A haven for dogs, cats and nature lovers: Animal Refuge on the Algarve, Portugal

With over 50,000 opportunities in more than 170 countries worldwide there are endless volunteering possibilities out there. The ‘Workaway Host of the Month’ blog gives the reader a chance to get to know about outstanding projects which have inspired Workawayers and provoked glowing feedback.

This month we have selected a wonderful animal shelter project nestled in a valley of woodland on the Algarve coast near Loulé, which is still active and running amidst COVID19 and welcoming workawayers under strict safety precautions. After all, while many of us have been able to adjust our lifestyle to deal with the pandemic, our furry friends still need the same care and love! Portuguese law prior to 2018 meant that any unclaimed stray animals could be rounded up and killed. Then laws changed in 2018, prohibiting the culling of healthy animals, and instead placing the responsibility of the strays on local councils. However, most towns do not have the means or the money for this. The sick animals are put down and the healthy ones are locked up in crowded pounds. This haven was created and funded by an animal lover, whose dream is to provide abandoned animals with a second chance at finding health and a home. Over an 18 month period he created a spacious, eco friendly shelter where the animals receive medical care, a comfy bed, plenty of recreational space, food and exercise. Surrounded by forest, with the golden sands of the Algarve just a 15 minute drive away, the place appeals to both animal and nature lovers. The great feedback it has received came to our attention and so we set up an interview with Tiago, whose main role is volunteer co-ordinator at the refuge.

animal rescue volunteers workaway with puppies
Hello there Tiago, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, and congratulations on being awarded the title of “Workaway Host of the month”!
Hello there! First of all I have to say that we are extremely grateful to Workaway as it has given us the chance to change the lives of hundreds of dogs and cats for the better, as well as connecting people who share the same love and respect for animals. The place has a very positive energy, a magical quality even. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s very special!
That’s great to hear. From the feedback it seems that as well as transforming the lives of many animals, volunteers have said that their time there was unforgettable and made a huge impact upon them. Why do you think this is? 
I think that it’s partly because the Workawayers are totally involved in all aspects of animal care. It is a total immersion experience. They learn about animal healthcare, well being and psychology. Each animal is treated “individually” and requires a different approach depending upon its background. Volunteers take on the responsibility of all aspects of the refuge: feeding, cleaning, dog-walking and socializing the animals. Animals who have been tied up or locked away need extra help from volunteers to break down those barriers of shyness or fear and build on creating trust. They feed them by hand, rather than throwing the food down for them, they accompany them to new places to help them adapt…to the park, the pool, the beach and even into town. What the animals need more than anything else is to be shown love, and so we encourage Workawayers to spend as much time with the animals as possible. Workawayers also have the chance to take part in the adoption process as well as in public awareness events we organise in and around the town.  
animal refuge workawayer dog walking
So, how do you come across the animals?
Most of them are from the streets, or in some cases the owners have died and there is nobody to take care of them. We also have a social media presence too, so that some animals can be transferred directly to new homes or be fostered by our team for a limited time. Some kittens are found in waste bins and need to be given milk every 3 hours. So, they would also be looked after at home.
animal foster care volunteer feeding kitten milk
 …And the care regime for the other animals?
When an animal arrives it is given a medical check-up by the vet. We make sure that all animals who stay with us are sterilized, vaccinated, wormed and microchipped. There are 2 shifts a day to make sure that the dogs have their kennels cleaned and are provided with food and water. They spend as much time as possible outdoors in the recreational parks within the grounds as well as being taken for two walks a day. There are 4 possible routes outside the refuge which take between 20-30 minutes. Exercise is a good way to reduce stress levels amongst the dogs as well as tiring them out so that they are calmer at night. Leishmaniasis is a chronic debilitating disease which is quite common amongst dogs in Portugal, and would normally be a motive for the authorities to have an abandoned dog put down, however with proper care and by taking a daily tablet (only 5 € per month) a dog with this condition can go on to live a long and happy life (see blue-eyed dog below).
adopt animal rescue puppy portugal
In your profile it says that it can also be a healing place for humans too. Why do you think that is?
We all have our ups and downs in life, but when you arrive at the shelter the dogs greet you with such joy and enthusiasm it is a very uplifting experience. You head off on a walk with them and leave your troubles behind.

Working with neglected and abandoned animals you can come across very upsetting situations, and yet when we manage to find loving homes for them it feels wonderful. Some of our volunteers have experienced their own particular pain and loss, and find themselves relating to an animal. The close bonds that are formed can be just as therapeutic for the humans. Perhaps focussing on helping others can, at the same time, offer a way through difficulties or distress.

As far as adoptions go, many animals are overlooked because they are less attractive or considered “difficult”. Interestingly, it is often these dogs which appeal to Workawayers who really get to know them and love them for their personality. As we have volunteers from all over the world, our dogs have not just relocated to other European countries, but as far as the USA, Japan and Brazil!
Working with animals in a rural setting calls for a certain type of person. What considerations are important for you when selecting a volunteer?
The animals in the refuge need a high level of intensive attention and care. This can only be achieved by involving volunteers. As for selecting people, I have found all the Workawayers we have had here to be excellent…although I also have my own way to filter through the email requests and select the people who I think would fit in best. I look at their feedback from past Workaway experiences, I read through how they introduce themselves on their profile page. I make it very clear to them that this is not just a vacation, and that they will have to be 100% comfortable with the life here at the animal shelter, such as helping to clean dog poop from the kennels. We then exchange messages and I make sure that they understand and agree to the terms. By this stage I usually have a gut feeling about them too.
animal rescue brown puppy licking female workaway volunteer on face
It’s fantastic that you have managed to keep up a constant team of Workawayers!
Yes! Many Workawayers decide to extend their stay, but what is quite amazing is that as many as 50% of the Workawayers who stay here come back, but not alone. They bring their partners, friends or other family members. Some of these have returned 6 or 7 times!
Wow, that is impressive!
Well yes, we are like a big family! We keep in touch with one another and those who have met up here continue to see each other in their own countries too. Lasting friendships have been made and some couples have got together here too! (he chuckles)
Do the Workawayers spend much time together in their free time, to exchange stories and ideas?
Yes, they generally cook together and eat as a group. During their time off they can explore the area, and there’s a great swimming pool on site. We sometimes take them off to the beach and once a week the staff and the Workawayers have lunch together. It’s important for me to get feedback from them as well as listen to their suggestions for improvement. I see my role as trying to make their time here as memorable as possible.
algarve sunset beach with rescue dogs and workaway volunteers travel adventure
Well as far as the feedback goes, you are certainly doing that!
I appreciate how important it is for the shelter to keep running smoothly with volunteer input. How have you coped throughout the COVID-19 situation?
Just before the beginning of lockdown it was crazy because nobody knew what was going on, or how serious it was. I have contacts who are doctors and I asked them for advice. We had 19 Workawayers staying with us. We explained the severity of the situation to them and said they should return home soon, or run the risk of being unable to leave. They all left. For 3 months it was very difficult as there was so much to be done between so few of us. Fortunately by June, the restrictions had eased off enough for us to take on visits from Workawayers again, but following precautions to reduce the chances of COVID. It has meant a lot more email correspondence than usual as well as finding alternatives when Workawayers were unable to travel due to flight cancellations.

However, as with everything, there have also been some positive outcomes too. We found a way to do the chores more efficiently, everyone now walks the dogs and cleans the kennels, which is fairer too! It also leaves more time for other quality time activities with the dogs, like being able to give them a bath.

Before COVID the refuge would be open to the public every day. This could be quite stressful, because it meant that you would need to stop what you were doing and attend to the visitors. Now we have just one open day per week and other visits need to be by appointment.
two black puppies animal rescue sleepy
I suppose that finding prospective new homes for the animals is a vital role of the refuge?
Yes, after a hectic first year, we started making more progress in 2019. We found homes for 500 animals and so that you have some idea, we had the help of 321 volunteers in order to make that happen !

However, as we see the animals as individuals and not numbers, our priority is to find the right home for each one. Unlike other shelters we ask a lot of questions to the people who come to us wanting an animal, and insist upon them spending time to get to know them first as well as demonstrating a certain level of commitment before we agree for them to go home with them. Sometimes we have to say no!  Of course, not everyone is happy with this approach, but each one is important to us.
I imagine that these “goodbyes” can be hard sometimes…
Yes, it can be quite emotional, and the volunteers and the animals become attached to one another.  However, even a shelter as great as ours can’t match the benefits of a real permanent home.
animal refuge algarve cuddling happy dog rescue
I know that it is a priority of the refuge to increase public awareness regarding the importance of animal welfare. What changes would you like to see?
The legislation banning the killing of healthy dogs is a positive one, but the government needs to make provision for them. The municipal shelters are completely full, and so we are left to provide the care which should really be the responsibility of the authorities. The attitude towards animal welfare needs to change, although it might take 2-3 generations, we are trying to improve public awareness. At the moment it is not illegal for dogs to be permanently chained up, this too has to change.
Thank you so much Tiago, for taking the time to chat with us today.
And to Workaway too, we couldn’t do this without you!
dog walking excursion workaway group portugal

Workawayer Jule from Germany, sums up perfectly the sentiments of most Workawayers:

A MAGICAL PLACE!! I spent two weeks at this beautiful shelter last summer and I'm still thinking about this amazing experience so often. Words cannot describe how wonderful this place is! The team is doing an amazing job, making such a big difference in so many lives every day! They are so passionate about what they do, always caring about the animals and the volunteers too, truly kind-hearted people. I really got inspired by them and also by all the other people I was lucky to meet during my stay. I totally recommend this place to any animal lover. The work (walking the dogs in the beautiful valley, feeding them, cleaning their kennels and giving them lots of cuddles) doesn't feel like work at all and is so rewarding. The dogs and cats will steal your heart and make it so hard to leave!
Thank you all so much! <3 I hope to come back soon!

animal sanctuary

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