The year of 2013 was a massive year of big steps, lots of change and scary risks. I had been working as an Art Director down in the financial district and was miserable. I knew for the last 5 years leading up to that position that I was not cut out for a 9-5 lifestyle at an office where I sat at a desk all day. My creativity was not being challenged and I hated the hustle and bustle of a downtown life.
In the fall of 2013, I decided to take the leap and quit my job with literally no plan in place and I will be honest, no savings and still quite a bit of debt (thanks college!). But those who know me, know that I fly by the seat of my pants and live by "it will work itself out". Well, it did.
It was around that same time I quit my job that I had realized that I was pretty lonely. I was single and under 30 living downtown Toronto in a bachleor pad with no job (with the exception of a few weddings), who wouldn't want to date me? Well, nobody did haha but what's better than a boyfriend? a dog!
I reached out to my old college friend, Laura Bye, shortly after leaving my job to tell her I was interested in becoming a foster parent to a pup (remember, I am broke as hell, so being a foster parent meant companionship without the expenses AND you help a pup start a new life of love and trust). Laura Bye had become a staple in an organization called Noble Dog Rescue. At this time, she was doing a massive rescue of 50+ dogs from California who were all on the euthanize list. She was saving 50+ lives, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Sidenote: did you know that the United States still have kill shelters throughout the country where animals are killed just because they are found, dropped off or because there is no space. These are healthy dogs and cats, some babies, who are being killed for no reason. Each year around 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized in the US. Think about that next time you are looking for your next pet and please think hard about adopting.
Fast forward to the day of arrival of the 50 + pups, Laura had asked me to meet her and the pups at a park downtown. I get there and the pups had been transported in a massive trailer, and they told me to go in and "pick one". How the hell do you pick just one?? There were 50 dogs crying, barking, looking rough and terrified looking back at me. Well, I obviously start to cry and just grabbed their first little nugget that was sitting there quiet and wagging his tail. He was this little scruffy terrier with a beard who was too skinny and missing fur. I was officially his foster mom and named him "Gandalf". This day I will never forget.
Well, anyone that follows our photography account, my personal ones or is in my life knows, I was a massive foster fail and after 48 hours of Gandalf cuddling into my chest 24/7, I adopted him.
Now, my helping too save dogs lives hasn't stopped because I filled my house with Gandalf (and later, Bruce), as I now volunteer for Laura Bye's INCREDIBLE organization Save Our Scruff (SOS). Laura started SOS shortly after I adopted Gandalf and everything they do, is inspiring, powerful, emotional, and most importantly, needed.
A huge part of SOS is that they not only save dogs from within Ontario and Canada but they go to the streets of underdeveloped countries. There are multiple problems in these countries when it comes to animal welfare, with overpopulation being the biggest, followed by unaffordable vet care. Which of course, these two things go hand in hand.
A way that SOS tries to help with these two major issues, is organize and host spay and neuter clinics annually (or semi-annually). These clinics take quite a bit of man power, organization, funding, donations and support. When SOS announced they were doing their next clinic in Dominican Republic in April 2018 and that they were on the hunt for a volunteer photographer/videographer, I instantly knew that was me.
After speaking with the head of organization for the clinics, Cynthia, we instantly hit it off and I had a few weeks to get organized, raise money/donations and prepare myself mentally.
We arrive in Dominican Republic with our partner organizations, Geo Vets and Moringas Mission, and start the set up prep of the clinic. Geo Vets is an incredible group of vets and vet techs who volunteer their time and travel the world providing affordable vet care, not just spay and neuters (which I witnessed on this trip). Moringa's Mission is the Dominican partner of SOS who do amazing work running a safe house/shelter for strays, both cats and dogs (and even a goat!). On day 5 we actually went to visit the shelter which you will see below. With set up there was a: check-in/waiting area, a prep station (where the anesetic was applied), 5 operating tables and a recovery area. Each area had designated volunteers from SOS, Moringa's, Geo Vets and even randoms who were on vacation. It was a true team effort and every person and position just as important as the next.
Now I am not sure how to describe the 4 days of clinic and volunteering in detail so I will use these few words to break this journey down: inspiring, emotional, challenging, eye-opening, educational, sweaty.
Inspiring: To see over 50 strangers/people volunteer their time, donate their money and work together to saving animals and helping the community was remarkable. There were people in their 70’s, children, Spanish and English speaking, men and woman, doctors, nurses, founders, people on vacation, people from all walks of life there for the same reason which was beautiful
Emotional: I am an emotional person on a good day, never mind being surrounded by sick animals, animals in pain or even scared owners, it was emotionally tough. There were two incidents where we sadly lost the pup on the operating table due to their health and being operated on and it was so hard to stay strong behind the camera while watching others take quiet time away from the space to have alone time or a good cry. Even the happiest of moments, like this one local finally agreeing to let us operate on his pup (who had fathered a lot of neighbouring pups), we all cried with happiness and relief.
Educational: Everyone I know, when I told them I was doing this, said “you can’t even see blood from a paper cut without fainting or puking, how will you do this”. To be honest, I had no idea. I just knew I had too. I am happy to say that I never once wanted to faint or be sick and I saw some things that most normal people will never see in their lifetime. Like, an infected inflamed uterus bigger than my head being drained. I think it helped to be able to hide behind the camera for that one haha
Challenging: Well beyond everything listed, it was challenging for reasons such as the Dominican heat, the struggle to get the community to bring their animals for operations, the mental exhaustion of 12-14 hour days in the heat crying and trying to be strong… but I would do it all over again, with this group or another, in any part of the world because we saved so many animals because of this clinic and that is worth every bit of blood, sweat and tears.