PAW Animal Sanctuary Caye Caulker, Belize. Madi Collins.
This & That, Travel

The Amazing PAW Animal Sanctuary: Your Volunteer Vacation in Belize? (Or a Very Worthy PayPal Click!)

I want to tell you guys about a really wonderful woman, and a really special little place in the world.

The woman is named Madi Collins, and the place is the colorful little PAW Animal Sanctuary on the tiny island of Caye Caulker in Belize.

I found Madi (that’s her pictured above) several weeks ago, while asking relatively pettier questions about hotels and such on TripAdvisor’s Belize forums. (Sidebar: Do you know about/use TripAdvisor’s travel forums? They’re the best wellspring of info ever.) She popped up there in a somewhat desperate search for a donated laptop for her animal sanctuary — and as a devoted animal lover, I reached out to her in the hopes we could help.

Just before our trip, we’d not yet turned up a spare laptop we could donate, but I emailed Madi to tell her I had a never-used smartphone, still in the box, if perhaps she could use it for her organization? She emphatically said she could, so I put it in my suitcase and we set off for Belize.

PAW Animal Sanctuary, Caye Caulker, Belize

One of the 90 kitties living the good life at PAW!

On one rainy afternoon during our trip, hubby and I caught the water taxi from where we were staying on the island of Ambergris Caye over to Caye Caulker, about a half hour trip among mostly local Belizeans, and followed Madi’s directions to find her. “When you get off the water taxi at the foot of the dock, make a right and walk to the first street you will see there, which is at the corner of Bambooze restaurant. It’s a restaurant painted in bright orange, green, and yellow. At that corner you will make a left and then just walk straight across until you get to Sandro’s Piccolo Cocina to your right and to your left you will see a house painted in lavendar. At the corner of the fencing of the restaurant make a right, we are the wire fencing with palm leaves against it and lots of trees. We are at the gray gate.” And with that quaint description, we easily found Madi’s place — having walked just about the width of the island in fewer than five minutes.

We met sweet, diminutive Madi, and learned a bit about her personal story (she lived in New York for a while, attended law school, moved back to Belize, cares for her elderly mom, lost her dad and sibling only recently), tried somewhat feebly without reading the manual to teach her how to use her new, first-ever smartphone, and heard about all the amazing work she’s doing with mostly cats on the island who would otherwise have no chance.

Many have been badly abused. One, for instance, had its eye put out by a man who used the act as a punishment for his wife who called the police after domestic battery. Others Madi saved from plastic bags thrown into the water when people meant to drown them — a heartless and heartbreaking result of overpopulation. Pretty much none have a real hope of adoption on the island. It’s just not how it works there.

The rustic environs at the sanctuary now house 90 kitties that Madi cares for — and some dogs too. She does pretty much all the work herself — even veterinary procedures she was forced to teach herself without access to 24-hour vet care on the island. All the animals have names, like Honey and Butter and Sweetie. Madi’s basically an angel, and she’s doing work that directly impacts animals every day, with close to zero red tape or administrative overhead.

All her money goes back to the animals, and here’s how she gets it: She has some fun humble accommodations, that would be great for backpacker types on a budget (or you could camp on property for a tiny fee). (Find the unique lodging on TripAdvisor!) You can also sponsor a kitty (for just pennies a day…), fulfill an item or two on the Amazon wish list, or even just make a PayPal donation in any amount.

PAW Animal Sanctuary, Caye Caulker, Belize

Here’s the sunset you’d see from the waterfront right in front of your face if you stayed or volunteered at PAW.

She also gladly welcomes volunteer vacation arrangements (do you have vet skills? gardening or construction skills? anything else that could be useful?). Of course you’d stay for free! And you’d feel so good about helping out such a worthy cause. I’m telling you: Hang out with Madi for a bit and you’ll just feel so warm inside, with renewed perspective and hopefulness about the good in the world.

You can also support from afar (for free!) by liking the PAW Animal Sanctuary Facebook page and sharing it with like-minded, compassionate friends.

Just know that anything you do to support this most earnest, loving effort — and frankly, anything you do to support animal welfare and protection in your communities or anywhere in the world — is a wonderful, menschy, decent, important thing.

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  • Reply melissa iris September 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    what a great find! it’s so important and inspiring to know that there are good people sprinkled throughout the world spreading love to anyone (or cat or dog) in need. i’m so glad you made the trek to visit and hope to make it out there one day. just another great reason to visit belize.

  • Reply Lisa Franzetta September 5, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    This is really heartwarming. Sometimes I think the best we can hope to do is find a small corner of the planet and make it a slightly kinder place. People like Madi, seeking no recognition for herself and her endless (literally, it will never end) work, are true heroes.

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