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Volunteer vacations devoted to animals

Americans give their spare time to help creatures great and small.

By Maryann MottContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / March 2, 2009

For the dogs: Children in Panama bring their dog to a free World Vets clinic.

Courtesy of World Vets

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Kaitlyn Stone was searching for a way to help animals when she spotted an online ad for World Vets.

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The organization, which provides free veterinary services around the globe, needed volunteers to assist with a week-long spay-neuter project in Loreto, Mexico, a small fishing village on the Sea of Cortez.

Even though Ms. Stone, a junior at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, had never flown alone or visited a foreign country, the idea instantly appealed to her.

"I felt this was the perfect way to try something new while doing the thing I love – helping animals," she says.

Stone isn't the only animal lover fueled by a desire to make a difference. Instead of sunning poolside, animal enthusiasts are using their vacation time to help needy pets in the United States and abroad.

World Vets, for instance, regularly sends volunteers and professionals to places that have limited or no access to veterinary care.

"We have an entire mobile hospital that we can pack up into four duffle bags and take with us and set up anyplace," says the organization's director, Cathy King.

Destinations are picked based on requests the group receives from animal-welfare groups in those areas. Most projects involve sterilization clinics coupled with basic wellness care and surgical training for local veterinarians.

The group's free services are in high demand, so much so that Dr. King recently sold her animal hospital in Wisconsin to take on World Vets as a full-time endeavor.

She says the week-long trips to foreign countries fill up quickly with about half a dozen assistants. Volunteers train for duties – such as giving shots – on location.

"A lot of people's expectation is that they aren't going to have an important job, or [be] given a token volunteer job," says King. "But what they love is they really do have something important to do."

Those taking part in volunteer vacations can expect to work more than they play. They may toil long hours with usually only a day or two allotted for sightseeing. But for many, that's exactly why they signed up for this kind of trip.

Still, says Emma Clifford, founder of Animal Balance, which organizes high-volume sterilization campaigns in the Dominican Republic and the Galápagos Islands, it can be a bit of a shock in the beginning. For one thing, volunteers are being asked to work hard in a job they may have never done before. And a typical work day can start at 7:30 a.m. and not end until 6 p.m. or later.

"It can be a little bit scary for some people," says Ms. Clifford, "but normally by Day Three or Four they love it."

Each Animal Balance project has about seven nonveterinary volunteers who keep a watchful eye on recovering animals, clip nails, clean ears, as well as deal directly with pet owners.

Volunteer opportunities for animal lovers

Animal Balance

E-mail: info@animalbalance.org

Website: www.animalbalance.org

Upcoming trips: Galapágos Islands in May

Cost: You pay airfare. Accommodations and other transportation may be free, depending on destination.

World Vets

E-mail: drcathy@worldvets.org

Website: www.worldvets.org

Upcoming trips: Roatan, Honduras (March); Granada, Nicaragua (May); and Loreto, Baja California, Mexico (June).

Cost: Depends on destination. The Mexican trip, for example, is $1,000 plus airfare.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

E-mail: volunteers@bestfriends.org

Phone: (435) 644-2001, ext. 4119

Website: www.bestfriends.org

Location: Kanab, Utah

Cost: Cottages start at $85 per night. RV sites cost about $35. Cabins are $55 per night and up.

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