Fresh out of an exciting but challenging six years of vet school in Edinburgh, I decided to reward myself with a trip abroad to volunteer somewhere with animals, combining two of my favourite things: travel and helping animals in need.
My name is Ina, a 2023 graduate veterinarian from the UK. This is the story of how I came to volunteer at Dharamsala Animal Rescue and what I learned and experienced.
Why volunteer at Dharamsala Animal Rescue?
After searching so many wonderful charities across the globe, I came across Dharamsala Animal rescue (DAR) on Instagram. DAR is a street dog rescue and rehabilitation centre in India. My soft spot for street dogs and my desire to visit India made me realise this was the place for me. Other factors influenced my decision, like the veterinary and general work I’d be getting involved in. The absence of a volunteering fee was huge plus (as a new graduate, my funds for this trip were limited!). And the affordable accommodation helped in this respect too.
But ultimately, I found myself admiring the work that DAR was already doing as well as their goals. The charity’s ethics and principles spoke to me, as well as all the effort and love being put into the local street dog care.
A home from home
I volunteered for just over two weeks in July 2023 and the whole experience exceeded all my hopes. I stayed with a local family, Pahari Niwas homestay, advertised on the DAR website. The family looked after and welcomed me so warmly into their home. When I wasn’t working, I spent my time hiking around the area, visiting Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj. I also learned a great deal about the Indian culture and local customs.
All in a day’s work
Work days were packed with medicating and treating the inpatients – around 30 dogs. I also assisted with surgeries, tending to incoming emergency rescues and locals’ pet dogs, as well as helping with all the feeding, walking and cleaning. And of course I managed to squeeze in plenty of dog cuddles! Monsoon is a challenging time for DAR with extra workload and treatments going on, so the ABC sterilisation campaign was on pause.
But, I still got to observe on average 1-2 neuter surgeries every couple of days. I learned a lot and then quickly got to perform surgery by myself with support and kindness from the two vets and vet assistants. Other surgeries included operating on road traffic accident fractures, wounds, and transmissible venereal tumours (TVTs). Surgical protocols and techniques followed those set and trained by the World Veterinary Service (WVS), providing high levels of care to the dogs. It was so clear to see that everyone at DAR devoted all their efforts and love into each and every dog that came through the door.
And who could forget…the dogs?
Each dog was named and instantly welcomed into the family no matter what their story was. All of them were willing to give us a chance to regain their trust and show us so much affection and loyalty in return. All this they did despite having suffered abuse and cruelty at the hands of humans. Admittedly, some needed a little more time and chicken to win them over!
My favourite part of the work was dealing with the incoming emergency rescue cases. Staff members head out every day in response to calls from the public or to search for any unwell or injured street dogs. Often, the veterinary team didn’t know what to expect on the rescue team’s return. So it was a fast paced, exciting environment in the clinic! As soon as the dog arrived it was straight to work to quickly alleviate any pain and figure out how to help them.
One Dog’s Story
It’s difficult to pick just one of the dog’s stories to share, but I did grow particularly fond of a little dog named Tori. She arrived very unwell, and incredibly weak, unable to move, eat or drink. Tori was kept in the isolation area due to the likely infectious symptoms she was displaying. These symptoms included an eye discharge which would accumulate very quickly, gluing her eyelids shut.
For the first few mornings after being rescued, we would find Tori curled up with her eyes stuck closed. She was essentially blind and probably afraid of the unknown surroundings. We would carefully clean and remove the crust around her eyes every day. And, without failure, her little tail would begin to wag as she opened her eyes and greeted us with warmth and gratitude.
With antibiotics and pain relief she built up strength and an appetite again. The eye drops and frequent cleaning reduced the eye discharge gradually and it completely cleared up within a week. We let her out of isolation to join the rest of the pack where she stayed until she finished all her medication and fully recovered. It breaks my heart to think how Tori would have suffered and most likely died if she had been left on the streets. Thanks goodness DAR rescued and cared for her when she needed it most.
My takeaways from DAR
It was hard to see what a lot of the street dogs have to endure. They face challenges as a result of disease, overpopulation and lack of resources causing malnutrition. Not to mention accidents and injuries, lack of safe shelter, and unfair treatment from humans. DAR is working hard to tackle all these issues and are seeing great success with their programmes. Their sterilisation and vaccination campaigns help to reduce breeding and disease.
DAR’s outreach education programmes in schools teach children how to treat dogs and be less fearful of them. And all the work carried out at the rescue centre helps treat individual ill and injured dogs. I feel so grateful and proud to have been just a tiny part of this amazing charity for even the short while I was there. Never will I forget the amazing experiences I had. I’m so thankful to all the staff there who treated me so kindly and took the time to show and teach me. If I’m able to achieve even a fraction of the difference they make to so many dogs every day during my life and career, I’ll be satisfied.
Finally, I feel so lucky to have met all the dogs at DAR that were there at the same time as me. I fell in love with them all and will miss them terribly.
Thank you for everything Dharamsala Animal rescue,