If you are thinking of whether or not you should bring a dog into your house, or you love dogs but can't afford to have one, or you just like to take care of animals you should pay a visit to the PAWS dog shelter not far from Paphos. 150 charming puppies and dogs of all possible breeds and colours will be happy to greet you there — and they don’t care if you live in Cyprus or are just on vacation here.
I have never owned a dog, and I do not think I will get one soon. After I moved to Cyprus, my house filled up with cats, and I believe they won’t be happy to have a dog neighbour. But dogs are so cute! I figured that if I am not going to have one in my house, I can at least get to know them a little better. This is how I ended up volunteering for the PAWS dog shelter.
How does it work: a health resort for dogs
I called PAWS in advance to ask what time is the best to start. 6.30 am will be fine, I was told. Well, I got up with the sunrise on the day of my appointment and headed to the shelter.
To get to the PAWS, one can take Limassol–Paphos highway (exit 46 to Acheleia), but I chose the more picturesque B6 freeway.
The territory around the shelter is surrounded by fields and protected from the wind by trees, you can see haystacks here and there. The lane leading to the shelter is a slow speed zone (20 km per hour): this is important because volunteers walk the dogs here.
At 6.30 in the morning, I found lots of cars parked next to the shelter. Peter, who works here as a Kennel consultant, showed me around the place.
The shelter has been located here, next to the Paphos airport, for the last 10 years. It used to be situated closer to the city — in Geroskipou village. 10 years ago, thanks to donations and a bit of help from the government, the owners managed to buy some land in Acheleia and build a new shelter. The photographs of the first building and location are placed with pride next to the kitchen and the rest area.
Currently, the shelter is home to 150 dogs. Most of them are lost or abandoned animals found on highways and in other parts of the island. There is an adoption program which helps dogs to find a new home, often — abroad. Just during the year 2016 150 dogs moved to Germany, 22 — to Great Britain, and some more found new owners in Cyprus. But there are several old-term residents at the shelter, too. Some of them have been living here for more than 10 years already.
There are certain connotations associated with the idea of a dog shelter. Most people expect to see a sad grey place overpopulated with scared and unhappy dogs: a place full of sadness, pain, and despair. But PAWS is so much different. Here you won’t see any of these.
I was pleasantly surprised by how the shelter is organised. Each adult dog has its own pen (or, even, a room!) 13-15 square meters large. 5-8 such pens share a spacious playground where dogs can play, run, or just rest in the shade. Sick dogs live in segregated pens where they get all the necessary treatment. There are also special pens designed for groups of new coming puppies. You can see that this place was created by caring people and professionals: everything is thought over and saturated with love. Volunteers can see small notes and instructions on the walls, and I found it very convenient!
The work that volunteers do here with every dog is beyond admiration. I came across a single shy dog — and he was brought here too recently to start trusting people. All the other dogs forget about everything as soon as they catch a sight of a volunteer or a visitor walking down the corridor: they rush towards the fence to greet their human friends with happy barking and highly spectacular jumps. These dogs know very well that they are loved here, and they are willing with all their doggy openness and sincerity to give this love back.
Volunteers start gathering at the shelter early: dogs wake up with the sunrise, and by 6.30 am the place gets very busy. Volunteers feed the dogs, collect and wash the dishes, pour fresh water into drinking bowls. This is followed by the cleaning time, which includes sweeping and bleaching of all the pens and the playgrounds. Cleanliness is very important for such a place as a dog shelter: it helps sick animals to get well sooner and prevents spreading of diseases.
About 10 volunteers work at the PAWS every day (though it would be nice to have more!). Some come here once a week, some — two or three times. Each volunteer is responsible for a certain section of the shelter, but, of course, people are happy to cover each other if necessary. The team of volunteers counts 50 members. Some of them come here specifically to walk the dogs — it needs to be done early, in summer all the walks must be completed by 9.30 am, before it gets too hot (dogs can burn their paws or suffer a heat stroke in the heat). On the average, a volunteer walks 7 to 10 dogs per day.
Humans and dogs
My experience at PAWS was unfolding very gradually. Every day I was asked to complete more tasks so that I had time to get used to dogs and learn everything that volunteers do here.
Peter asked me to help cleaning and sweeping puppies’ pens. Puppies are so much fun! They are small, loud, and jumpy. But, at the same time, they are extremely curious and very fast, so I had to practice entering and exiting their pen quickly, not giving them an opportunity to escape to the corridor. I took the time to give these puppies as many hugs as I could. It was both nice and necessary — puppies won’t let you sweep the floor until they get all the desired attention. By the time I entered my third pen, I felt more confident and started working faster.
I finished cleaning by 9.30 am, which is the time when volunteers have a coffee break next to the kitchen. Peter was going to the veterinary surgery, and he offered to take me with him.
Earlier in the morning, when I was approaching the shelter, I noticed Peter catching a large black dog — it was wandering nearby. As soon as a new dog arrives at the shelter it gets searched for a microchip — it can help to find the owners. But the black dog did not have one. Peter says, that sometimes owners of lost dogs come to the shelter to look for their pets. But all the new animals are taken to the vet to get tested for some infections and have the blood test done.
The black dog and two others were taken to the surgery by Peter and me. One needed a microchip and a rabies shot — it is soon going to meet its new family in England, and the other had a dental appointment — it had to have its teeth cleaned before moving to Germany in several days.
The veterinary surgery PAWS works with is located not far from Paphos in Konia village. The line was not long, and after the two dogs that are leaving the shelter soon were done, it was the black dog’s turn. Just in case, a doctor applied a muzzle — the dog seemed calm, but some precautions do no harm. To register the new dog, we needed a name. Peter asked me to think of one, and I suggested to call her Sabrina.
We were waiting for the test results under a tangerine tree, chatting about animals. I asked Peter, what his motivation was. He answered, that working here is extremely rewarding for all the volunteers. They all love what they do. When you see a sick animal getting better and finding a new loving family, you feel happy and inspired.
In about 15 minutes we got the test results — and they were excellent. It seems that Sabrina got lost very recently: being in such a good health is rare for a stray dog.
As soon as I arrived, I went to check out on Sabrina. She got settled in her pen and was sincerely happy to see me.
This time, I was asked to help Pam. Apart from her volunteering in PAWS Pam fosters abandoned newborn puppies. These animals are too young to go to the shelter, and Pam gives them a chance to survive and find a family. Pam learnt all she knows watching videos on the Internet.
We went to clean big dogs’ crates. The system is the same as with puppies with only one difference: during the cleaning time, you can send the dogs to play in the playground and do all the cleaning in their «rooms». I was not sure I would be able to enter a pen with adult dogs (I’ve never had a dog, remember?), so Pam helped me and took the dogs out to the playground. I worked much faster this time (not having to hug the dogs saved me a lot of time), so I was off for the coffee break at 8.30 in the morning.
Next to the kitchen I met Peter carrying a small puppy — another new resident, found at the parking lot. The puppy seemed to be happy to be found: a little mixed-up, it cuddled in Peter’s arms. Peter was going to take it and two other dogs (that are to leave for Germany soon) to the hospital. Of course, I was happy to make them company again.
This time we went together with Susanne. She is from Switzerland, and she first came to the shelter because she loves dogs and wanted to learn English. It was 9 years ago, and now Susanne is working to help dogs from the shelter to find new homes in Germany.
Soon we were off from the hospital and were heading to the Government Veterinary Service in Paphos. You know the procedure if you have ever taken your pets abroad: all the chips and documents need to be checked. Then we went back to PAWS.
Shelter employees are certified to do certain vaccinations and tests. I watched Peter vaccinating Sabrina and playing with her afterwards — she seemed to be thrilled. If her owners don’t show up, in a couple of weeks she will be sent to a pen next to the playground. After Sabrina’s vaccination, Peter did several tests to see if three dogs that finished Giardia treatment last week recovered. Luckily, they did, so now they can go play with other dogs.
In the end of the day, Susanne showed me several pictures of the dogs that have recently moved in with their new families. Humans and dogs were so touching that we could hardly hold back our tears.
On my third day, I met Matthew — Peter’s coworker. Matthew used to volunteer at the PAWS before he moved to Cyprus when he was here on vacation. In 2012, when his wife and he moved to Paphos for good his dream was to work at the PAWS. He was lucky — at the moment, they were looking for a maintenance consultant. Matthew spent first 6 months as a maintenance consultant and then started working as a Kennel consultant.
I was trained enough to take charge of a large sector with 6 adult dogs. I was asked to do all the feeding and cleaning, including the playground. I was a little nervous but soon discovered that I can always find someone to ask for advice here. After I finished washing the dishes, my heart sank: it was time for me to take the dogs to the playground for the first time in my life.
When you live with cats for a long time, you get used to a facade of indifference which is their natural reaction to your love and care (and even learn to understand its shades!). But dogs are completely different. Behind the door, a storm of emotions was waiting for me to step in. Dogs were curious, playful, impatient, and just so glad to see me. «Playing ball is great but you are so much better! Let’s hug», — I could easily read this message in their smart and as if smiling eyes. Not surprisingly, soon enough I could feel the same enthusiasm and excitement myself.
A few more day at PAWS, and now I feel confident saying that my favourite task is cleaning the playground. Dogs are so passionate and social and are always greeting volunteers demanding cuddles. It is lots of fun cleaning with them around. If I have some time left before it gets too hot, I always try to go back to «my» dogs and spend some time playing with them and running around.
My volunteering for PAWS has just begun, but I am looking forward to each new opportunity to come to the shelter. This job not only provides me with some exercise (which I value a lot, being a person who spends so much time staring at the screen of my computer or driving) but also with a strong emotional experience. I have never been so happy to wake up at 5 o’clock — it is so easy when you know that you are going to spend several hours with really nice people and, most importantly, charming and so very different dogs, that are willing to share their love with everybody who opens their heart to them.
What is next? Some useful information
If you found my story convincing, and now want to pay PAWS a visit to meet those happy dogs in person, here are several tips:
- Make sure to arrive between 7 am &11 am — gates are closed at 12.
- Dogs are walked in the morning, in summer months — before 9.30 am.
- If you want to volunteer at the PAWS, wear comfortable and plain clothes and shoes. You may get dirty!
- The shelter lives on donations, and money is not the only way to participate. Dog food, dog-leads, muzzles, dog-houses, and cots are also accepted here. Social engagement with the dogs is a great help, too.
- Another thing you can do is foster care. If you think you can take a dog or a puppy after a surgery or while it is waiting for a flight to its new home to live with you for a certain period of time, let PAWS know.
- PAWS regularly holds charity events in Paphos. You can attend live music concerts, Saturday coffee gatherings, markets, and the charity store at 120 Leoforious Eleftherias, Chlorakas, tel: 97 826 876.