. First up of our featured videos (more coming soon) is sweet gentle soul Solo who has been at ARK for a whopping five years….

We also wanted to find a way to help long-term so over the course of the week, and several glasses of much-needed wine after the long days of hard work, we talked about the idea of starting a charity in the UK to support ARK. There are already many long-term ARK supporters in the UK but if we were able to start a charity then we could not only coordinate efforts and achieve more, but also raise money via channels that would not otherwise be open to ARK. Yes, it was a daunting and scary thing to do, but we finally plucked up the courage give it a go. Marina and Gill loved the idea and helped choose the name ‘ARK Doris UK’ reflecting the name of the Greek charity but making it local to the UK. Now we just had to make it happen!!!

Well, I’m pleased to say we have. With lots of hard work and the help of Gill (who is our on the ground liaison co-ordinator) and Julie-Ann (who also volunteered at ARK back in August), ARK Doris UK is off the ground and we’re already on Easyfundraising – for those who don’t know this is a way to raise money for a chosen charity when you shop online – it doesn’t cost you any extra but the retailers donate a small percentage to charity each time. You can raise money when you do your supermarket shopping online, book travel or a whole host of other things (so we’d be ever so grateful if you’d consider supporting ARK Doris UK on Easyfundraising).

FB ARK Doris UK Easy Fundraising

We already have had some people who have come forward and said they would like to help with ARK Doris UK and raising funds so thank you!  If you would like to help in any way at all please do get in touch on: info@arkdorisuk.org. One thing is for sure, ARK need all the help they can get both in terms of donations and physically. There is often not enough money to cover the costs of running ARK  – it costs a whopping 5,000 Euros a month for just the food alone let alone medical or any other costs and Gill told me there have been times when there has been just one bag of food left and no-one is sure where the money is going to come from to buy more. In fact only last week ARK issued an urgent food appeal as food stocks were running low. So we’ve set up a Just Giving page to try to cover food costs for a month and keep tummies full for the ARK animals. As of today and thanks to some truly fantastic support, we’ve reached 20% of the goal…

I certainly never imagined that my week of volunteering at ARK would be such hard work, so rewarding, nor lead to setting up a charity but those are often the best experiences in life, the ones that lead you somewhere you didn’t expect. Who knows what’s next, but as long as we can find ways to help more homeless dogs and cats, then I’m pretty sure we’re headed in the right direction!

Thao & Odissea - Animal Rescue Kefalonia

Thao with beautiful English Setter Odissea who is looking for a home.

Animal Rescue Kefalonia Feeding Time

Puppy feeding was definitely one of my favourite jobs!

Animal Rescue Kefalonia - Sign

If you want an experience like no other and can lend an extra pair of hands by volunteering for a day, week, month or whatever time you can spare…it will be a HUGE help and incredibly rewarding. To volunteer at Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK), please contact ARK directly by emailing: doris.ark@hotmail.com.
More ARK photos will be up on our Facebook page soon.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

    • Thank you Ann, it was truly an incredible experience! I’m hoping to go back this year too! Well done to you too…it’s amazing how much you can help even if you only have a day to spare. Imagine if everyone spent a day from their holiday helping out…

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