Volunteering at Santorini Animal Welfare Association

During the summer I volunteered at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA), and had an amazing two weeks 

For almost two years now I have been wanting to volunteer at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA) in Greece, after reading on social media about all the problems they were facing. This incredible shelter that takes in dogs, puppies, donkeys, pigs and horses from the streets, have been under a lot of pressure from the Greek authorities who want to close down the shelter and harm the animals that live there, just so the land the shelter is on can be given back to the men of Santorini who used to hunt there (which is illegal btw). But thanks to the power of social media, 60,000 people from all over the world signed a petition to keep the shelter open, but not for long as they are having to relocate to another part of the island, which will cost money and time to build a new shelter from scratch.

Santorini has a stray cat and dog problem, as for generations the people of Santorini have refused to neuter. So sadly this means you will see starving, skinny cats and dogs on the streets looking in bins for food and guard dogs outside homes chained up without food or drink under the basking heat looking sad and unwell. I'm not saying all the locals treat animals badly, as I did see many petting them and leaving food and water out, but something that the shelter experiences on a regular basis is turning up in the morning to find puppies dumped in boxes, or grown dogs thrown over the fence and are caught hanging on from their collars. Animals are also poisoned, ran over and even shot, which I find very upsetting.

Donkeys are also hurt on a daily basis, from tourists who use them instead of walking or taking the cable car up the steep cobbled paths in places of the island like Fira. It was sad to see the donkeys carrying heavy loads up steep paths while being hit and shouted at by their owners. I've seen many photos of bleeding donkeys after they have been mistreated and I felt so sorry for the retired donkeys at the shelter that would struggle to walk and had bad legs and scars all over them from years of abuse.

Now after all that negative reading I shall move onto something a little more positive. When I found out my university where awarding students travel scholarships to volunteer this summer, I thought now is my chance to finally volunteer at SAWA after following their journey and wanting to volunteer there for such a long time. After pitching to Birmingham City University, as to why I wanted to volunteer, I was chosen and two weeks in Santorini was booked.

The shelter is open to the public between 8am and 11am, and volunteering is usually done by tourists from all over the world who turn up in the morning looking to get their hands dirty and receive lots of love and attention from all of the ridiculously cute and very friendly animals that live at the shelter.

A day at the shelter would start off with emptying buckets of water and cleaning out the dirt and leaves from all the buckets located around the shelter. Then filling up a wheelbarrow with water and filling up all the empty buckets with clean water. After filling up the feeders with food, and seeing if any other tasks needed doing in other areas of the shelter, it was then time to start playing with all the dogs. As these are dogs that have been dumped as puppies or have lived on the streets for years without any human interaction, they were all so happy to receive cuddles and attention from everyone who helps out at the shelter. They were all so loving and friendly, I would love getting up before sunrise and heading to the shelter knowing that I would be able to put smiles on their cute faces. And for someone who hates getting filthy, I absolutely loved just sitting in the dirt playing with all the dogs and puppies. There is a tiny dog with big ears called Zoe, and she was the cutest, she would follow me everywhere and make the most adorable little sounds. It broke my heart having to say goodbye to her.

sian victoria volunteering sawa santorini animal welfare association dog shelter greece.jpg

While I was in Santorini I got to explore the beautiful island, from admiring the whitewashed buildings, watching its iconic sunset over Oia, hiking a volcano and taking a boat ride to Thirassia island. All that was great, but nothing compared to how I spent my mornings volunteering at the shelter. I am so grateful to my university, for giving me the opportunity to volunteer at SAWA, I loved every minute of it and I was so upset when it came to an end, as I had bonded with all the dogs as you can see in the video above. Sadly I'm not rich enough to be able to take them all home, because I seriously would, but I am definitely going to be volunteering there again one day, it would be nice to try and volunteer in the winter as that's when they have less volunteers.

For anyone reading this who plans to holiday in Santorini, please visit the shelter and volunteer. Because doing a good deed and giving up a couple of hours in the morning is nothing, when in return you receive lots of cuddles, licks and smiley faces from a bunch of animals who just want to be loved and cared for. Volunteering also takes the load off the amazing Christina, who runs the shelter everyday and dedicates her life to the welfare of all the animals. To find out more about the shelter, and how you can donate, adopt or volunteer, visit their Facebook page.

Want to read more from my Santorni travel diary? or check out my holiday snaps on Instagram @Sian.Victoria.Travels.