Instead of the traditional dog sanctuary, I’ve been keen to explore cage free open spaces (where animals and humans can co-exist while taking the necessary precautions).

cure for loneliness - visit a dog sanctuary

Before and After pictures of rescued dogs. Photo credit Dogtime and


Certain communities are already working towards this goal – for instance, a public park in London, UK where deers roam while people jog or walk their dogs alongside them.

Or Hackney City Farm, based in the heart of London, UK
cure for loneliness - visit a dog sanctuary

Hackney City Farm, London, UK Photo Credit: Dihan Chandra


Let’s extend this concept further. What if we allowed rescued dogs to roam freely over a designated area of a sizeable public park?
It’s not so far fetched – consider this alternative zoo concept where people view animals in their natural surroundings from behind protective cages 🙂
Smart Zoo Knows Exactly Who Should Be In Cages Photo Credit: The Dodo

We do this already for our own dogs in designated urban dog parks – why not take things a step further…like an outdoor dog sanctuary with cafe in the midst of a park?!

I assumed that multiple dogs in the same space would exert their dominance and result in a bloody mess.
Thus I was pleased to discover a dog sanctuary that fit my ideal concept, with ample open space housing over 1000 stray dogs (and cats) while on a sourcing trip to Sri Lanka, where we get our certified organic rubber from!
cure for loneliness - visit a dog sanctuary

Photo Credit: Dihan Chandra

Welcome to Animal-SOS, UK funded charity based in the coastal town of Midigama, Sri Lanka. It was started by a social worker wanting to help stray dogs she encountered while on a vacation. Her organization provides medical attention (sterilization, vaccinations and surgical services) and provides long-term care for the canines there. Thirty five animal handlers, cooks, vets, nurses and security look after 1000+ dogs and 85 cats. In order to learn more, I decided to volunteer.


The Good News – I didn’t get bitten.
The Bad news – one dog had managed to mark his territory on my leg.
cure for loneliness - visit a dog sanctuary

Photo Credit: Dihan Chandra

Overall, I felt the dogs looked well fed and happy. It’s on a huge plot of land away from neighbours (they had to build high walls to stop locals from throwing stray pups over). Similarly, garbage bags are kept on the roof to prevent dogs from getting into them. The dogs find shelter under trees, dig holes or simply stay on the porch to guard the front entrance.
Instead of cages, the animals have rooms with 8 foot ceilings, brightly lit and spacious. There is even a fan for the dogs in addition to access to water. So for the most part, dogs can be dogs – simply lazily sleeping, barking and doing their “business” all day.
cure for loneliness - visit a dog sanctuary

Photo Credit: Dihan Chandra

I thought there would be poo everywhere. However, the space was kept very clean. They use disinfectant and the dog handlers constantly go around around with shovels.

Disabled dogs

cure for loneliness - visit a dog sanctuary

Photo Credit: Dihan Chandra

They had about 100 dogs who were brought to the shelter who had experienced an accident of some sort. The shelter typically performs surgeries and rehabilitation services. The majority I encountered were living out their lives with limited use of their hind legs – I assumed spinal injuries as a lot of them couldn’t pee without a handler applying pressure on their stomachs. My role was to simply give love and attention to the dogs while their hind legs were being massaged by a handler using Aryuvedic herbal oils.


After that, I went from room to room, sat on a step and said hello to each and every dog.


Some were desperate for attention and others would keep their distance. However, if I approached them, they were happy to get pet.
This is not me but picture of Lal, local dog handler and my guide taking a break at the Animal SOS dog sanctuary. He, his wife and adult son all work at the sanctuary. Photo Credit: Animal SOS
I was surprised to find numerous dogs with hairless patches covering the majority of their body. Turns out while on the street, individuals would throw hot water to teach them a lesson 🙁


One of these dogs was Dolly. She reminded me of my own Labrador who passed away almost 2 years ago. We met at her favorite spot, next to the tap where I had to wash off my leg after being marked by another. The handlers said that she liked to only drank water from that tap.


On my second visit to the dog sanctuary a few weeks later, my plan was to sponsor Dolly. However, I was heartbroken when I discovered that she had died a few days before I arrived from kidney failure. Her body is now buried on the property. RIP little one…

The Staff

I really enjoyed getting to know the local dog handlers. For the most part, they grew up in this town and as practicing Buddhists, seemed very compassionate towards the animals. Never did I witness any abuse – I imagine it’s hard to find and maintain good staff, so kudos to the charities’ management structure. I didn’t get the opportunity to meet the founder as I understand she is back in the UK actively fundraising – to feed and care for over a thousand dogs, fundraising must be necessary. Again, great job team!

New revenue source – biofuel?

Given the wheelbarrows full of feces that the animals generate on a daily basis, I wondered whether the dog sanctuary could add some algae to mix (stir it all up and collect methane, which in turn could be used as fuel). Turns out the charity had spent money to set it up but couldn’t get it to work a few years back. I’m not sure of the reason but this definitely deserves further inquiry. It could serve as a great revenue stream for the charity.

More like gang mentality

My primary objective was to understand how dogs behave in larger numbers. I noticed that when someone rang the door, it caused excitement and tons of barking. Often, a fight would break out as a result. A lot of growling, some nips but no blood that I could see.

The dogs typically stay in a pack or a gang. Once in a pack, dogs typically don’t venture into other gang territories. I didn’t see the introduction of a new dog but I imagine it’s high school cafeteria all over again.

In summary, this experience made me feel that as a society, we should explore more cage free options in open spaces. For instance, in his retirement, Jon Stewart from Daily Show built a farm sanctuary in New Jersey!

Benefits of spending quality time with animals

#1 – Cure for loneliness or feeling depressed: cuddle an rescued animal.

Spend 1 hour volunteering at a dog shelter and you will forget your worries and heartache. All they want is love!

And this isn’t just me advocating for it. Several other communities are actively encouraging spending time with animals.

As listed on National Center for Health Research:

  • The social support provided by a pet might also encourage more social interactions with people, reducing feelings of isolation or loneliness. For example, walking with a dog has been found to increase social interaction, especially with strangers, compared to walking without a dog (I can attest to that!)
  • Some research studies have found that people who have a pet have healthier hearts, stay home sick less often, make fewer visits to the doctor, get more exercise, and are less depressed
  • Pets may also have a significant impact on allergies, asthma, social support, and social interactions with other people
  • Elderly individuals that had a dog or cat were better able to perform certain physical activities deemed “activities of daily living,” such as the ability to climb stairs; bend, kneel, or stoop; take medication; prepare meals; and bathe and dress oneself
  • A similar study found that having your dog in the room lowered blood pressure better than taking a popular type of blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitor) when you are under stress
  • Other research has indicated that the simple act of stroking a pet can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol
How one nursing home is helping its residents regain a sense of purpose Photo Credit: Pima Animal Care Center via Upworthy

BTW – I’m just surprised volunteering at a dog sanctuary / shelter isn’t touted as a place to meet eligible singles with big hearts yet. Maybe my next venture?

Thank you for reading.

Dihan, Proud-Owner, Organic Lifestyle


Please take a moment to learn more about Animal SOS

Link to donate to Animal SOS Sri Lanka

Related blog: Animal sanctuary near me – Wishing Well Industrial Animal Sanctuary (Ontario, Canada)

According to the Guardian, the world is on track to lose 2/3 of wild animals by 2020s (that’s less than 3 years away!).

If we don’t experience the love of animals and nature, we’re less likely to fight to protect the remaining endangered species.