And my crazy brain beings. Why am I volunteering at BAWA? Why aren’t I at the cat place people have spoken about? I friggin love cats! I would be in heaven, rolling around cuddling cats all day. I’ve never really been a dog person. Plus since India I’m pretty uncomfortable being around ‘street’ dogs, so many stories of them attacking people.. and they’re all so barky.. maybe I could just leave early and do the cats instead? Yea that would be good.. Hang on. No. What am I saying? That’s ridiculous. I came here to volunteer, to give back, help where it’s needed. This wasn’t for my personal gratification, my own pleasure, doing it as a fun ‘holiday activity’. My first morning and my mind was already freaking out. Nerves started to spark and doubts had crept in. But I caught it. I caught myself in the act, actually heard what I was saying, and then put myself straight. No. I’m here to volunteer, to give my service. To help these creatures as they desperately need it. I’m going to give it my all. I committed myself to them and I’m not going to let them down. Volunteering isn’t about personal reward, it’s about giving.
My first day was pretty intimidating. Alongside me were 4 young students from Singapore. We met at one of BAWA’s shops and walked down to one of their shelters, the ‘Puppy House’, which is the nicest shelter they have. As we entered a dozen dogs were barking at us from all directions. The uncertainty started to creep in then. I’ve had some hairy experiences in the past, and I already struggle with my confidence walking home at night because of the dogs here. Friend by day and foe by night. They’re all bark and no bite I was told. It took me some getting use to, but you start to pick it up. Yes they’re all barking, and yes they’re loud. But their tails are wagging and they’re pleased to see you. Or they’re just uncertain and trying to suss you out, having a chat and interrogating you. My confidence around them all really changed when I eventually took Cinta (which I later found out means love) out for a walk. She had to be in a cage by herself as didn’t get on with other dogs, and not many people on first sight either. There was a growling incident on the first day. But I learnt that she’s just a mirror. If you go up to her uncertain and with fear, she reflects that. One day I was the only volunteer there and she HAS to be walked (she refuses to toilet in her cage), so I had to psych myself up. Come on Anjos, you can do it, go in there all positive happy and excited to see her, all chatty and friendly, don’t be scared, she’s only a dog. And wow. She was a completely different dog. What first appeared as this scary aggressive dog, was this beautiful happy puppy like soul. So excited to have someone happy to see her, to take her out, to play with her and give her affection. This really changed my feelings on the dogs here, and outside. It just reminded me that everyone, whether animal or human, just ultimately wants to be loved and love.
Being with the dogs one on one confirmed that I definitely can’t work with animals directly, that I’m more of a behind the scenes animal welfare advocate. Just hearing their stories, seeing them stuck in this place, scared of you because of past trauma. Abandoned because they’re not perfect anymore, given up because they had a leg amputated, thrown away as they had a slight deformity, beaten as they were in the way, going to be killed as they were in the wrong place, or caged and frighted waiting to be eaten as meat. Seeing how happy they are to see you, how much they just want love and care, a human of their own love and be loved back, when you leave the gates for them to come with you and not be left behind. I’m far too sensitive to see it in the flesh. I found it pretty hard at times to keep it together, welling up even at the happier times, somehow that felt worse sometimes.
I walked the dogs, groomed them, and socialised with them. It doesn’t seem like much but it’s so vital for their success of being adopted. Some of them come in scared of people, and unless you work with them showing them that not all people are there to cause them harm, then they’ll never have a loving home. The work they do at BAWA is amazing, from taking them in, working with them behaviourally to ensure they turn into a happy dog.. Treating them for all manner of illnesses, making them fit and beautiful again! Like Ubi, she had 3 types of skin diseases and no one would have gone near her, but she was the most beautiful pup there for me. If you just looked at her the tail would start going and she would start stomping with excitement. It’s amazing to see the change in them over time. I was only there a short while compared to some volunteers but hearing how much they had overcome was so heart warming. And getting to see Janna (the three legged dog) adopted after a year and a half there was an awesome feeling.
It was testing and learning and rewarding all at once. If anyone is heading out to Bali or South East Asia, get in touch with them, or even if you’re not they can still use your help from overseas. They really need you. We all should do at least one good deed a day; whether you partake in volunteering like at BAWA, donate or raise money for a good cause, give food to someone without, or even just give praise and acknowledgement to someone who deserves it. Every little good deed can go a long way. I’ve massively appreciated a friendly smile from a stranger on some of my more miserable days. So many of us are in fortunate positions where it doesn’t take much to do something great for someone or something else. Sometimes it means stepping out of your comfort zone but that can only be a good thing! Well, they do say that the key to happiness is giving.