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  • Writer's pictureAaron Bartlett

What do we want? A Sustainable Sanctuary, with Staff!

Frankie being hugged by all the dogs

What is a "Sustainable Sanctuary?"

It's a place where everything just runs. Food gets delivered, someone is there to feed the dogs, someone cleans the poop, someone gets the bowls ready. Everybody on a task, holding together the machine that is the Dog Sanctuary. For the last year, and ever since we began: I have been the single person responsible for this huge pack of dogs. There have been no other members such involved with the project: I started this alone here in Guatemala and just always asked for volunteers to help. Perros Libres has a Board of Directors, which all non-profits are required to have: essentially a group to be collectively in-charge of making decisions. However: my Board does not live on Dog Land, and when left physically on my own here in the Sanctuary, even with a lot of dogs: it can get quite lonely.

I want a sustainable Sanctuary for Perros Libres.

This would mean that the Dog Land is fully staffed, on-schedule at all times, with or without my specific presence on the Sanctuary grounds. This is a definite, 100% need for all people that work here, live here, and volunteer here. No one can spend 100% of their time on the Dog Sanctuary. But, the dogs do need round-the-clock surveillance and attention. Thus, the only way for it to properly run as a unit, is to have a paid staff, always taking care of the main responsibilities.

I built the Sanctuary thinking in a very simple fashion, as a base: with one sleep-able bed and roof on the Dog Land, at least I can survive here.

Perrita on the freshly-made bed of the Cabin.

With a large roofed patio, i.e. the Dog Patio, the dogs are also able to live here indefinitely. This proved only somewhat accurate and it needed renovation and upgrading, by the end of the rainy season. The constant flooding and muddy landscape made it so hard for our dogs. We lost many to sickness, and many friends were aware of how hard the situation became for us. But many people came to help and stepped up, and we upgraded the Dog Patio that really fits everyone comfortably.

I learned in this process: how hard one must work to build land from scratch, fighting the elements directly by living where you are building. I thought two roofs, for me and the dogs, would be enough. But no, flooding really comes strongly here. You have to also have a plan for all of the water, how it routs around the land, and your pathways for walking when it's really rainy and muddy. It was a LOT of work. But with some amazing help from a fast-acting philanthropist, we got the best dog house made possible with our space. Thank you so much to them, cause now we can sleep comfortably at night knowing our dogs are dry.

Elevated, comfortable and sleepy dogs.


Time for an honest and personal reflection.

This job and project has done a number on me. I feel in all ways possible burnt out, having worked round-the-clock for what is now months with the dogs, without leaving the Sanctuary longer than a couple days at a time. That means living without a real shower (except our waterfall), no hot water, and very very little accommodations (but we do have a real toilet!) which is what living on Dog Land is like. I jokingly call it "Mud Land" while working in the rainy season. This has got to change, and the truth is I just feel like it's time for a vacation. This however, is only a short-term solution: this job would burn out anyone after too much time on their own. That's why it's time to hire a staff. With over 30 dogs, we need at least 3 people, full-time on rotating schedules to care for them. My job can be 3 separate peoples jobs. That's it!

This will prove another large cost to the budget, though. However I am very carefully fine-combing the budget to allow for these employees right now, we will have to work harder on fundraising to pay our staff consistently throughout the year. The good news is by having a staff, I will have more time to do this. Donations remain the life-blood of a non-profit's ability to operate, but with a staff we can find ways to develop "local" cash income, too. For instance: serving food. Charity events. Fundraisers at the Sanctuary. Charity poker-nights The possibilities are endless. Let's have some fun with it!

Perros Libres charity game night!


Life for the Volunteers: how is it?

Pupsy helping Sunny and Guim make the gate

Honestly, it's hard work!

I do not have an exact count, but I estimate I've worked with at least 20 volunteers over the last year at Perros Libres. I've heard every kinda complaint and every kinda problem someone can have with the conditions working and living here. Observing and learning from this, I am becoming much better at hosting and accommodating volunteers, and have made this a personal practice to help others always feel comfortable and hosted while in our space.

One of the ways I've decided to do this is by getting some playing cards, and we are starting game nights on the Sanctuary. Another way is with movie nights, where we put something up on the projector, a gift from an old friend who first invited me to live in Tzununa. I still have his projector to this day, as he ever came back for it: but said we are welcome to use it until further notice! We'll find something we want to watch, make some popcorn or nice food, get something nice to drink and watch a film. The volunteers have absolutely loved these small gestures and I'm noticing people are coming around and just "hanging out" at the Sanctuary a lot more, unprompted. That also makes it enjoyable for volunteers: having friends come by and lighten the mood, so to speak. It improves my day a lot, too. We have made a lot of good friends around town who stop by whenever they walk by.

Movie nights at the Sanctuary!


So in essence, conditions are improving for people at the Sanctuary, too.

I've noticed how important this is as time has gone by, as the pack of dogs has grown so consistently, but the amount of people working here at first did not. It remained just me for a long time, and that is exactly what will wear somebody down. But I've felt that looming possibility and reality more than once, put in the work, and done everything I can to make the Sanctuary both fun, rewarding, and an experience for the volunteers. Where they are hopefully leaving with a smile on their face, and a positive memory of the experience and wanting to tell their friends about it. Sometimes new volunteers have been coming, on recommendations from their friends who volunteered here and loved it. But granted, not every person felt this way. That's okay: you can't please all of the people all of the time. This job asks for only the most dedicated to the animals, who are willing to put up with the rugged lifestyle it comes with.

Thank you to all of our WorkAway volunteers! You hold Perros Libres up!


So, to conclude for the day: Sustainable Sanctuary, are we there yet?

Not quite. I am however in the process of training a manager, and another employee to be working full-time on the Dog Sanctuary to be able to staff-up the Dog Land and make it working like an automated machine. That's been my goal from the beginning, and we are much, more closer to it. You're monthly sponsorships, and donations, will allow us to properly fully-staff the Sanctuary along with feed our dogs. We've always operated on a month-to-month budget, and thanks to all the monthly donors who are consistently helping us, it has been MUCH easier to budget for all our needs. It is amazing, and a miracle, we can even hire staff. It's not a great wage, but here we are able to live without nearly as much as many of us do in the "first-world". A hot shower, being one of the basic sacrifices. But it doesn't need to stay that way.

In my mind, everyone who lives at the Sanctuary should not just live for free: but eat well, and even receive a wage if they are full-time. If everyone who works with the Sanctuary benefits from it, we will never again have to question if we can have a staff or not. It should be a given: those who work for the dogs, who do the labor, should eat well and be cared for well. It seems obvious: but no doubt I prioritized the dogs needs over the people's at first. But this should not be: humans need good living conditions as well to work here. Then they will be happy to work here as long as the Sanctuary operates, has an income, and has dogs to take care of.

Neptune getting some special attention from the ladies


You make it possible! Thanks for your help.

As always I've put a "donation" button below if you want an easy-access to help us with funding at this time. Currently, we plan to budget for the month of November so we can have a staff to help us out here, and all the dogs along with them. We will make this a completely Sustainable Sanctuary, with your help. Thankfully our funding has gone amazing with helping us have consistent and good-quality food for the dogs! Thank you to all of our donors our there! But we're finally expanding, and that means expanding the budget too. That's why I ask if you can help us with funding at this time, it is immensely appreciated. Donate below!


That's all for today folks!

Thanks for tuning in to the Perros-Libres blog! We have been better than ever and we owe it all to the magic of this lake, our happy animals, and you incredible people out there reading and supporting us. Have a great night, and libertad por los perros.

Aaron and Nula helping the vet-visitors

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