The Wandering Wishnies travel blog

Our site at Desert Haven Animal Refuge, a quiet desert location in...

Fred plays with Emmy, the Cocker Spaniel, she’s a real sweetheart

Jo with Karmelitta, the smallest dog at the Refuge. She’s a lover.

Erin, another workamper, with Vickie and Bud

Erin and Bud share a moment

Director of Refuge, Eliana (2nd from right), and Linda, Facilities Manager, accept...


Whew, we survived Day 1 workamping at the Refuge. And I have to say, I love it here! I can see how easy it is to come thinking you will stay for a specific amount of time, and months or years later, you find yourself still here :) If we didn’t have plans for Alaska this summer, I would seriously be wanting to amend our schedule. And it’s only our first day! Wow. And they don’t waste any time letting you know they wish you were going to be here longer. Many times we were asked during the day, “So how long are you going to be here--2 weeks? We sure wish you could stay longer. Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

It was a long day. Tuesday is known as “work day”. Everyone here works on Tuesday. All the other days are split up among all the workers, but we are all on the schedule on Tuesday. The day starts like every other day, with Animal Care. After all, that is the main mission here--taking care of the animals that live at the Refuge. Miscellaneous assignments are handed out. These are your tasks for the day, done after Animal Care is finished, and worked on throughout the day.

There is a volunteer/staff meeting at 10:00. There you get the scoop on what’s been going on, or what’s coming up. And the new schedules for the week are handed out. We saw from the schedule that we would have the next two days off. In a way I was kind of disappointed as we were just gearing up for this whole gig, and I felt I would lose my momentum. But even if you are not formally on the schedule, you are always welcome to help out, so it would be our choice what to do over the next two days.

We also get fed on Tuesday. There is a potluck lunch after the meeting, with the Refuge providing the main dish. We got a pass on bringing something because we’ve only just arrived.

My miscellaneous duty today was “kitchen”. That was kind of a misnomer. It really encompassed not only the kitchen, but also the bathroom, and the main gathering area. They wanted everything within those areas cleaned up: sweeping and mopping floors, vacuuming the carpet in the gathering area, cleaning out the refrigerators, dusting, etc. Not exactly my cup of tea, but…whatever. In our old life, Fred always used to joke that I didn’t even know how to turn the vacuum cleaner on. Of course, that was not true, but indicative of my aversion to cleaning of all types. So just picture me with the vacuum cleaner, such an un-natural state. But better that than a mop or a sponge in the bathroom.

I was saved from the latter, by volunteering to go with the Director, Eliana, to the Moose Lodge to take pictures of her accepting a large donation from them. They were very excited to get the Lodge’s check for $2,500. That is a big deal for them. The drive gave me an opportunity to have a nice chat with Eliana and learn a lot more about the Refuge. The Refuge relies solely on donations and the operation of a Thrift Shop called Paws and Claws. They receive no government money. Why, you ask? Because then they would have to take any and all animals people wanted to dump. Desert Haven is a “no-kill” facility, and they couldn’t possibly take them all in. They must be selective taking only animals they think can be adopted, and/or what they have room for.

We had touched on that at the volunteer meeting when Freddie, the Operations Manager, talked about how many people with animals she must turn away all the time, and how heartbreaking it is. It brought back sad memories for me and opened emotional wounds that I experienced when I needed to give up our beautiful cat, Hemmingway, when we were traveling in California. I sought out and located a “no-kill” shelter there, but was turned away due to lack of room. I quietly wiped away some tears hoping no one would notice.

Fred’s miscellaneous duties today included helping some of the guys with some building and maintenance projects. And some of those heavy tools we have been carrying around for two years came in handy. I’m sure Fred and his tools were very appreciated today. I must report, however, that Fred managed to get bitten by a dog already. Not that any of them are dangerous. They aren’t, not exactly. This particular dog, Maxwell, has a unique way of greeting his handlers. They had warned Fred about him, saying he likes to grab your arm with his mouth, but he never bites. Well let’s just say, don’t use the word never anymore. Maxwell did indeed “grab” Fred’s arm, but Fred was a bit startled and reflexively jerked his arm back, whereupon Max chomped down a bit too hard, and the next thing you know, we’re in the bathroom attending to his “wound”.

After lunch, we all piled in our vehicles and drove into town to work on the Thrift Shop, named Paws and Claws (cute). This is one of the main sources of revenue for the Refuge. And at the moment, they are in the process of moving the Thrift Shop into new quarters. And it’s a good thing, because the existing Thrift Shop is pretty scary. It’s a very small space and piled from floor to ceiling with “stuff”. And using the word “stuff” is being kind. But they apparently do well with it. My duties today at the shop were moving and organizing the belt rack, and folding and organizing ladies’ shorts. I must say they had some very nice shorts. If I wore a smaller size, I would have snagged myself some. Many had good labels, nice fabrics and in excellent condition. They rivaled clothing I have seen in finer consignment shops. And they are all priced at $1 or $2.

I learned today, that Sierra County is the poorest county in New Mexico, and in fact, the 17th poorest county in the United States. New Mexico is a very poor state. Which is not surprising when you consider that it is covered mostly by mountains and desert. According to 2003 statistics it was the third poorest state in the US based on per capita personal income.

I can already say I appreciate the experiences I am having here. Picture me today in the following scenarios: with a vacuum cleaner in my hand, pooper scooping the grounds, washing out dog pens with a bucket of bleach water and a brush, walking big dogs whose main goal was to get to the dog run before anyone else (wheeeee), moving and organizing things in a thrift store, and collapsing into my new recliner with a Key Lime martini and a big smile on my face, tired and happy.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s more fun than it sounds. And the people here are all great. There are no slackers. Everyone is enthusiastic and very caring. No matter what we're doing, no one ever loses sight of why we are here.

Tomorrow we’re going to sleep in, then take a ride to check out nearby Elephant Butte Lake State Park, take a look around town and familiarize ourselves with the area. But I know we’ll finish up the day helping out with the PM Animal Care. I can’t go the day without seeing my babies, Karmelitta, Emmy, Sport, Bessie, Indio, Lance, Bud, Scotty, Shadow, Maxwell, Mosey, Vicki. I know I’m forgetting a few. And these are just the dogs. I haven’t even started on the cats yet!



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