Issue 6, 2013. December-January

   

VOLUNTEERING FOR THE VOICELESS

Fiona Coxshall, Chairperson of Dog Organization Georgia (D.O.G), explains how even small actions can make a big difference in the lives of abandoned and stray dogs in Tbilisi - and why that is good news for everyone. Photo provided by Dan Twining.


When most people think of charity, they think of money. That makes sense - charities, regardless of whether they are serve people, animals, or conservation efforts - need financial help to survive.

In Georgia, where the culture of charitable giving is still nascent, however, there is still a disconnect between the idea of giving money and the priceless act of giving time. In fact, while charities and non-profits in the United Kingdom and the United States depend largely on small donations from people of all walks of life, they equally rely on the strength of volunteers to get things done.

D.O.G.: Giving Georgian Dogs another Chance

Dog Organization Georgia (D.O.G.) is a charitable organization which aims to improve the welfare of stray dogs in Georgia through its shelter and medical care, vaccination and sterilization programs, public education and information,consultation with the authorities, and a homing program.

D.O.G.is fortunate to have a dedicated team of volunteers who take on tasks according to their talents and schedules - some walk and groom dogs or play with puppies; others ferry dogs and puppies to and from the veterinarian; some keep medical records; some translate public relations materials such as our newsletter or our "Dogs for Adoption Catalogue"; while others undertake short-term foster care or fundraise.

However, it is important to note that currently the volunteers are mostly from the expatriate community. We would like to see more Georgians become involved, as the expatriates will not be here forever and the good work started by the founder, Ivo Bakhuijzen, needs to be sustainable.

Not everyone is able to help financially, but there are other ways for people to help and any willingness to volunteer should be encouraged.

A 2013 study by Texas A&M University on why people volunteer found that, when given the option between donating time versus donating money, volunteers who provided a service to a charity gave more than those who just provided money.

Business leaders could help by fostering a culture of volunteering among their staff and perhaps this could be facilitated by some sort of government incentive to companies which donate, support volunteer activities, or actively promote a volunteer mentality. In the West, many employers sometimes allow their employees some time off work (perhaps during the "quiet season") to carry out voluntary philanthropic work.

Having more volunteers would make a big difference to many charitable organizations, and for D.O.G. it could help initiate far-reaching positive consequences. In particular, not only would the organization be able to vaccinate and sterilize more street dogs, making them safer, but also it would be able to increase its efforts to inform and educate the Georgian population on the value of adopting mixed-breed dogs, as well as on the benefits of sterilization.

Small Gifts, Big Difference

But financial donations are also needed to really deal with the issues facing the homeless dog population in Tbilisi.

Caring for around 35 dogs and puppies at any one time is costly. First and foremost, D.O.G. ensures that all the dogs and puppies that come through its facility are checked by a veterinarian and receive appropriate medical care where necessary. The dogs receive a complete set of vaccinations (yearly, if they are with the organization for an extended period) against life-threatening diseases such as canine flu and parvovirus as well as rabies, which can be deadly to humans. In addition, D.O.G. sterilizes all its dogs and puppies before allowing them to go to new homes to prevent more unwanted puppies on the streets.

In addition to medical costs, funds are needed to maintain the D.O.G. facility near Lisi Lake. Day-to-day running costs include a caretaker's salary, fuel and, of course, food for the dogs, while from time to time general repairs are needed to the building, enclosure and individual runs to ensure a safe environment for the dogs.

Unlike many larger, international charities, a grassroots program like D.O.G does not receive government funding or grants, so is fully reliant on its own fundraising efforts and donations. When it is a challenge to raise the funds to keep the shelter operational on an everyday basis, it makes it very difficult to carry out improvements or upgrades to our current basic facilities.

The task would be easier if companies were encouraged to help support organizations such as D.O.G., which are trying to make a positive impact. For example, there needs to be better incentives for companies, or tax breaks for individuals, that make charitable donations to inspire both individuals and companies to make positive contributions to their own community as well as to the country as to the a whole.

In many European countries individual taxpayers' donations are topped up by the government, while companies receive tax breaks and incentives for charitable donations in various guises, such as financial sponsorship or goods in kind.

For developing economies like Georgia, it is easy to see why charity - especially charity for homeless animals - might not be at the top of most households' priorities. But the simple truth is that small donations add up to big differences.

While corporate donations are great, a few well-targeted lari can also make a world of difference.

For example, for D.O.G. 10 lari covers the cost of annual vaccinations for a dog or puppy, while 15 lari will pay for a veterinary check on arrival and 25 lari feeds a shelter dog for about a month. 100 lari has a great effect as it enables us to spay or neuter a puppy, which stops more unwanted puppies from being born.

The D.O.G. 2014 Calendar created by the volunteers has proved an effective method of encouraging small donations, which soon add up to a substantial amount. With generous corporate sponsors covering the cost of the printing, all proceeds go directly to the shelter. Last year the calendar generated enough income to run the shelter for a whole month.

Helping D.O.G.

If D.O.G were to have a "wish list," it would include a construction company willing to donate a new fence, or financial assistance to extend a water main to the shelter (as D.O.G. presently uses a generator to pump water from a well) and an electricity company willing to donate or substantially reduce the cost of installing mains electricity, in particular to enable the shelter to provide heating for the dogs during the harsh winter months.

Fewer unwanted puppies and stray dogs on the streets will mean a reduction in the spread of disease and this, together with less unsightly rubbish dragged from rubbish bins, will result in a cleaner, healthier environment.

This is not only good for residents of Georgia, but also makes it more attractive - both to businesses considering opening local offices as well as for tourists with money to spend.

All this can only benefit the country, by helping contribute to Georgian economic growth.