This week, I sat down with Aramish Fatima, President and co-founder of Dogs Unleashed to talk about the amazing society that is bringing the joy of dogs to campus.
Aramish, a zoology student, decided after joining a couple of volunteering societies that she felt there was a need to get closer to animals. The ZooSoc was her first thought, but they only really provide lecture series and don’t have opportunities to interact with animals. Aramish wasn’t the only one looking for closer contact with animals, with her coursemate Tom Humphreys joining her in her search.
Tom has three dogs and eight cats at home and, before coming to uni, he worked at a shelter as well, so he was naturally interested in having a society involved in helping animals. With this in mind, he and Aramish looked for places where it would be possible to volunteer with animals. Initially, the pair started off thinking that they would make the effort themselves to volunteer at a local dogs shelter, but then, they thought, why not open it up to everybody? They pitched their idea to the SU, and Dogs Unleashed was born.
The society, while having only been launched this year, has already been hugely popular with students. Aramish says that at the freshers fair, despite having what she described as a “really shitty” stall and the rain pouring into their tent, students were making a beeline for the stand all day. Even though Aramish was alone at the stall for the entire two days, because Tom was on placement, she gave out over 700 leaflets and had 300 students sign up on just the first day. “The interest and enthusiasm about the society was incredible,” she said. This is not particularly surprising considering what a brilliant idea this initiative was, and how novel it was on the university society’s scene.
Dogs Unleashed works closely with Manchester Dogs’ Home to provide student volunteers the chance to walk the dogs currently being looked after in the shelter every weekend. The dogs are all rescues, and the shelter needs all the help it can get to look after the dogs and make sure they have the best opportunities to find a new home. This is exactly what the society helps to do! A group of around 10 students will meet early every Saturday and Sunday to travel together down to Manchester Dogs’ Home. When they arrive they are given a volunteers badge and a dog, and sent off to the park next to the shelter to walk their dog for about 45 minutes. Sometimes volunteers will pair up depending on how many dogs need walking, or whether a person is comfortable or not in walking a big dog by themselves. Once they bring the dogs back there is usually another dog that needs walking and so students usually spend around two hours at the shelter.
The shelter has permanent volunteers working during the week, but they really need the support at weekends as these are the days when the shelter is open for visitors. Doors are open to the public from 12pm. People can come and see the dogs, with the aim of potentially adopting them, so it’s important that the dogs have already been walked by this time so that they have calmed down a little as this massively increases their chances for getting adopted. These dogs are all rescues looking for new homes, and they can exhibit behavioural problems, so the shelter sometimes finds it difficult to source volunteers who are willing to help dogs with these kinds of issues. It’s also far more common to find big dogs in shelters as they are more likely to be abandoned due to the higher level of responsibility. This is why the work that the students do is so important in helping the dogs be on their best behaviour when potential new owners come to visit.
The brilliance of Dogs Unleashed lies in that it’s not just beneficial for the dogs, but for the students too! Who wouldn’t love to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning hanging out with some dogs? Students can benefit from the stress relief and companionship that walking a dog provides, profit from the exercise, all while engaging with and giving back to the community. Some people join the society because they left a dog at home when coming to uni and want the opportunity to be around dogs, whilst others come because they want a dog but never had the chance to look after one.
For those who might not be super comfortable handling big dogs, but who are passionate about animal rights and especially the rehoming of rescues, the society provides opportunities for off-site volunteering as well. They have fundraising events to raise money for Manchester Dogs’ Home, and also for the society itself. The money raised for the society is used to reimburse students for their travel costs to get to and from the dogs home on the weekends, making the society completely accessible to everyone! Recently, they attended a pet show run by Manchester Dogs’ Home where they had a stall and sold raffle tickets. They also have bag backing events or ‘Guess the Name of the Dog’ competitions to raise funds.
The popularity of the society has been huge, especially for its first year, so much so that there are already discussions of opening the volunteering hours to Wednesday afternoons as well as weekends. They’re also considering involving more shelters around Manchester. Manchester Dogs’ Home was chosen because it was the most reasonable distance away from campus, but, clearly, there is the demand for more opportunities to hang out with dogs, and the students are willing to travel!
This society really ticks all the boxes; everybody loves hanging out with dogs, and the idea has come from a real desire to help animals, but also to engage with the community beyond Oxford Road. And, as the cost of the travel is reimbursed, the society is open to access for all.
The society provides mandatory training for new members at the beginning of each semester, but the society is on the lookout for new committee members for next year, as Aramish will be graduating this year. She says she plans to keep in contact with the society, but as everything is currently run by her and Tom, they are looking to appoint a fully fledged committee for the coming academic year to make to society even better!
If you think you could help look after some doggos and help with the organisation of Dogs Unleashed, get in touch on their Facebook page.