Animal welfare education among schoolchildren is Animal Rescue Algarve’s latest project. The Loulé Association will visit local schools to promote animal rights and teach children the importance of respecting animals.
The shelter, which was created with a €1.5 million investment by British animal lover Sid Richardson, has already rescued more than 700 animals in three years. ARA is committed to making a difference in the community.
“Rescue, rehabilitation and finding homes (for animals) is a big part of the solution, but the importance of education is monumental. Neglecting its role in animal welfare is tantamount to bandaging. We want to be an example and a model to follow,” Sid Richardson told Barlavento newspaper.
Last year, ARA had already challenged around 1,200 Almancil school children to complete animal-related homework. Poems, texts, drawings, craft projects and photos have all been used in the book ‘For the Love Of’ for the purpose of raising funds.
“We were so impressed with the large number of contributions that we want to set up a national program in order to reach as many schools as possible. It makes me very proud that we can be a voice for animals,” added the ARA founder.
With the latest initiative in Loulé, schoolchildren have the opportunity to visit the shelter and come into direct contact with the animals.
“It’s important for children to have this experience and not just talk about it at school. We allow them to discover the shelter, to walk the dogs, to be there during our daily tasks and to understand how our routines work,” explained João Ferreira, ARA staff coordinator, adding that young people will also be invited. to volunteer and help out at events and fundraisers.
And although the project was launched recently, the number of visitors to schools has already increased “exponentially”, as has the number of new local volunteers following recently signed protocols.
Says Ferreira, entire families have signed up to volunteer. Two students who visited the ARA shelter returned to spend time with the cats.
“One of them even comes from home on a scooter. They know animals better than anyone. They all know their names, traits, and personalities. They help the team a lot,” he said.
“This is the message we want to send to students. Anyone can be a volunteer. Those over 18 can come alone, but younger people must be accompanied by a guardian. They can help with cleaning, socializing, walking, feeding, bathing, and brushing. They can help with all kinds of tasks, which are always age-appropriate,” Ferreira explained.
Award-winning volunteer work
Volunteering is one of the pillars of ARA’s daily activities. Over the past three years, the shelter has been helped by more than 900 international volunteers.
“We are talking about people from all over the world, but especially from Germany, the Netherlands and England. At the moment we have volunteers from Denmark and Switzerland.
“As ARA is listed on an international volunteering platform, Workaway, anyone can find out more about us online. What we do is provide accommodation for a few hours of work a day,” he explained.
In fact, ARA became the first institution in Portugal to receive two awards from Workaway.
One of the prizes was awarded “based on feedback” from the volunteers, Viriato Villas-Boas, ARA’s communications manager, told Barlavento.
“Our ratings and reviews were so good that we stood out to those running the platform,” he said.
ARA has also been working with the Associação de Saúde Mental do Algarve (Algarve Mental Health Association, or ASMAL) since 2019, enabling people with disabilities or special needs to interact with the animals at the shelter.
“Interaction with animals helps with some mental disorders such as autism, but everyone benefits greatly from this interaction. It helps in cognitive terms through social, mental and physical stimulation,” Ferreira said.
“On the other hand, animals also benefit from interacting with people of all ages, or who are in wheelchairs or use crutches – objects that may frighten animals due to past trauma but which, in this case , receive a positive spin and can make future adoptions easier.
There are also disabled animals cared for by ARA, such as Tripé, a three-legged greyhound, and Mago, a dog with paralyzed hind legs.
In fact, Ferreira said, the interaction between people and animals has an overall positive impact on both.
New charity shop in Loulé
Two years after opening its first charity store in Almancil, ARA opened another in Loulé on 8 January.
“A lot of investment is needed to run a shelter like this. The charity shops are a huge contribution and Almancil’s was a huge success,” said Sid Richardson.
The charity store in Loulé is located under the veterinary hospital (at number 73 of the Boa Entrada urbanization).
The tragic events of last summer, when a fire broke out in Castro Marim and spread to Vila Real de Santo António and Tavira, killing more than a dozen dogs in an illegal kennel in VRSA, led ARA to implement new precautions against similar threats.
“That’s one of the reasons we always have people at the shelter at night. That’s all it would have taken in VRSA. We have always feared forest fires, because we are located in a valley surrounded by nature,” said João Ferreira.
Thus, last year, the entire ARA team was trained on what to do in the event of a fire and how to use the existing equipment until the firefighters arrived.
“We have smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, fire blankets and 25 meter long hoses which are connected to a tank in all areas. Additionally, the shelter and its surrounding grounds are kept clean to ensure the area is safe at all times,” Ferreira added.
Original article written by Maria Simiris for the Barlavento newspaper.