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For the love of dogs, our lifelong friends

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

''Perros Libres'', a shelter where dogs are not caged, located in Tzununa at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. How to help, visit the shelter, adopt a dog. Understand the reality of thousands of dogs in Latin American countries.

Chiots âgés d'environ 2 semaines sous une roche
Puppies about 2 weeks old, Perros Libres, Tzununa, Guatemala

Today I witnessed the birth of a puppy. It was an unforgettable and very moving experience. The grandmother of this new mother was even there to assist and help her daughter. She washed the little animals and ensured their safety. Indeed, the 70 other dogs of the shelter were also very curious to welcome the 4 new members in the big family of Perros Libres in Tzununa, near Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala.

My friend Aaron found his life purpose over a year ago: Helping street dogs in Tzununa. When we met Aaron to take care of the house where we lived while we were away two years ago, he was not the same man. He was coming from Miami, simply looking for a piece of land. He found inspiration in spite of himself by saving 4 little abandoned puppies. The reality is that in Guatemala (and virtually every country in Latin America), dog owners don't have enough money to castrate their animals. Latinos therefore find themselves with an overpopulation of dogs, often strays. They don't have enough money to feed them either. They are mostly undernourished and prone to disease. Unfortunately, the canid population is also beaten with sticks, machetes and chased with stones. Children are brought up this way: if a dog yelps at you, throw a rock at it to scare it. It's a vicious cycle, because the dog yelps more to defend itself.

When we came to visit him last year after leaving him a year ago, Aaron was transformed. He explains to us his project, which is then embryonic, to open a dog shelter and to be recognized in the region. He already had several puppies and a few adults, nearly a dozen dogs. We helped him move because space was becoming insufficient. A year later, taking on several daunting challenges, he found himself with a non-profit organization called “Perros Libres” (free dogs) which welcomes 75 adorable animals.

An happy man with 2 dogs
Founder of Perros Libres, Aaron, with the new mother and grandmother of 4 puppies

When I first went to visit, I thought I would be heartbroken seeing all these dogs in one place. Imagine the opposite. This place is a true paradise for dogs. They are not kept in cages. They can go where they want and interact with each other and with humans. We do not even have the impression of being surrounded by 75 dogs as they have space and freedom on the ground. I thought I would have to endure a cacophony of yelps and grunts, being constantly on my toes, having difficulty speaking. None of that!

12 dogs around their master waiting for food
Some curious dogs from the sanctuary

Certainly, depending on their personality, some dogs bark when we arrive to warn their masters. Sometimes small squabbles between them for undefined reasons break out. But as soon as they are kindly calmed down by the 7 Workaway volunteers on site or by the owner, they are happy to be cuddled and loved. They have been re-educated. They are man's best friend after all, that's all they want: a human's company and kindness. In return, they give it back to us. Despite the fact that all these dogs have already been on the street and that they have sometimes experienced abominable situations, they are reassured to be finally safe and have rediscovered their love for humans.

dog mom with 4 pups
Tina, proud mother of 4 new puppies

It is possible to help. How? If you are there, take a tour. Come pet the dogs, play with them, fill the water bowls, sweep the broom… a few hours of pet therapy will change your day and help both the dogs and the staff. Think how much energy it takes to care for 75 little love balls, so you're always welcome at this unique dog temple around Lake Atitlan. Obviously, adoption remains the best way to help the center if you ever fall in love with one or more animals during your stay. The center also needs donations to buy medicine, finance castration operations, food, advertise to help dogs to be adopted, improve infrastructure, etc. You can help do this remotely:

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