It will come to the surprise of no one to learn that I follow many Sighthound rescue groups on social media.
One of those groups, Galgos del Sol, has a volunteer program that had been on my "bucket list" for several years. Truth told, I had no real interest in visiting Spain. Yes, there's a lot of history and some amazing art. But there's also a lot of, well, stuff that doesn't particularly interest me. Like bull fighting. And food I literally can't stomach. (What kind of vacation is it if you can't eat anything?!)
It also has, however...galgos. And podencos. Two breeds I desperately wanted to know more about, and play with, and (don't tell the husband!), take home with me... Ahem.
So in early 2018, I filled out the application, got accepted, and booked my flight. I coordinated my trip with a friend who's equally passionate about Sighthounds, and GDS paired us with a completely lovely Aussie gal we'd never met but are now so glad to know.
The work was hard, but not as hard as I had imagined. I can't say for sure, but I think -- because we were all "first timers" -- they spared us from much of the bad stuff. Yes there was heartbreak, but nothing that left me huddled in a corner in the fetal position. And there was a lot of inspiration. Like Alba, the stunning all-white podenco found at the bottom of drained swimming pool with her jaw wired shut (DO NOT get me started...). Her resilience was amazing. Despite the clearly awful circumstances that landed her at GDS, she wasn't timid or shy. Instead, she gamed the system and flirted with us every time we walked past her kennel in an effort to get more treats. (Yes it worked.) Then there's Sam, the woman who leads many of the educational programs to teach children how and why we should respect these incredible dogs. Not to mention Tina herself, who went from helping a single galgo to building this awesome facility that can house and rehabilitate over 100 dogs.
So yes, I took a week's vacation to scoop poop and wipe up pee. (I even have the tee shirt to prove it!) We started each day with "morning turnouts." GDS was, at the time, broken out into 2 blocks (now there are more), and each block had 2 to 4 volunteers to assist kennel staff. One volunteer would release the dog/ dogs into the associated playpen then scrub that dog's kennel clean. The other volunteer would, um, play with the dogs. Torture, pure torture ;-) Though you did get pretty gross when the puppies came out to play. Especially post-rain storm... After lunch, you're back at it. Some afternoons, we'd instead have a list of dogs we'd take on a "sensory walk," one by one, to encourage direct (positive) interaction with a person. There was a "grooming station" and a "cuddle station" and agility equipment (see Blizzard below, on his sensory walk with me one day) and even different examples of floor surfaces, laid out in the dirt, for them to walk on.
By the end of the week, many of the timid dogs had started to trust us. I had a short list of dogs I had hoped to convince the husband we could get next time GDS did a US transport (good news/bad news as the Hubs said "no"...they all found homes elsewhere very quickly). And none of us truly wanted to leave. But we all had hounds (and partners) waiting for us...
I can't put into words how emotional, and how rewarding, the experience was. And I can't wait to go back. I'll have to wait, clearly, as I just launched a new business. (Have you heard? There's a new pet boutique in Burlington, VT!) But I've got my eye on a week in 2021...
[This post originally ran in March 2020]