Volunteering at Tallinn Animal Shelter

10. Dec 2023

“I don’t think about it as volunteering anymore. It’s just something that I do, part of my routine,” says Adrian, who is on a volunteering ‘duty’ by 9 a.m., already walking his first dog of the day. Working in the military for over 34 years, unquestionably, forms a lifestyle not without the need for routine.

Adrian (originally from U.K.) has been running a cyber security master programme at TalTech University, as well as teaching multiple courses there for 4.5 years now, and all of these years he has been dedicating his Sundays to the dogs of the Varjupaikade MTÜ shelter. By now, all of his friends know that his Sundays are ‘booked’ for the volunteering.

He is one of those volunteers who remembers every dog that has ever been in the shelter and tries to give each and every one of them at least 1 – 1.5 hours of his undivided attention upon his visits, so they would get familiarized with walking on the leash, sounds of cars, seeing people and other dogs, while simultaneously would get a decent amount of physical activity. However, there are also bonds that got developed over all these years, especially with the dogs who been in the shelter for a long time and can recognize Adrian from afar.

How did you decide to start volunteering?

When I first arrived here, I wanted to fill my weekends with something. I worked (and still do) 6 days a week, and I knew that my life could not revolve around work only.

The university is a great environment for an international because the main language is English and it is comfortable in terms of not having to integrate into the society you live in.

I think, in general, it is very easy for a foreigner in a new country to get caught up with their work and get quickly isolated. I’m against the idea of people coming to a new place and trying to fabricate their own country there. I think we need to at least try learning the language and understand the place we reside in, as well as be part of it.

Thus, the decision to volunteer, for me, came very naturally. I wanted to do something outside of my work and field of expertise, so I thought that coming to a shelter would be a great idea. I found this place on the internet, wrote them an email and asked if I could volunteer. I also thought it could help me with my Estonian language skills, but of course, the only words I’ve learned in here are “sit” and “stay” (laughs).

Is it a rewarding experience?

It is, in many ways.

Firstly, volunteering helped me to feel more part of society, especially as a foreigner.

Secondly, I get to walk in nature and get some fresh air in the countryside every week. I have my morning thinking time, and I get to play with some dogs, while also doing something good for society with the volunteering.

Some dogs that come here are scared, not trained to socialize with other dogs, not trusting people, etc., and if with a little bit of my time, I can help that dog to find a home, that’s rewarding for me.

However, I must admit, that when the dog finds a home, it’s a sort of happy-sad moment, because usually it’s sudden – one week I’d turn up and they’d be gone.

And even though volunteering can bring a lot of new experiences, friendships, habits, knowledge and fun, Adrian highlights that volunteering also requires commitment and consistency. “The organization knows that, unless I’m in the UK, I’ll be here every Sunday.”