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The Healing Powers of Animals

21. 11. 2023

We are bringing you an article from our student Laura Hamill about volunteering at an animal shelter.

As a recent UK graduate, I understand the challenges and joys of student life. Whether a local or foreigner, studying comes with a guarantee of various stressors, and having positive methods for navigating the more difficult moments dramatically impacts our quality of life, both on and off campus.

Spending time in nature or with animals (ideally, both) has had innumerable benefits for my mental health. Having grown up with dogs, I’ve always appreciated how much love and companionship they provide. Their innate ability to seek and spread joy has a way of lifting the moods of those lucky enough to share the same space. After leaving the U.S. for the Czech Republic nearly a decade ago, the longing to find furry friends began to nag at me.

During a particularly stressful period of my studies, I wrote a list of troubles I was experiencing. Over the course of a week, I brainstormed ways to tackle those issues. Near the top of the list stood spending more time with animals. That led me to research animal shelters in and around Prague. Having stumbled upon Cool Critters, a non-profit animal sanctuary run by a British woman and loyal volunteers, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

Located in a tiny village within an hour from Prague, Cool Critters is an oasis for cats and dogs that have been mistreated and abandoned, and it is here that they are given a new lease on life. The owner, Jaq, works tirelessly to take in as many animals as possible, providing them with kindness, love, and comprehensive veterinarian care, a first for many. After reaching out in hopes of volunteering, a week later, I was in Kadlin, cuddling pups, walking dogs, and cleaning all sorts of stuff. Life felt whole again.

From the summer of 2020, reconnecting with animals has done wonders for my mental and emotional health. When you see firsthand how much work running an animal shelter entails, you quickly gain a sense of service and purpose, and the joy of happy dogs running free in the garden is an obvious bonus. Being of service and catching some unconditional love makes working with animals a no-brainer.

Jaq doesn’t just rescue animals in the Czech Republic. For the past several years, she’s also been cooperating with overcrowded shelters in Slovakia and Romania. After receiving much-needed vet care, the dogs are placed with vetted fosters before they find their forever homes. One morning, while helping out, a pack of dogs arrived and were put into quarantine after their long journey; one of them instantly stole my heart. While I knew I wasn’t in the best place to adopt a dog, sometimes life has other plans. I couldn’t get his sweet, hopeful face out of my head for the following weeks. I started to rationalize how I could rearrange my life to accommodate him, and three years later, I couldn’t be happier.

While it hasn’t been easy, with many costly vet visits and health worries, adopting my dog has made me a better, fuller person. He has taught me how to live in the moment, find joy in the little things, and care for someone more than yourself. Even if adopting or fostering isn’t right for you, no support is too little. Whether you spend your free time lending a helping hand, donate or share pet supplies- all help is appreciated!

If you find yourself seeking new opportunities to give back, improve your mental health, or get a break from the stresses of student life, consider supporting Jaq and her efforts to rescue animals. You never know- you might also find yourself a bit saved along the way.

Jaq can be reached on her website:

If you want to meet other Cool Critters volunteers, join the F.B. group.