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  • Writer's pictureAaron Bartlett

Building a Non-Profit from Scratch: Motivation.

A portrait of Scabby

What kind of motivation can make one start a non-profit? The story of the creation of Perros Libres has become the center of my story in life. I've had many dreams before this, all different and un-related, and types of work that did not really resemble this job at all. I've been a server, a children's educator, a custodian at the movie theater, a hot-dog vendor, a music teacher, a musician, an audio engineer/music producer, and a Lyft driver. All of the jobs I found fun in, somewhat, and some of them I liked enough I considered making into a full-time career (children's education, and musician mainly).

But the pandemic changed life for us all. I did not have joy left in the education system, where as I was working in it for 3 years (with another near 8 years of music education experience before), and everything was asked to be "online". Being an outdoorsy-kinda guy, and working with kids cause it was the best income I had, I decided that job wasn't for me anymore. I couldn't sit on a screen all day talking to kids. Forget it. Money is not worth working a job you don't like. A simple truth that's taken me many, many years to really learn.


So Perros Libres began at a time when I was here in Guatemala, working very hard to survive by playing concerts and shows all around the lake as a musician, and started to take care of the street dogs sort of as a...hobby? Seems a strange word to use, but I can't describe why exactly I started doing it. I just saw all these hurt dogs and wanted to help at least one of them. That was when I found Scabby. He was the dog that started it all for me.

I found him in the street, directly in Tzununá town center, his body half-hairless from mange, and obviously very hungry. He was a wild and spunky dog, and not an easy one to train. I was able to get him to follow me home, using french fries and pizza, and he stayed and slept at our house. He had fleas, ticks, mange, and I still put him in a spare bed and slept there with him. I didn't care: I knew I was itchy, he was itchy, but he was gonna sleep good tonight. The next day, it was like he didn't want to leave the bed. You could tell he had so much comfort from a single night sleep in a closed room with a cushion and a blanket. He was my dog from then on.

Scabby's first bath

I'll always love you, Scabby.

Scabby, more than likely, is up in doggie heaven now. He is the dog that made it all happen: he found me, and initiated me on this mission to now help all street dogs that need loving rehabilitation and a home. He is the reason Perros Libres exists. The strangest thing about it, is no one knows what happened to him. He spent everyday going into town center to hang out: every single local knew his name. I did not know any Kaq'chikel (the local Mayan language) then, but you could hear the word 'Scabby' in their Kaq'chikel conversations. "Blah-blah-blah Scabby!" it sounded like to me.

I'd find the kids playing with him, and all the street dogs playing with him (they were his best friends) he knew as a baby. He was basically the village dog, and though at first I didn't like it, I allowed him to return to town center daily to do his play-with-everybody thing. I practically couldn't stop him when I tried. He just had so much energy, as a dog, one of his biggest needs was to run and play all day. A dog can't do that in a single house, even with a decent yard. Sometimes I'd see him get his collar or harness loose out in the town, but when I found him again someone had re-adjusted it. He was treated well by them. He always came home at dinner time, and would spend the night: he knew where home was. But one night he didn't come home, and then for another night. It didn't take long for me to realize he wasn't in town anymore.

Where he went, or how he passed, if that is truly what happened, is a complete mystery. I had asked his original owners, who were the ones I bought him from back when it all began. They did not know, and we postulated some things. There are terrible things that happen to street dogs by victimization of poison. But this leaves a body, and I couldn't find someone who said they saw it. It's possible that someone knew, and didn't tell me. The town also knew I loved Scabby as my best friend, and he came home with me everyday. I saw the sadness on the girls' face when I asked if she knew where he was. So, I think it may be safe to say he doesn't live on this planet anymore.

These are easily the hardest words I think I've ever had to write. Because in some ways, it made me feel like I didn't do good enough. But I have a very strong spiritual upbringing and practice, and these tools combined with prayer allowed me to see the big picture. Firstly, if Scabby was not rescued, he would have never healed from his mange. His second half of life, since after finding him and healing, evolved into the best life a street dog could have. He had the benefits of village-life, but still had a bed to come home to. And he always did. I gave him the best 1-year of life in my power, and he changed my life, big-time, too.

Scabby, the dog I never wanted to lose, happened to be the one who went before the Dog Sanctuary was truly created. He never lived on Dog Land. Though he spent a lot of time on it while we were building, and his paws ran all over this land many times. But now, we have almost 40 happy, healthy, street dogs under our care. On the same land, but now under roofs and on beds. All from the love I had for one single dog, I made the non-profit a legal entity and organization, we started fundraising, and we then built the entire structure we now call the Dog Sanctuary. All because of Scabby. In my heart, it will always be for Scabby. His spirit lives on this Dog Land, and I carved his name into my cement floor in the cabin the day we made it.

You are and always, forever in my heart Scabby. Thank you, you saved me.


What I thought was the end, is only the beginning.

There was a very serious part of me that held a lot of fear, about losing any of my dogs that I saved. I used to get anxiety attacks when he would run out into town. I also thought I would quit this job, if something happened to him. I did it all for him, after all. But after experiencing your greatest fear, which to me was losing him, you begin to see the folly of fear itself. We cannot stop the wheels of destiny: the fates of all of us are in the book of life somewhere. No one lives forever, and we shouldn't even expect it. How can one logically fear the ultimately inevitable?

The bright light of this story, is the dream it helped create, inevitably, has been realized. A place where Scabby could live out a full life-cycle for a dog now exists in his very hometown. It's called Perros Libres. And it exists because of all the efforts of all of us. We've adopted nearly 30 dogs to happy homes in one year, and house nearly another 40 that live with us full time. I've also learned immense skills in how to cope with anxiety and fear, having experienced so much of it here I am beginning to master my own sense of these things. These are skills you gotta develop, doing rescue work. We can't be afraid of all the worst possibilities, lest it saps the strength and courage we need to do it in the first place. You don't rescue a dog for fear they will die, but rather for hope for giving them better life. Even if it's just a short while, that is better than nothing at all.

So, in Scabby's honor and memory, I will continue running and perfecting this Sanctuary until it is a self-sustainable organism and organization. The dream will not die, and I will make sure of it. In memory of Scabby, I'll post a little gallery of some of his best days on this Earth.

The gallery is not in exact chronological order, but close. You can see from the first picture to the last, how his state was when we found him vs. after full rehabilitation.


The sad part is over. It's time to move forward.

Perros Libres and the Dog Sanctuary continue to grow and improve our facilities. Though the new manager job did not work out, one of the new employees is helping me get all the basic dog-care done every day, as well as our other 4 volunteers who help get it done as well. We've developed a team, and even a small community. Humans live on dog-land for free, get to eat as part of the job, and we employ many local families who help cook our dog food, deliver needed items, and help us work on the land. The project gets stronger, and is developing a name around the lake. People know who to call when there is a dog problem, now.

We get as many as 30 or 40 dogs walked in a single day, at the Sanctuary. They eat as much as twice a day, but as all the dogs came here have gotten bigger and hungrier, we need more food than we've been giving now. The pack needs even more support, and that is why our work does not stop here. Everyday there is much to do, and I must allocate more time for fundraising and promotion so that we can remain functioning and start to develop sustainability. But we do get help.

A wonderful woman from the United States sent us a large care package from California, and though I didn't take pictures of everything, we were given so much I will simply say we have pretty much every tool, dog toy, dog bed, blankets and sheets, leashes and collars, and medicine we could need right now. Here's a picture of some of these meds, and also our board and how we track who gets walked in a day.

The support continues: we also got an amazing delivery from Purple La Luna of dog collars!

Purple La Luna is a really cool U.S. based company that supports both locals that make artisanal products (like bags or dog collars) in Guatemala, and then ships them out to buyers in foreign countries. They also support Perros Libres with a percentage of sale of Dog-Collars! If you ever buy collars from them, then a proceed goes to us and I think they are wonderful people who make it possible for you to access stuff you could normally only get on the streets of Guatemala.

But because one cannot easily directly ship things to Guatemala from foreign countries, how people do it is send stuff with a person flying directly. So actually, Erica Derrickson actually brought us this package of dog collars, bought from both her and another donator. Thank you girls, and thank you Melissa from Purple La Luna! Please support them and visit their Facebook page, linked here: Purple La Luna.


That's all for today, my friends.

As always, just like when we began, we are a donation-based dog Sanctuary and can use all the support we can get. We have some nearby goals: feed the dogs more/bigger meals, develop our feeding-station area, and be prepared with Quarantine space to take in new dogs. Right now I am holding back new dogs best I can from arriving, because we are struggling to make sure our pack is perfectly taken care of. There is more work to do, and improvement to the system we need to make.

If you are able to support us at this time, and help us continue developing the Dog Sanctuary for the dogs of the lake and all of Guatemala, I've provided a donation button below. Thank you for your support, and libertad por los perros.

Aurevoir, Scabby. Let us make the best Dog Sanctuary in the entire world in your honor.

I love you, and will never, ever forget you. <3

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