After having some great experiences volunteering in France, Will and I decided to continue volunteering. Since we wanted to celebrate the New Year partying in Lisbon, we started looking for hosts in Portugal. Luckily we were invited to volunteer with animals (which was a completely new experience for me) in the warmest and most beautiful part of the country, The Algarve. We booked flights to Porto, stayed a couple of nights before catching a bus to Lisbon for NYE, then caught another bus to The Algarve to start volunteering with animals.
Now even though I’m completely against animal cruelty (watch Earthlings and you’ll understand why) but I’ve never actually been an ‘animal person.’ It’s not at all that I don’t like animals…I just never had experience with them, unless feeding fish at my dad’s business counts? So I was really looking forward to volunteering with animals to get outside of my comfort zone.
And I must say, after spending 4 weeks with bunnies, meerkats, coatis, goats, wallabies, guinea-pigs, tortoises, squirrels, all kinds of birds and Nina the pig, I really have converted into an animal lover! I don’t think I’d ever want to work in the animal industry professionally but I honestly have become attached to my new animal friends. Especially the tortoises – they were the cutest!
We worked at ‘Centre Algarve’ the only hotel in Europe designed for children with special needs. The centre hasn’t officially opened yet but they have had guests come previously to test it out and I’ve heard great stories about the kids’ experience here. The centre has it’s own private petting zoo attached where guests can wander around and play with the animals, and is where we did our volunteering work.
A typical day for us as volunteers was waking up at around 7.45am, grabbing a cup of tea and be out feeding the animals by 8am. With so many animals, including over 300 birds, it would usually take us until 10.30am to make sure everyone had food and water. At 10.30am we had half an hour for breakfast which was provided by the charity before heading back to work. After breakfast we would clean animal enclosures. Cleaning poop wasn’t particularly my idea of fun (do you know how much birds shit?!) but it was all part of the experience.
Before finishing our shift we would give most of the animals a snack for lunch and be finished by 2pm. This gave us time to shower and be ready for a late lunch at 2.30pm each day. We’d then have free-time to chill out or wander to the local village, and then help ourselves to left overs in the evening for dinner. We had 2 full days off each week where we ventured out to explore The Algarve.
Since the start of my anti-animal cruelty phase I’ve had mixed emotions about zoos because of how cruel it is to not let an animal live in their natural environment and the fact that zoos are educational. But to be honest, the longer I worked at Centre Algarve, the more I got attached to the animals and the more I started to disagree with zoos.
I think most of these thoughts came about when I’d be cleaning wallaby poop. I’d be thinking, “Why the hell is a human picking up this shit when the wallaby should be hopping around Australia being part of the natural environment. Not locked in an enclosure in Portugal!” And then I realised that the only reason I had never seen a coati or even heard of one before was because they’re supposed to be living in Central and South America.
So I guess volunteering with animals taught me two things:
1) I actually am an animal lover, surprisingly, and would like to spend more time with them (such as pet-sitting, etc).
2) Even though the animals here were looked after very well, I don’t want to donate my time or money to zoos and/or other for-profit animal organisations.
That being said, I had a fabulous time and really enjoyed my experience volunteering with animals. I would definitely recommend Work Away to anyone looking to volunteer, travel and experience new things.
Have you volunteered with animals before? What are your thoughts on zoos and animal cruelty? We’d love to hear from you, leave us a comment below…Pin this post on Pinterest for later: