How often do healthy, happy animals fit into our definition of a well-rounded, functional society or community? Not often enough, we learn during a trip to the K9 Friends dog shelter in Jebel Ali, Dubai that is currently home to 140 dogs.
The facility’s management director Alister Milne told us about the acute need for volunteers at the shelter: ‘Last Saturday there was only one person in the office and they had to answer 57 phone calls, which meant they couldn’t do anything else.’
There’s plenty to be done at the 28-yearold establishment, from rescuing abandoned and abused pooches to frontlining (treating them for flea and ticks) to de-worming them and dispensing medications to the canines that need them, to homing them – matching them to suitable adoptive families. That’s just the kennels. In the office, work ranges from answering phone calls to vetting potential adopters.
‘These are just our main daily chores, but if we’ve got quite a few volunteers we then have enough people who can get them [the dogs] out of the kennels and socialise with them, give them a good brush and bathing,’ says Jake Menzies, a volunteer. ‘It’s amazingly helpful to have more volunteers because we can get so much done.’
Jake, 22, has been volunteering at the kennels for over three years now and like every K9 volunteer, started out shadowing experienced volunteers. He makes no bones about how tough and often heart-breaking volunteering at the shelter can be due to shortage of manpower and the terrible cases of abused animals that come in. Shania Klokone, an 18-year-old gap year student who has been volunteering with K9 for 10 months, tells us the heart-rending story of a dog who came in a metal cage in the back of a truck in the hot heat of summer: ‘There was only this one volunteer who worked relentlessly with her and transformed that dog into a happy wag-a-tail animal.’
People develop bonds with dogs all the time, says Alister: ‘but it’s strange because the more you like and love a dog, the more you hope you never see them again. We had a dog, Simon the Saluki, that had been with us for three years after he was found in an accident with a broken leg. He was homed four months ago and I had two volunteers who were in tears.’
Says Jake: ‘Animals don’t have a voice so they can’t shout for help, which makes it even more important that we find time to help them.’
How to volunteer at K9 Friends
K9 hosts volunteer coffee mornings on the second Sunday of each month open to everyone over 18. Experienced volunteers explain what they’re looking for and those interested can sign up. People keen to work in the kennel have to attend a two-hour training session the following week and shadow experienced volunteers until they’re sure-footed. ‘We get people who have grown up with dogs and people who’ve never handled animals,’ Alister explains. If roughing it out and getting dirty in the kennels isn’t your cup of tea, then there’s plenty other things you can do. ‘We’ve got volunteers who only do vet runs for us: they come in, pick a dog up, take it to the vet get it neutered or treated for bruises.’
Starting October, the shelter will restart their dog-walking programme: make an appointment, pick up a dog, take it for a walk (the shelter will give you a list of places dogs can be walked), and bring it back by 5.30pm. ‘It’s a brilliant way for us to get our dogs out, especially high-energy breeds that really need exercise,’ Alister explains.
‘The biggest problem is the hours we’re open – 9am-1pm – and trying to find people who are free to come in during the week. Summer is difficult as our volunteers are travelling and there aren’t enough volunteers to train new ones.’
Call 04 8878739 or visit k9friends.com.
Shania, 18, has volunteered with K9 for 10 months; 22-year-old Jake is a regular – he’s been helping out at the Jebel Ali shelter for three years
Summer is one of the shelter’s most challenging times since many regular volunteers travel, says director Alister Milne