Volunteering in an animal shelter – the pros and cons and about checking your dreams against reality

Have you ever had the idea of living in a rural area? Leave all the hustle and bustle, all the stress of city life behind you? And isn’t it so easy to over-romanticise an idea? Isn’t the grass not always greener on the other side?

But what options do you have? You can either dream about the things you want to experience or you can do them. Dreams are beautiful, they don’t carry much risk (except of the risk that they are just dreams) and they don’t involve much effort. Whereas doing what you dream of takes more effort and certainly involves risk – but hey, you actually find out what it is like in reality.

So – for all of you who want to experience life in a rural environment – or even off-grid living, it is actually not that difficult to turn it into reality.

There are websites like wwoof or workaway.info that match people who offer volunteer positions with people who are looking for that kind of experience. And this is the deal: you work for around five hours five days a week and in return you get free accommodation and in most cases free meals as well. Hence, it is a fabulous way to travel the world, take part in various projects (often the focus of these kind of projects is on sustainability) and maybe even get inspired in one way or another.

And for those people who think that only teenagers or young people do that sort of thing: first of all, this is not true. Even though the majority of people might be <30 there are still people in their 40s, 50s, 60s,70s+ who enjoy that sort of experience. And secondly: who cares anyway. As long as you enjoy what you do 🙂

For my first workaway experience I decided to volunteer in an animal shelter around 50km inland from Castellon de la Plana in Spain.

The animal shelter ‘Free Spirit Horse Refuge’ is located close to the village of Atzeneta del Maestrat, however even though it is only a 15 min. car ride away from the village, it will take you around 2h on foot to reach the village – and from the village there is only one bus a day going to Castellon. So, I guess, for European standards it is in a rather remote location.

The Refuge was set up by Karina in 2010, a courageous Polish woman with a big heart for animals.

There is a lot of interesting history associated with the land. It was previously owned by a shaman, who used the energy of the land to heal people, with it then being inhabited by a 40 person community. The community moved into the farmhouse in 1983, working the land for four years until they dispersed (they built the copula as a meditation space and planted the almond trees). For more information you can follow the following link: https://freespirithorserefuge.wordpress.com

Karina can accommodate up to 5 volunteers and she is in need of volunteers all year round. There are a lot of animals and they are all hungry, they all want cuddles and they all poo. Additionally, a lot of other tasks and special projects need to be accomplished. Putting a roof on the sheep stable, putting up a new fence, some plumbing jobs and much, much more.

As you can imagine living in a small space (at least inside the house) with other humans has its wonderful aspects as does it have its challenges. Different characters, different ways of doing things, different attitudes, shared laughter, not being ‘alone’, shared cooking, shared sorrows – or sorrows created by exactly these people. You can experience it all.

The place is also pretty much off-grid. There is a well which is used for drinking water, showering, washing clothes and for feeding the animals. Now, this might sound all very romantic (and to some degree it is very romantic) but do not forget that it can get cold in this part of the world. Additionally, it might also happen that just when you strip down naked to take a shower out of the blue the neighbour on his tractor appears as do all of the other people who live on the farm (you might enjoy this or not – depending on your personality). Honestly speaking the thing I was looking forward to the most when I left the shelter after 3 weeks was a nice hot shower…

The compost toilet is another thing one might have to get used to. Especially, when you learn that for some reason bees are also very much attracted to this environment.

Or the fact that there is no electricity (sometimes with the help of a generator you can blow out the candles at night)….

But at the same time it is just beautiful to be surrounded by nature, to wake up to the sounds of birds singing, to work outside (even in bad weather) and look after the animals.

Anyway, all of my experiences are very subjective and someone else might have a very different experience.

But what I can say: If you dream about something the only way to check it against reality is by trying it out. Only by trying it out you will find out what it really is like – for you. And reality most often is not black or white but involves all colours of the spectrum – it might just depend on what combination of colours you prefer – or can live with better :).

And because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words – here is a little video. Enjoy.






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