Sunday, July 14, 2013

Starting a New Dog Shelter in Mexico! #TBSU

The exciting news I hinted at a few days ago has come to pass. Shortly before midnight on July 10, 2013, I signed the papers to rent the building which will become our urban dog shelter in Colima, Mexico. The TO DO list is six pages long, and our all volunteer group is working 24/7 to get everything in place to open on 01 August.

Several friends have asked me to document the process of creating an animal shelter. We are doing everything on less than a shoestring! Total start-up cost, including a year's rent in advance, will be under $2000. Used, homemade, and donated are the mantras, except for medications which are the bulk of the costs.

We've applied for non-profit status in Mexico for our association. The shelter is one branch of our goals, which also include sterilization and vaccination campaigns, educational outreach, and promoting the many animal organizations in the state through our very active Facebook presence. The Facebook page is in Spanish, but the photos are universal is if you'd like to take a look.

Within a few days, we'll have a blog for the shelter and I'll mostly direct you there for updates. But for tonight, I'd like to share with you the excitement of our first day, working to clean out the three-year-abandoned unfinished house that will in less than three weeks be home to many rescued dogs. FYI, by policy, I don't share names or personal information about children in photos. All photos are published with permission.

First step was to clean up the street view. The house was overrun with weeds, and we figured the other houses on the street would be happy to have a more presentable neighbor! As a side note, the neighbors have been very welcoming and friendly. It helps that I live a half-block away and already know many of them. The last thing we need is complaints to the city about our dogs, and we're hoping to head those off before they occur.

We started by sweeping out the premises. Sounds simple, but three years of dust and debris filled about 12 large garbage bags! Pictured here, Marissa Lepe Preciado, is the president of our association. She's a medical doctor studying to become a veterinarian, and a driving force behind the shelter.

Some of our best workers were neighborhood children! These two lovely sisters have a boxer named Chacho who loves to participate in our Dog Agility Club on Saturdays. They were the first to arrive this morning, and worked like Trojans all day. I explained the meaning of "trooper" to them; these are two girls we definitely want on our team!

We thought we might have to stop after sweeping, since the water isn't connected yet. But one of our neighbors stepped in and let us run hoses from her house. Thank you!!

To say we all got soaked is an understatement! Luckily, it was hot as blazes, and nobody minded. We swept the soapy water into the shower drain in the bathroom. It never stopped up. Whew!

Marissa and Sol are working on the front bedroom, where we'll keep the new dogs in quarantine pens until their blood tests are complete and we're sure they won't spread any diseases.

This is the back bedroom which has about three times the space you can see in the photo. This room is our maternity ward, with room for at least four litters in spacious enclosures with space left over for another large fenced area for random puppies. A wonderful volunteer family is donating a special paint for the floor, which will help us keep the room spotless.

Turning lemons into lemon trees, this small unconcreted area in the lobby worried me a bit until we decided that it will be the perfect indoor garden!

Here the whole team is scrubbing out the kitchen area, which will be our consulting/surgery room. Our hope is to have vets onsite most of the time. We're offering recent vet graduates (top of the class!) free space in exchange for taking care of our animals and for providing low cost services for local residents. Win, win, WIN!!

This will probably be an open area for our older dogs. Our plan is to take in pregnant females, mothers with litters, abandoned puppies, and older difficult-to-adopt dogs. We want to provide the best possible start in life, and the most comfortable end of life experiences for our shelter animals.

My favorite photo of the day! Our youngest volunteer really putting her back into her work! Mexican families raise great kids!

In addition, the huge room will be excellent for spay/neuter campaigns, with space for up to five simultaneous surgeries. The lobby (aka carport) will be a great recovery space. Here are two of our young volunteers, speeding the suds and water out into the big backyard.

Tomorrow the yard will be cleared by a contractor. It's about as big as the house, plenty of play space for all the pooches. Since we also run the Dog Agility Club, you can bet we'll have plenty of play equipment out back!

Mid-afternoon, another wonderful neighbor stopped by and offered to give us plants for all the front gardens. She has an amazing nursery in her yard, and our street front will be lovely in a few days.

Next step was to tackle the walls. The main problem was bat guano. Ugh. Our young volunteers put lots of muscle into the low parts, while the adults cleaned higher up. These aren't posed pictures. In six hours of work, there wasn't a single complaint. The kids believe in the shelter just as strongly as the adults, and they are proud to contribute!

In case you think it doesn't look that bad, here's a bit of wall before!

And here's the after. Not a very exciting picture unless you just cleaned this wall! By the way, in case you are ever needing to clean off bat guano, plain soap and water and a pot scrubber work best, even better than a scrub brush. We're planning to paint next weekend, using whatever bits and pieces of gallons and colors we are donated! Should be colorful! We have a couple of artists among the volunteers. Can't wait to see what they create!

Scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing! The carport/lobby is on the right, and the large main room on the left.

Another one of our young, eager workers! She's wearing our association t-shirt.

And here's the whole team! Woohoo! Can you believe this many people did all that work? Huge thank yous to everyone for an awesome first cleanup day!

Do you have questions about our association, Amigos de Perros y Gatos Colima? Any thoughts or comments on our new shelter? Have you ever run or worked in a shelter? Can you give us some hints to help us avoid pitfalls and open smoothly? Please join me for a lively discussion in the comments!

Check out these related posts for more information on spay/neuter campaigns and other animal rescue activities in Colima:

Some fellow writers/bloggers/animal lovers, in the spirit of The Blog Scratchers Union, #TBSU!


  1. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, you people are marvellous! Best of luck with your project.

    1. Thanks Jane! It feels great to have such a solid team. Wish us luck!



  2. Outstanding! What you've been able to accomplish is nothing short of phenomenal.

    Is parvo virus a big problem down there? Will you be using bleach to disinfect any areas where infected dogs have touched?

    I wish you all the best of luck. You're amazing and I'm proud to know you.

    1. Hi Maria,

      Thanks for your support! Luckily, rabies is virtually extinct here due to government-sponsored free annual vaccinations. Parvo and distemper are both big problems though, partly because people can't afford the vaccines. One of our association's goals is to provide at or below cost vaccinations for both. Fundraising to come!!

      At the shelter, we will blood test before admitting any animal. For the protection of those already resident, we can't accept contagious animals. Even with a clear test, they go into a separate quarantine room with cages spread well apart for several days. Also, we'll clean with bleach twice a day, everywhere!! The problem is, bleach doesn't kill these two viruses, but it sure helps with everything else.

      Thanks again for your support. I think you are amazing too! Hugs,