Helping abused dogs find a safe haven……plus four easy ways you can help too….
Kristen Bourchier, a Senior Producer at DTV London, used her DTV sabbatical to support DASH — the largest Dog Rescue Shelter in Messini in Greece. Here’s her first-hand account of helping the dogs of DASH (Dream of a Safe Haven) recover from appalling abuse and neglect.
Overwhelming. It’s a word we use when things are tough. And it’s a word we use when things are joyful. It’s also a word I catch myself using repeatedly since I got back from volunteering at DASH.
Honestly, it’s hard to sort through my emotions from my time there; hard to know where to begin other than with that one word: ‘overwhelming’.
My first day: the noise! The sheer number of dogs. So many hopeful faces, looking up, leaping up to say hello, and just so very desperate for some human interaction and affection. Other faces so sick and tired they could barely lift their heads.
Many dogs at DASH have been treated horrifically: not just abused but unimaginably tortured… burnt alive, hung from trees, intentionally run over and left to die. It can be hard to believe the cruelty of humans towards such trusting creatures.
Little wonder that these dogs have lost faith in people. Learning how to earn their trust was crucial, but no easy task. Pro tip: stay calm, and don’t be afraid because the dogs will be able to tell. That’s easier said than done when you are surrounded by hundreds of big, scared dogs. I shed a few tears of exhaustion at the end of my intense first day.
Day two:overwhelming in another way. I started to get to grips with the scale of the need at DASH. While most of the hundreds of dogs there are happy and healthy, and are just in need of food, shelter and love, there are hundreds more that are in desperate need of a lot more. I’ve worked with many animal welfare and humanitarian causes, so I wouldn’t say that I am easily shocked. But the sheer number and severity of cases of animal abuse, neglect and cruelty that come into DASH would overwhelm anyone with a heart. I just wasn’t prepared for it. The amount of life-saving medical care that is carried out at DASH and their supporting vet clinics is huge.
I spent some time in the clinic with Frankie, a volunteer nurse. The most urgent case was a beautiful spaniel they had named Kastanios. He’d been neglected to the point of starvation, and was barely clinging to life. Frankie worked tirelessly for days to save him. But poor Kastanios simply didn’t have the strength to keep fighting. He passed away, and the reality of the situation at DASH really hit home…
I also spent some time with Baron — the most loving, gentle giant, despite the fact that someone had brutally cut his ears off with scissors. Even writing those words, I can’t believe someone would actually do that to a dog! He needs constant care to treat the wounds and infections.
Many dogs at DASH have been rescued after being run over (often intentionally) by bulldozers or cars and have had to have amputations. The amazing team of volunteers strive to give them a happy, healthy life after the terrible trauma. Nicos, a legend at DASH, is an amazing pup who survived being crushed by a bulldozer. Drivers are often paid to drive over the dogs in the hope that it will kill them. Nicos lost his two back legs, but it certainly doesn’t slow him down! He has been through multiple doggie wheelchairs because he refuses to take it easy, and is often found making his way to the neighbours to say hello.
After a few days, it became overwhelming in a very different way. Some light to the darkness. I began to understand more deeply what an incredible place DASH is. How full of love it is.
I felt like I started to get to know all of the dogs and their individual quirks and personalities. Each morning, I couldn’t wait to go around the shelter and have a cuddle with the happy pups. Of course, it was constantly busy and the work was never done, but the volunteers all do their best to spend time giving the dogs love and affection, helping to socialise them and teaching them to trust humans again. All in the hope that they will one day be adopted into a loving home. The more time I spent with the dogs, the more I became overwhelmed with how much I cared and wanted to help them all, and how hard it was going to be to leave.
For the rest of my time there, my love and respect for the DASH team continued to grow. Katerina, an absolute angel on earth, is the heart and soul of DASH and is the reason the shelter exists in the first place. She has sacrificed everything to help dogs (and help the occasional goat, cat and donkey). She lives in a trailer on site and pours her every minute and every penny into giving these animals the love and care they deserve. She knows every name, every personality, every background, and every medical need. She has hundreds of ‘children’ (and growing!) and loves them all with everything she has. You don’t meet many people like Katerina in your life — a complete inspiration.
Julie and the UK-based DASH team are heroes too, keeping everything running behind the scenes, managing the administration and operations of the shelter, helping to organise adoptions, fundraising, and visiting the shelter as often as they can. It takes the commitment of a huge team and every single person involved is incredible.
But there is still so much more to do. DASH relies solely on donation and volunteers.
The work is never ending. Greece is one of the worst places in Europe for animal cruelty — a cultural shift needs to happen, but that requires time and education. Katerina does amazing work with schools and children, teaching them to love and respect animals so that the next generation can stop this horrible cycle of abuse.
In the meantime there are still hundreds of dogs at DASH, and thousands more that aren’t so lucky, that all desperately need help.
You can help right now, its easier than you think and I can’t over-estimate the amount of tail-wagging happiness you will bring!
There are four things you can do to and they will all help the wonderful dogs at DASH:
1. Please donate if you possibly can. £5 a month helps to keep a dog flea free. £12 a month gives a dog vital medication. £28 a month can feed a starving dog. https://dash-dogs.com/donate/
2. Follow and share this blog, DASH instagram and facebook, our DASH fundraisers. Help to raise awareness.
3. Adopt- there are so many beautiful dogs at the shelter that would make perfect, loving pets. As well as gaining a lifelong friend, you will free up a space at the shelter so that DASH can save another dog from a life of starvation or cruelty.
4. Volunteer– you can do this in the UK or at the shelter in Greece. There are so many ways to help, from collecting blankets and beds in the UK, to being a dog chauffeur for the newly adopted dogs arriving in the UK. You could even go to the shelter to spend some time with the beautiful dogs like I did. Just be prepared to leave a little piece of your heart there…