June 27, 2013

Little Piece of The Big Puzzle: Amazon CARES Volunteer Describes Her Life-Changing Experience

By Shannon Sullivan

Amazon CARES is able to help hundreds of dogs, cats, and humans in the Peruvian Amazon Basin every year thanks to our devoted volunteers. In June 2011, Debby Dayton joined one of CARES' volunteer veterinary trips. Debby recently recalled her experience, sharing touching moments and a call for others to volunteer.

Debby, right, assisting Dr. Betti in preparing
a patient for surgery during a mobile clinic.
While volunteering with Amazon CARES, Debby assisted the doctors and veterinary nurses in preparing patients for surgery. She also stepped in wherever help was needed, cleaning surgical instruments and drapes, setting up and tearing down mobile surgery sites, and much more.

Debby zip-lining through the rainforest
canopy, 100 feet off the ground.
Debby explained that she learned a lot about herself during her two weeks volunteering with Amazon CARES. "I learned that I could do more in the heat of the day than I imagined. I learned I could climb a lot of stairs with arthritic knees. I learned that with my little piece of the big puzzle, I could make a big difference. I learned I could jump off a platform many feet up in the trees, harnessed to only a wire and not be afraid. I learned that I need to be more grateful for the things I have and the people in my life. I learned how to give of myself in a way I never had before."

While volunteering Debby met a dog named Scott at the Amazon CARES No-Kill Dog Shelter. Scott, pictured at left, had undergone orthopedic surgery prior to Debby's arrival and was recovering at the shelter.

"He had a broken leg and, it seemed, a broken spirit," she recalled. "He would roll his lip and start to growl when I first approached him. After a few days of sitting and talking with him, I was able to reach out and pet him. That felt so good and like a huge accomplishment."

The people of Peru also made an unforgettable impression on Debby. She described the people as being "happy, helpful, and genuine." Debby explained that the children had the biggest impact on her. "They were so happy with so little. They laughed so much. There was one little girl in the village of Buena Vista who for some reason took a liking to me. She became my shadow that day. She sat by me, held my hand, admired my red hair and my watch. We didn't speak the same language, but somehow we were able to communicate. We only spent a few hours together, but she will forever be in my heart."

Debby certainly worked hard while volunteering for Amazon CARES, but she was still able to enjoy her time in the Peruvian Rainforest. She recalled spending one morning fishing for piranha --- even catching a larger fish than her boss!

Another memorable experience for Debby was visiting a monkey sanctuary. At the sanctuary she was able to interact with many monkeys, including a Red Howler Monkey who climbed into Debby's arms in order to be held and lay his head on her shoulder.

Debby with fellow volunteers.
While giving her time to help Amazon CARES achieve its goals, Debby personally gained a great deal. "I gained a lot from volunteering," she explained. "I gained an appreciation for the things and opportunities we have in the United States. I gained an understanding of how I could better myself. I gained a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction after each hard day of work in the jungle and the joy in feeling a 'good tired.' I gained an experience that only a few have the privilege of having. I would tell anyone considering volunteering to GO, don't think about it, just GO. Don't let anything stand in your way. Amazon CARES needs your help to continue the work they do. It is worth it."

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with Amazon CARES, both in Peru and in the United States, visit our Events Page. Consider being a Trip Leader and receive discounted trip fees!

If you have volunteered with Amazon CARES and wish to share your experience, e-mail Blog Editor Shannon Sullivan at shannon@amazoncares.org.


  1. This blog really resonated with me. You really made Debby's experience come alive. However, that was the "big fish? " Lol

  2. Yes Molly, that was the big fish! I am so glad Shannon asked me if she could write this blog, it helped me relive those amazing experiences. Such wonderful memories....


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