There are times when the last thing I want to be is a foreigner. I want a simple life close to family and friends. It’s a part of the culture shock rollercoaster, and I have two antidotes: working out and TUAPA.

Not a bad life.

I posted about my first experience at the Taichung Universal Animal Protection Association, where homeless dogs and cats are sheltered and given a better life. I’ve now volunteered several Saturdays to the shelter, affectionately called The Mountain due to its location at the base of a steep hill; in fact, yesterday Johanna, the lead volunteer, let me take one dog, which was previously off limits to me because of her temperament, for a walk.

I'm pretty sure Johanna called her Pumbaa. She's separated from the other dogs because she can be vicious, but while I had her at the end of my leash, she was a sweetheart. We even sat in the middle of a pack of dogs, and she leaned against me and relaxed.

Johanna and Joey are a married couple. She’s from the United States, and he’s a native Taiwanese. They volunteer countless hours to TUAPA, raising money, doing physical labor around The Mountain, loving the dogs, creating promotional videos (I’m in this one!), and responding to emergencies (like the time The Mountain was on fire). They are generous, dedicated and selfless; on top of all that, they both know how to laugh. Because of them, these dogs and cats have a fighting chance.

Joey observing the volunteers in the playground, the grassy area where the dogs play, after a full morning of work. Joey takes pictures and creates videos to help promote TUAPA.
Shooting video and taking pictures for his next project. The man's gifted.
Smiling through a stomach ache, headache, and an exhausting morning. Johanna's worth all the praise she gets, plus some.
Johanna giving a tour to two foreign visitors, Five the dog following her faithfully. You can always tell the visitors from the volunteers based on cleanliness and smell.

I’ve always loved dogs, but my family always joked that I wasn’t a dog person. I didn’t understand what they meant, and used to get defensive when they said it, until I started volunteering at TUAPA. A person can like dogs and enjoy playing with them, but still not know how to interact with them. If you don’t know how to handle yourself around dogs, and if you don’t understand how to handle the dogs themselves, you’re going to be ineffective and a danger to yourself and the animals.

See the two small red spots on my nose? Those would be drops of blood after a dog with a bleeding ear injury shook its head.
The large maroon splotches on my jeans are from the injured dog. She started the fight, then got bitten on her ear, and her blood got all over me as I wrestled to get her out of the fight. She's fine, and so is the other dog.

Normally I work with the dogs in Building 3. There are six buildings housing one thousand dogs, and our job yesterday was to replace four of the cages in Building 5, in the large cell that held the biggest dogs: rottweilers, a Dalmatian, golden retrievers, and a handful of others. As a big dog person, I was in love at first sight.

She has to be tied up - she's a doll with humans, but will attack weaker dogs. It's very Jekyl/Hyde.
She likes to jump up on people. As I rubbed her ears, she purred.
How could you not fall in love with that face?

Of course, Johanna and Joey aren’t the only hardcore volunteers; many, many people shed blood, sweat and tears to keep these animals alive and healthy.

A staff member washing her rain boots.
This volunteer was grooming a sedated dog. He's an angry little guy, so the vet had to knock him out so she could clip his hair.
James entering the playground, and the dogs are excited.

Taking care of a thousand animals is no small feat. When you take into consideration the supplies, the medical necessities, the food, the small salaries of the staff, you realize that TUAPA is a miracle.

This is where we wash our hands, boots, faces, arms... you name it, it gets dirty. No sink, just a barrel of water, a hose, some buckets and soap.
The entrance to Building 1. It looks messy, but everything has a purpose. The shelter is a well-oiled machine.
Three new leashes hanging outside...
...along with dozens more. These are a recent purchase after a fundraising effort by Johanna and friends.

Please consider donating to The Mountain. As it is a no-kill shelter, the population of helpless dogs and cats will only grow, and new cages, leashes, and international flights to no-kill shelters abroad are always in the budget. They need all the help they can get.

One of the older dogs.
Super Dude, who was hit by a car and needed his hind legs amputated, now races around on just his front legs. He's heading to his Forever Home in the US next month!
Hanging out in the playground, but anxious for me to come inside and pay him attention.
On a walk with a volunteer. He didn't want to pose, but the volunteer helped me get this gorgeous shot.