In April 2022, we spent a whole week volunteering at The Animal Academy – a farm animal sanctuary in Fuerteventura, the Canary Islands. Ever since we first visited the place, I’ve wanted to come back and volunteer with them. I don’t even know where to start! This is going to be a long post filled with emotion as I go through memories of our volunteering experience along with photos of the animals from this amazing week spent at The Animal Academy Refugio.
I have to tell you this already, if you have never volunteered at an animal sanctuary before, do it. It’s going to be a memorable, maybe even a life changing experience!
Location and getting there
Fuerteventura, the Canary Islands. We were here exactly 2 years ago, just before the pandemic hit. Our brief visit to The Animal Academy (TAA) back then was very special and we already met a few of the animals. We met and spoke with the founders – Belén Roca and Julio Cruz.
Two years, felt like two decades.. but here we are again! See the old post here!
As the family of rescued animals grew, TAA needed a new space and have moved to a new location on the island. They found a plot that once used to be an animal farm and turned it into a sanctuary where the animals get to live out their lives! It’s a beautiful location in a volcanic valley in the Antigua region. Have a rental car in Fuerteventura – if not, one of the guys at The Animal Academy will sure pick you up if you come to volunteer.
On our very first full day, we immediately got to work. I remember that was a day when there were almost no other volunteers and Belén took us through all the tasks and important info regarding each and every kind of animal. We needed to know about everything while staying as full-time volunteers, since we could exchange tasks on different days.
The first task of the morning is to prepare milk formula for the baby animals (which, at the time, were 3 sheep) and feed them before the rest. Next, we prepare medication for the all animals that need it. After that, we get to work gathering hay in carts and transferring it to animal feeders in different enclosures (horses, donkeys, goats, sheep..). At the same time volunteers can clean the area. This is probably the most physical task!
On the first day it was mostly us and maybe one other volunteer, so there was a lot of work! But on other days, we were joined by more volunteers from the island and shared the tasks.
The language spoken on the island is Spanish but don’t worry if you don’t speak it – Belén is fluent in English and Julio also speaks some. Volunteers from around the world are encouraged to visit!
A typical volunteer day
We start by 8 AM, grab a quick breakfast or coffee and as I said earlier, the first task is to feed the babies. We head over to the storage room outdoor where we make a list of all tasks for the day with checkboxes and names of who does the task to start off.
Then there are special tasks that involve special animals, for example, those who need medications, treatment or those in ‘quarantine’ (newly arrived rescues). Belén is a vet by profession, and has a job at a local animal hospital but their team also provides care for the animals at sanctuary. I really can’t imagine all the work that goes into caring for so many animals – they are busy 24 x 7!
Never stop the madness. That seems to be the motto of some groups of animals here! 😀 I’m talking especially about the goats and sheep, plus Samantha cow – their enclosure was most tricky to get into with a barrel of hay. They just wouldn’t wait for us to unload the hay to feeders! Then you have the donkeys, as curious as cats. There were always a couple of mischievous ones who try to obstruct our way, topple the barrels or nibble at our shoes! Baby goats waiting for milk, goats jumping into the hay barrel, curious goats/sheep trying to escape their enclosure, donkeys biting, Julio chasing the hogs.. these were some scenes we came across daily.
Breaks. There is no strict schedule, and once the animals are fed and happy, we are free to take a break. We’d usually do the feeding and medications in the morning and then get back in for a coffee break. Take your coffee out to enjoy with the animals! Or, stay in and ready a copy of Earthing Ed’s ‘This is Vegan Propaganda (& other lies the meat industry tells you)’!
What you need to volunteer at a farm animal sanctuary
I’ll go through a few basic requirements with you before you plan to volunteer – first is that you need be in good physical condition. The work is not extreme but for an average person like me (I don’t go to gym) who does exercise on and off – it did get a bit exhausting at some points. But know that you will have help and most tasks are better done in a group of 2-4 persons.
Secondly, it would be good is you have experience with handling animals (dogs cats also ok) and you shouldn’t be afraid of horses, donkeys, huge cows or camels, because that would be a shame – they are all so beautiful! But they are animals and one needs to be confident and caring with them.
Be aware and alert. Note down instructions, sometimes there’s a lot to do. Follow the daily to-do list and be organised. My biggest worry was that some animal would be left unfed for the day – so keep a checklist and make you tick off tasks and communicate with other volunteers as well!
Most of all, you need to have compassion – I’m sure if you came here to do this voluntarily, then you do!
There is a page where you can register as a volunteer for TAA: Volunteering
Once they go though your application and select you, there’s normally a short video call/interview.
Other practical things: Dress proper for weather changes, wind and rain, mud and dirt. Fuerteventura is a pleasant 21 degrees sunny but windy in spring. Covered working boots are important or other sturdy outdoor footwear would also do. Please make sure to have a health insurance for the time you are here, in any case.
We stay in the same apartment that is the main building at the sanctuary. It’s basically like a house with a couple of bedrooms, bathrooms, a living room and a kitchen. Our lovely volunteer bedroom has bunk beds and a queen bed (which we got lol).
Food and dining: During your stay here, you get access to the kitchen and fridge at the apartment – which is almost always fully stocked. And it’s a farm animal sanctuary, so only vegan food is encouraged here. Volunteers are free to cook their own meals. Sometimes one cooks for everyone and we share a meal together. Sometimes Julio’s family comes in and makes us some delicious lunch! They were the sweetest people ever. See below the casserole and cake made by Julio’s dad:
TAA has a deal with the nearest Lidl that they receive the day’s leftover products – this greatly helps with feeding the animals (the pigs eat most of it :D) and we are free to help ourselves to the products too. There’s always plant milk, falafel, other readymade vegan alternatives. If you need anything extra, you can visit a grocery store nearby. So, you won’t be having any troubles with food.
Have you ever met a baby donkey or a cuddly sheep before? How about a wise camel or giant cow? I just did and they are the sweetest beings! A lot of these animals have been rescued from difficult situations and escaped cruelty from humans: but they still have so much love 💕 Below you’ll find an image gallery and more details of the animals at The Animal Academy Refugio. If you’d like to download a full size image, let me know!
Sheep and Goats
There are many rescued goats and sheep at the sanctuary. This is especially because the islands intensively farm and rely on these animals. They end up here often as ‘rejects’ from a farm or rescued from poor conditions. Luckily, they get to live out their full lives here. We met two rescued sheep Talisman and Sira when they were first brought to TAA as babies 2 years ago – it was lovely to see them fully grown and thriving.
Donkeys and Horses
The donkeys and horses of the sanctuary occupy three different areas based on their differences – usually the females and young ones are together, male horses and donkeys in one, and those with special needs in another.
Lola the Camel
Lola is currently the only camel at the sanctuary and was rescued from abandonment when her previous owner passed away. She was found starving and had stomach wounds as she tried to ingest cactus. TAA was informed and Lola was brought in and given veterinary care. She recovered and is living a relaxed life at the sanctuary – she stays with other goats and sheep and is like their wise grandma. She’s older than us (30 years) and we loved spending time with this majestic camel!
Samantha the Cow
Samantha the gentle giant was given up by her ”owners”, who didn’t know how to take care of her anymore. She was fattened up on a poor diet and gained tons of weight plus health issues. At TAA she’s been on recovery and is in pretty good shape now, though she can still eat a lot!
She also stays along with goats and sheep in an enclosure adjacent to Lola’s. On one evening we got these pics with her – thanks Daniel for the photos!
The cats at TAA absolutely stole my heart! They were darlings – esp. Mr. Tux over here. Then Blackie, the massage cat – he loves to sit on your belly and start a paw massage. The most loving little creatures. They also make great photography subjects. Many cats just happen to find their way to the sanctuary, and that’s the magic of this place!
I’ve always been a dog person, and it was wonderful to have the company of several friendly canines on site. Bola, the OG star of the refuge, is this little Yorkie we met on our first visit. She’s as energetic as always and loves to barge into the volunteer room in the mornings to make sure we wake up! There’s a couple of older dogs too and one recently arrived Hanu, the sweetest big guy 👇
Hens and Roosters
The hens and roosters run free all around the sanctuary, they don’t really have a fixed area. It’s interesting to see how they feel this is home and wont leave the sanctuary. They feed on all possible scraps they find, not to mention droppings of other animals.. In a way, they keep this place clean and tidy.
Guinea pigs and rabbits
Ain’t they super cute!? There are over 10 of them and they live along with a couple of rabbits! We used to prepare fresh salad for them and go feed them almost daily. It was fun to hear their little squeaks and see them scurry about. These guys were rescued from a pet store situation.
At the sanctuary live a family of 4 pigs, who mostly spend their time lazing around. We feed them by preparing a big basket of food each and dropping it over the fence – and they hurry to finish it!
The Animal Academy really is a haven in the middle of the volcanic landscapes of Fuerteventura.. a refuge for all the animals that have found a safe home here. Oh, I’m definitely going to miss all the lovely animals, the people and volunteers that we met!
The animals are beautiful beings with their own characteristics and experience of life- they deserve a chance at living free from exploitation from humans.
Go check out and support the guys at: The Animal Academy Refugio
Their Instagram: theanimalacademy.refugio
Even better, plan a trip to Fuerteventura and visit or volunteer there, it will be a very memorable experience!
Don’t forget to check out our YouTube for videos from the sanctuary: Veganhaven Travel
Join our new Discord community and chat with a community of vegans and animal lovers: Discord Invite