Days at Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR) are varied, and the clinic is always full of activity. For a burnt out veterinarian, I was so happy I came to volunteer.

There are always puppies to be cuddled, recovered dogs to be released, and new rescues arriving. I loved working in such a dynamic environment where you never know what’s going to happen next! 

Puppies at Dharamsala Animal Rescue

Puppies Needing Cuddles

Every day starts with feeding the dogs, administering daily medications, and assessing the patients to monitor their progress and recovery. Then it’s onto my favourite part of the day – walking the dogs through the beautiful countryside with the backdrop of the snowy Himalayas. Just another reason why visiting DAR is so captivating. After that, the rescues start to arrive as well as many pets brought in by their owners for essential vaccinations and treatment for illness or injuries.

Volunteer at Dharamsala Animal Rescue

Dog hike at DAR

Surgery days were my favourite. It’s crucial that the dogs are neutered to prevent further pregnancies and maintain a healthy street dog population. I came to DAR with limited experience in surgery, but with the help and support of the team and the experience I gained, I left feeling confident. It’s a bit different to surgery at home with resources being very limited. Over the course of my trip to India, I learnt to appreciate the facilities we have in the UK, and admire what can be achieved without them when you put in hard work, dedication and care to doing the very best you can. I learnt to be creative and resourceful, and incredibly grateful for the facilities and procedures we can offer to patients at home.

As a vet, you don’t often get to be a part of every step of a patient’s journey. From going out into the community to rescue dogs, through assessment, diagnosis and treatment as well as feeding, playing and walking, you can give these dogs the holistic approach they need. Seeing the dogs slowly gain confidence, learn to trust again, and heal from their traumas as a result of the remarkable care and time the staff give was a pleasure to witness and be a part of. The joy and satisfaction I felt is something I had previously lost and my time at DAR was a strong reminder of why I love my job!

Heading out in the van with the team to rescue dogs after receiving calls from the local community meant I was able to see and explore areas that I would never have otherwise as a regular tourist. I got to see places not in the travel guides and engage with the local community to learn more about the lives of the street dogs and the challenges they face. My heart was warmed by the many people who feed and care for the dogs, but I was also frustrated and angered at the condition of them. The injuries inflicted by humans and the state of the environment many of them are forced to live in was hard to see.

Rescue at Dharamsala Animal Rescue

Rescued Dog with Mange

Many of the rescued dogs had been involved in accidents on India’s treacherous roads, leaving them with broken bones, head, and spinal injuries. We also saw numerous dogs with skin conditions, tick fever, TVT (transmissible venereal tumours) and wire trap injuries to name but a few. Many of these are conditions we see infrequently or less severely in the UK, so my skills were challenged every day but I was motivated and determined to work with the team to help every single one. My heart broke for every dog we rescued, but the unconditional love they were still able to show is something that will remain with me forever. All the dogs have a very special place in my heart!

By the time I left DAR, my love and motivation for being a vet had been reignited. Those of us who work with animals do so because we love them, and I felt I had made a difference to the lives of the dogs I met. It was a pleasure to work with likeminded people and it is a clear objective at DAR to create a better future for India’s street dogs. Without people like them, these dogs have no voice. The way the team works together and their shared passion for what they do is unfaltering. I can’t thank the team enough for everything and I can’t wait to visit again in the future and to continue to support the incredible work they do. 

I found peace and happiness in the mountains, and enjoyed so many moments of calm, as well as plenty of laughs and conversations over a few cups of chai! There is plenty to explore on days off, in the local villages and in the larger towns with intriguing markets, restaurants, yoga, meditation and beautiful walks. I cannot recommend the volunteering experience at DAR enough – you will smile, gain four legged forever friends, and have the adventure of a lifetime!


Images: Author’s own

Click HERE to learn more about volunteering.


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About the author

Holly Anne Hills is a veterinarian who was feeling lost and dissatisfied. So, she decided to go to India and volunteer to see if she could rediscover why she chose her career path. After her first stop at Dharamsala Animal Rescue, her love and motivation for being a vet had been reignited.