This month’s Volunteering blog discusses our recent trip to Goa, where we spent the week at the Animal Rescue Centre (ARC), a hospital dedicated to helping India’s stray animals.
Visiting India was never something I had considered before 2018. Neither Rob nor I were particularly spiritual and I fell asleep in front of the only yoga video I had ever tried (the Geri Halliwell one, obviously, because it worked so well for Ginger Spice). However, when the opportunity to go to India to volunteer with Bears and Elephants came around, we went happily, knowing we’d be in for an experience of a lifetime – regardless of our fitness. Maybe we would even get into some of those holistic health habits as a bonus?
By this time we’d known Janie, who founded ARC – Animal Rescue Centre – in Goa, for a couple of years and knew how busy she was juggling 24/7 charity work with her responsibilities back home. We chatted about how we’d love to visit and help her whenever we could amidst our other charity work and she invited us to make the trip to Goa whenever we could find the time. We made plans to do so, then went about our daily business, hoping it would happen but with no definite plans.
Thankfully in 2018 the moment came when we had the time, the money (it is surprisingly inexpensive to fly to Goa as long as you look for the good deals) and the left over Indian Visa to make the trip. It was decided then. We came home from volunteering in Agra for one week and the following Saturday I spent my 41st birthday back at Heathrow, excitedly waiting to jump on our second flight to India in 2 months. India was definitely our thing now, yoga pants or not.
We arrived in Goa the following day, however our bags didn’t. Nevermind, we’re in Goa! Off we went to meet Janie and spend our first of 7 evenings by the river, watching the most beautiful sunsets and surrounded by Goa’s finest views and incredible wildlife.
Janie set up ARC 12 years ago, when she visited Goa on holiday. The day before she left for home, one of the pups she was caring for on the beach was kicked by a restaurant owner, breaking its tiny leg. With no one able to help, she made the pup a splint out of a piece of wood she found nearby and then had to leave again for the UK. After an agonizing few months wait, Janie returned to Goa to amazingly find the pup alive, well and walking!
There and then she made an agreement with a vet several hours away – she’d find dogs every week for neutering and the vet would then travel up and perform the surgeries, making full use of his time. Surgery and recovery took place in Janie’s beach hut until she was able to find a more suitable place for the animals to be taken for their recuperation. And that is how ARC was born.
Life at ARC
Today ARC can be found in Canacona near the railway bridge and Chapolim Dam. It is home to a variety of street animals who need or have needed medical attention – it is a hospital rather than a shelter and it is important to note the difference. Here animals are treated, healed and set free, unless they have owners they can be returned to or unless they refuse to leave, which some do!
Other lucky ones are adopted locally, and occasionally abroad. Tourists often fall in love with best intentions to adopt but transport fees are high and sadly for all, the animals are left behind.
Day one of our trip arrived with a beautiful sunrise after a lovely night’s sleep. The river looked beautiful, but it was already very hot and that’s when the reality of not having a change of clothes hit us… No time to worry about that though, we were keen to get the shelter and after a quick Rickshaw ride we were outside the gates and being greeted by an array of gorgeous faces!
What Janie and her team at the shelter have done for the stray animals in South Goa is nothing short of incredible. With limited resources they have turned their rented building into a store room, surgical operating theater and recovery room for patients, as well as penning off the surrounding outdoor areas to allow separation for the different animals and their medical needs.
Whilst there we got stuck into lots of dog walking and bathing pups, as well as helping around the shelter to support the wonderful staff who care for the animals and keep everything clean and well maintained. Greg, the shelter manager, is always working away building another enclosure or fixing the roof damaged by yet another storm, while the Kennel staff, Veterinary assistants and wonderful volunteers tend to the sick animals, support in surgery or get called out by the public to rescue injured strays (these calls come day and night).
One issue the team regularly face is the amount of healthy animals – boxes of pups and kittens for example, regularly brought and left (sometimes overnight) at the shelter by well-meaning people who worry for them on the street. Although done with the best intentions, this can cause more problems than it solves. The hospital environment can very sadly be fatal for the young ones with such undeveloped immune systems.
The instinct of stray animals in countries such as Goa is to thrive and survive and they are usually better off in their habitats with their pack unless seriously injured. Mothers will birth pups and then need to go to look for food, and so it is normal to see a litter alone occasionally. ARC advises to monitor them, check if the mother returns and then ensure she has access to food, water and shade to sustain her pups rather than move or split the family up. This is also why when ARC catch strays for vaccination and neutering, they are placed back to the exact spot they were found in, once recovered. (When in South Goa, to spot an animal already vaccinated and neutered by ARC, look for a slit or triangular cut in their ear).
If you do find yourself lucky enough to visit Goa, please also remember to take a bowl and some water down to the beach with you. Many people don’t realise that beach dogs need fresh water often more than food! ARC’s facebook page has lots of simple tips like this so you can make a dogs day a little brighter.
We saw numerous casualties come through the gates that week; a local stray who had lost the skin from half of his face in a suspected leopard attack, a dog who had been tied up and pelted with rocks at the beach with a terrible skin condition, a pup with a broken back, a lovely Lab with a large maggot wound in his back – and a very sad looking rescue van which had finally broken down after too many adventures (two incredibly kind and generous supporters sent the money for a brand new van just before we left, which was cause for much celebration!)
It’s nonstop for Janie and her team but they take everything in their stride and nothing phases them.
For the love of volunteers
There are some wonderful volunteers who support ARC, not just at the shelter but also working on the Social Media and Fundraising campaigns to raise awareness back in the UK. The shelter itself has some regular volunteers, from people living in the area to returning holiday makers. Everyone involved is so passionate about the work they do.
ARC takes volunteers year-round and this includes Veterinary staff. Having more Veterinary staff and Qualified Vets in house means they are able to carry out surgeries daily. Our visit was at the same time as a lovely Spanish Vet, who worked tirelessly for the month of November and even stayed an extra week!
ARC is part of the ‘Vets and Wildlife programme’ which sends Veterinary students to other countries to practice neutering and other surgeries as part of their study, and so Janie is looking to have more permanent and qualified Veterinarians supporting them whenever possible to maximise the potential of having these students on site. It makes such a huge difference to the numbers of neutered animals in the area to have these teams working together.
ARC also works with Mission Rabies and Goa was officially rabies case free in 2018. The work being done by these amazing groups in collaboration really is making a difference.
Heading home – what’s next?
We left Goa with a wealth of memories and wonderful experiences. Our bags actually arrived on day 2 which we were very happy about, so we even managed to get into our evening outfits to experience an amazing beach cocktail or two!
We came home proud to be a part of this amazing team and looking forward to doing our bit in making 2019 a defining year for this wonderful charity. Suffering is never easy to see and some of the things which are part of daily life in Goa were difficult to comprehend, but ultimately, facing the horrors and the sadness, and supporting the likes of ARC will make the lives of the voiceless more bearable.
Speaking to Janie on our last day, she mentioned we hadn’t taken many photos of our stay. We had been so involved in what we were doing that we hadn’t realised. Looking back at the ones we did take, they were mostly at ARC, of the animals resting after a morning of activity. We’re happy with that.
Oh, and you are probably wondering what happened to Sox, the pup who began the whole journey with a broken leg? Well, we are pleased to say she still lives with Janie at her home and is very proud of what she started!
You can find out more about ARC here:
ARC are always looking for volunteers for dog walking, animal cuddling/bathing and various other duties around the hospital so if you are visiting Goa, please do look them up.
Volunteering opportunities run from 2 weeks to 3 months.
We also need qualified Veterinarians who are willing to visit us to work on site and support our Veterinary student programme. If you know of someone who would be interested, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
When staying in Goa on holiday, please consider the beautiful River Star sanctuary apartments, who donate a % of their fee to ARC.
How else can you help?
ARC rely solely on donations and have an Amazon wishlist which is kept up to date with items needed for the shelter. They are grateful for every donation.
https://goo.gl/PR7Qju – Amazon wishlist
PayPal.me/arcingoa – Paypal