PAWS welcomes a wide spectrum of volunteers who come to spend time helping out at the shelter and living on-site in one of the two caravans. They are mostly young, sometimes school-leavers or students; some have already graduated and are starting to build careers; a few are just having a break. But mostly PAWS is the only shelter where they have volunteered.
Melissa Beamish broke that mould. She grew up in Berkshire (UK) and at 17 began working at various secretarial and administrative jobs. They paid the rent but they left Melissa with a real “need for a more enjoyable, rewarding, purposeful challenge” than shuffling bits of paper or computer files. A two-week volunteering stint at an animal shelter in Namibia in 2009 crystallised the direction in which she needed to go. So she began planning and saving for something that would fulfil that dream: a projected 18-month tour volunteering at a host of animal shelters and childrens' orphanages. And aged 33, that is exactly what she is now doing.
PAWS was just one month-long stop along that extended pilgrimage, and her time with us needs to be seen in that wider context. She came to this area after a month at Scooby Medina, Spain’s best known sanctuary for rescued Galgos, which houses up to 700 dogs at the end of every hunting season. It was, to say the least, a challenge. Scooby has been at the forefront of the fight to save Spanish hunting dogs from the grisly fate that so often awaits them.
Melissa and two of her favourite Galgos at Scooby Rescue Centre
Melissa described it as "one of the most challenging, tough, emotional, yet the most happy, enjoyable, and fulfilling months of my life so far. To say that the Scooby experience has thrown me in at the deep end would be a dramatic understatement. I have seen and done so much in such a short time." And at Scooby she found the great love of her life (so far!): "the amazing creature that is the beautiful, the captivating, the incredible Spanish Galgo." So her first question on arriving at PAWS was: “Do you have any Galgos?” Yes, PAWS certainly does, though not quite the hundreds she encountered at Scooby. But first she had to learn how the shelter is run, which was something of an eye-opener.
“There is a very detailed and set routine for the daily care of the animals of PAWS, and the organisation here is second to none. Every food, exercise and medical requirement is clearly documented for every animal in each of the four sections of the shelter, and not a single trick has been missed.”
Assigned initially to the Hunting Block she was surprised to find it full of puppies – the only way the shelter management could contain the epidemic of puppy-dumping we have suffered this year.
“Having never owned a dog, let alone a puppy, what an experience that has been. The many PAWS puppies provide endless entertainment, with their constant play and antics. The scratches on my legs, the holes in my shorts, the destroyed shoelaces, and the bite marks on my iPod are all souvenirs of our time together, and I know when I leave that I will miss those little buggers like crazy!”
But she also found what she had really been looking for:
“the funniest, silliest, ganglyest Galgo so far, ‘naughty’ Nashua. He and his elegant lady friend Candy (a Podenco Cross) made me laugh and smile every day, particularly Nashua who appears to be trapped in the mind of a naughty, devilish puppy with all his silly, funny antics. He is the first Galgo I've known to have taken up residence in my lap, as he nipped at my face, neck, wrists, hair, my camera, my ipod, and most often, my shorts. Candy continues to tell Nashua off for everything he does, but I’m certain she loves that skinny, leggy clown just as much as I do. He is such an enjoyable character, and is as striking in personality as he is in looks, a Galgo like no other, and I hope he never changes."
'Naughty' Nashua pulling Melissa's hair, and with Candy - "she loves him as much as I do!"
Not every volunteer spends quite as much of their time off with the dogs as Melissa did. But she also loved the company she shared, both of her fellow caravan residents and the local staff and vounteers.
“One of the things I so looked forward to in doing this trip, was to spend my time in the company of so many like-minded people, all with the same goal and purpose, to want to make a better life for the unfortunate, mistreated animals, and as expected, I have found that this has been an incredible pleasure, I have finally found my people.
Four weeks flew by, and as the end of her time approached she began to reflect on just why she had originally embarked on this journey.
“The last few weeks here have been more fulfilling and rewarding with each passing day. PAWS is so much more than a charity, and an organisation. It is a family, a home, and above all, it is a HEART.
“If there is one important lesson the people of PAWS have taught me, it's that you simply CANNOT help them all, but together we can help some. Anyone who feels what I do for animals will know the overwhelming urge to want to help them all, and the hurt and frustration at the fact that you can't, can at times can be too painful to bear. But you have to be realistic, and the fact that you can make a difference to any living being is a victory in itself, we're all making small steps towards the much bigger picture."
“I wish the people and the animals of PAWS all the joy and happiness in life they so deserve, and long may PAWS incredible efforts for the animals continue.”
(Since leaving PAWS Melissa has completed another stint at a shelter in Sevilla, and is now working at one in Crete).