About the Sanctuary
The P.A.W. Animal Sanctuary is a small local nonprofit no-kill humane society on the tiny island of Caye Caulker in Belize. The sanctuary is run by Madi Collins, a sweet native Belizean woman, who started out just by wanting to reduce the number of homeless stray cats that were taking over the island. Her passion and her work grew to be what it is today — not only rescuing and adopting out cats and dogs, but protecting these animals from neglect and abuse, educating people on animal welfare and proper pet care, and providing health clinics and low cost or free sterilization (spay/neutering). The sanctuary happily takes in volunteers, and even recently turned itself into a small hostel for volunteers to stay in!
Back in 2011, my boyfriend and I did a 3 month backpacking trip from Mexico to Panama, volunteering with different organizations along the way. The P.A.W. Animal Sanctuary was our first stop and we were quickly charmed by Madi’s compassionate personality and kind heart. We stayed with her for one week in a cheetah print cabinita, learning about how she got started and all the hurdles she overcame to help these animals and preserve the island.
In the mornings, we helped her put food in all the cat dishes in each of the rooms and enclosures that housed different groups of strays and abandoned felines. There were about 50 cats and 3 dogs in the sanctuary back then, so feeding took at least half an hour. Then we scooped all the litterboxes and spot cleaned the sand pits of poo (can you imagine the poo pileup for FIFTY cats?!). Our first morning there, we got to meet her vet — a woman who flys down from Arizona for a short period each year to help with any surgeries and sterilization. We observed an oral surgery and an eye cleaning, and had to monitor the cats she medicated as they got “loopy” and fell asleep for spaying and neutering surgery.
In the evenings, we would come back to the sanctuary to feed all the animals again, do dishes, and check up on any other things that needed attention or fixing. Generally, the biggest perk of volunteering was just playing with the animals. The greatest feeling came from coaxing a shy or fearful stray into accepting love from us and getting some of the cats and dogs to trust us, and others.
Madi always made sure we had plenty of time to see the island and encouraged us to participate in sightseeing and tours! Our most memorable tour here was snorkeling in shark ray alley, but other than that thrilling experience, Caye Caulker has a pretty calming and low-key atmosphere. Heck, it’s motto is “Go Slow” and if you’re caught so much as running somewhere, the locals will call you out and tell you not to rush! It made for an incredibly relaxing volunteer experience, and an easygoing vacation in general, without any stress over being late or hurried!
How You Can Get Involved
If you’re interested in traveling to Caye Caulker, consider doing a volunteer vacation with the P.A.W. Animal Sanctuary during your stay! These volunteer vacations are best for animal lovers or veterinarians and people who want to make a positive impact in the communities they travel through. Not only will you get to play with cats and dogs, but you’ll have sufficient time off to explore! And you’ll be doing this island a service by keeping the number of strays maintained and off the streets.
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