Building the Staff: +1 Manager & Employee
We have made a huge development in the staff department.
Now at this time we finally have our first operational manager! Doutcho, the man with a plan, has started working at the Dog Sanctuary and is quickly learning the ropes. He is an older gentleman from Quebec, Canada, who was looking for work and has been in managerial positions before. However, he has never worked in a setting like this with dogs OR volunteers. He's quickly learning the challenges I have been facing! But now, we face them as a team.
Secondly, we also have a new employee, named Sonny, who is not so "new" as he upgrading from a "volunteer" to a paid employee.
The reason for this is two-fold: Sonny is one of the strongest volunteers we've had, who is good at keeping the animals under control, and we want him to stay here long-term. We need long-term staff on the land, and if funding allows we wish to have paid staff committed to living on the land year-round. As everyone knows, I (Aaron) cannot run the entire sanctuary single-handedly. This is why with 35 dogs, having a full-time staff is absolute essential need. Good news is, now we have two full-time paid employees which makes us a full-time staff of 3 people, including myself. This doesn't count the WorkAway volunteers who come to live on the land for free, but are temporary and just here to "have an experience" and help out in whatever ways they are good at. Some of these volunteers don't take it as a real job which is the kind of dedication we need to do the job right.
It truly is an amazing development we can hire people to work on this project now, as this idea blew up in my face once before.
In the beginning of 2022 I had hired my first employee who worked with me for at least 2 months when we lived in the old brick house (picture below, view from the front porch)...
...and began construction on the land. I had paid them for time: walked dogs some of the day, helping me feed them, and I got them on research for development of some of the important pieces of our project. They did extensive research into how to get dogs to Canada from Guatemala, because they were from Canada and wanted to eventually bring dogs back there. They ended up doing this, and we got 3 dogs successfully to Canada through this person. What didn't work out was, they ran away with the dogs, refused to send me a single picture, or give me the information of how they did it. To me, this was sneaky, unfair, and downright criminal. I had paid for time, they were our rescue dogs, and I let them research while I worked with the dogs, then ran off with all the info after taking the dogs.
So, when that happened, I refused to pay anyone else (besides our local dog-food cooks and local workers of labor) and started scouting volunteers to work with me on the Sanctuary temporarily. There have been pitfalls after pitfalls trying to get a consistent team on the Sanctuary, and I stood in the middle of every conflict. Many also remember the "roommate who started a slander campaign" person who also said he wanted to "help" on the Sanctuary. So yeah, needless to say I began getting traumatized from people saying they "want to help". Sheesh. I went back to working alone for some months, until I desperately needed the help again. That's when I got on Workaway, around March. I still lived in the brick house, but that did not last but another 3 months. Then we had to move onto the land, without much option.
The landlord asked us to leave that house, and without much options with 20 dogs: we had to move all the dogs to the Dog Land! Time to build, fast!
Volunteers are usually immensely helpful, but not all are committed equally.
I have had people of every different kind come to live and work with me on the Sanctuary in some regard, and we've experienced weird drama after weird drama over long periods of time. People can get really weird when you live together, as anyone knows. Especially when you have jobs to do: things can get tense, personal, and even downright dark and negative. Yeah, we've had a lot of drama with working here: people start to run for the hills when they realize how absolutely tough this job is, and only the coolest of the cool and baddest of the bad have been able to tough-it, working on Dog-Land. I owe those people an infinite debt, for helping me create this place. Thank you, and you know who you are. This is why we are where we are now: hiring people, making a team of real hard, dedicated dog lovers who wish to see this place grow and become what it is meant to be:
A paradise, for dogs and humans alike.
We'll get there. We're working on it!
So let's run through it, what are the challenges?
Consistent income, (as always), to pay for all costs of the Sanctuary, including employees, dog food, electricity, internet, human food, our website, and literally all basic needs to maintain survival in a place like this. Good news, with sponsorships and monthly donations, we have remained afloat passed a full year now.
Consistent staff: Thankfully we are making heavy progress on this. Doutcho and Sonny are rockstars, and working together we can accomplish anything. I'm feeling MUCH more comfortable with the amount of help I have, and am taking better care of myself (cleanliness, healthiness, comfort) than I have ever had here thanks to them. The cabin is coming along, too. I have more time to build with people taking care of the dogs. Thank you, guys.
Healthy wellness practices. The truth is I have really let myself go in terms of health while living in Guatemala and working on this project. My hair grew long, I stopped showering for a long time, no razor to shave, and living in a house you are currently building gets very dirty. Dirt under my fingernails everyday, I even overheard a couple times people talking about how dirty my hands were all the time. Not to mention, you know, this entire time period was during the rainy season. Everything was just mud, day after day. I even got sick with an infected hand, at one point, and needed a shot and antibiotics to not lose my hand. This place was running me ragged.
Happy volunteers, and employees. One of the biggest complaints I received from volunteers was "the place is too dirty, conditions are not decent" which they were absolutely 100% correct. Dog poop, dirt, insects, rain, plants, overgrowth, everything was a fight against the elements. However, without decent money to rent nice places, we were stuck living on Dog Land and just had to build stuff to live under. But because of the successful "build-a-cabin" fundraiser, I now sleep under a nice roof on the Dog Land (though it still needs walls, windows, and a door!) Another complaint was: there is not enough food. Yeah, tell me about it. Most all of the money goes to feeding the dogs. People came last, in my world, and that was a huge mistake. I need to appreciate the help, or the help goes away. So we've improved the food budget, have fun game and movie nights, and the volunteers seem very content with the experience they now get. Thank God.
Keeping the Dogs happy. This might seem silly to some, because dogs are dogs, and they shouldn't need that much to be happy. Guatemalan people definitely show this attitude towards dogs: just let them be, and they'll be fine. If the general population here had a voice, that's what it would say about dogs. We at Perros Libres take the dogs lives, health, and happiness, as seriously as any human. That is why I do this. It seems like it should be easy, but with a large pack of dogs, this is not an easy task. They take constant care, attention, food, walks, and love in order to keep the place orderly and without stress or crummy conditions for the dogs. It's the majority of our time spent, doing the most important part of the work. But it's important to never forget the needs of the humans, which was something I had to take a lot of time to learn.
Check out them happy dogs.
So what is next?
We want to improve our relationship to the sterilization program, put into progress by the San Marcos Foundation, so that we can keep all our dogs sterilized and minimize births. We've had one too many pregnancies here already, and this is not what a Sanctuary wants. We want to rescue, heal, adopt, and minimize our amount of dogs instead of increasing them. This is the key to success. It has been hard, however, to even get to these clinics month after month with constant struggles and problems on the Sanctuary grounds on a daily basis.
We want a team, or access, to affordable medical care for the dogs. Most of the time the vets are needed, our budget gets sucked out. They are very expensive, and even though we've gotten little discounts here and there, and many times we've been told we would get it, there is no consistent veterinary help on our Sanctuary. There was a partnership brewing with one particular Vet, but they have since started another business and it's apparent their interests are in something else right now. And since that person hasn't been present, the company has started treating us like "regular clients" and giving us huge bills, trying to sell us things we don't need, and not really helping our donation-budget status, that the first vet was more aware and sympathetic towards. We could save many more of these dogs lives, if we had proper and consistent medical attention. As everyone knows: we are not vets, but rogue, grassroots regular people that care about dogs. We lost to illness 13 dogs in the last 2 months, and I am sick and tired of watching sick dogs not get all the help they need.
Secure a contract to use the land long-term. It's amazing this hasn't happened yet, though it has been drafted, but that is because the land-owner has generously allowed as much time to pass as necessary for us to get on our feet, build the system, and eventually afford rent. We currently do not pay rent for the Dog Land, but have to pay for the one-room bodega the volunteers stay in. This absorbs funds that can be used elsewhere, but without a roof over the volunteers heads, I would be completely alone on this sanctuary. And believe it or not, I have now met somebody else who IS in that position, with a similar amount of dogs. I will be telling his story in the next blog, which is a fascinating one. But for today, we focus on Perros Libres. We've got more than enough on our plate at the moment.
There is always so much I want to tell you guys. This blog is our voice, our outlet for all the struggles of this job, and there is never enough to say.
Yet, for the sake of keeping it simple as I can while still keeping you well-informed, this will be the close of the blog for today. It was a long one, but as always (and if not more than ever) there is a LOT going on here, and we're reaching a critical point of growth where we need to either expand, or minimize. I'm looking to expand, and that's what our staff and reaching out is all about. We will get better, and better, everyday at this job. Thank you to ALL of our supporters, most especially the monthly donors, you have helped keep this place afloat. As always, I have placed a donate button below so you can help us keep the project alive: we'll be needing to improve our monthly income to keep this staff here. They are paid very lightly, what is considered normal Guatemalan wages, but our expenses are high with all the dogs and food and growing space, (and need to construct further!) and we are going to start fundraising even more to expand properly and make the best Dog Sanctuary Guatemala, or the world, has ever seen. Thanks again for those whom have already supported us, and continue to! You are our blessing, and the happy healthy dogs are the blessing we give in return for your support.
Thank you everyone, and Libertad por los Perros.