By Isiah REYES
a Crescenta native Sara Muriello will be heading back to her home in Zambia, Africa this Friday, where she will continue to volunteer for Kitwe Animal Welfare Society, a safe sanctuary for abused and neglected animals as well as a community welfare kennel.
Her connection to Zambia began in 2005 when she attended the University of California, Irvine. She met her husband Peter Mbuya at the main library of UC Irvine, where he was studying as an international student from Kitwe, Zambia. They were married at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose in 2011. At the time, Muriello owned and operated English for Everyone Private Tutoring in La Crescenta. She operated the business for four and a half years until May 2013 when she learned that her father-in-law, who was living in Zambia, was very ill.
“We made the decision to put our lives on hold and go to Kitwe, Zambia to help nurse my father-in-law back to health and run his businesses while he recovered,” Muriello said. “This never happened. Instead, we arrived in Kitwe on May 28, 2013 and 10 days later, on June 6, my father-in-law passed away.”
Muriello’s husband was the eldest of three boys. He was immediately put in charge of his father’s businesses, and thus began their new lives in Zambia.
Muriello had no plans to do any sort of volunteer work when she first arrived in Zambia.
“I was just trying to get used to the culture and all the differences of day-to-day life,” Muriello said.
In July 2013, Muriello’s mother-in-law, feeling vulnerable in her large house without a male presence, decided she’d like to have two dogs to patrol the property and asked Muriello to help. Muriello had a difficult time understanding how someone could view dogs as security dogs and not members of the family. She was hesitant to help because of the thought that the dogs would not be sleeping inside the house and would have to deal with the cold weather at night. Despite her initial misgivings, Muriello figured she would do the best job she could in choosing and taking care of the dogs. She went with her husband to Kitwe Animal Welfare Society.
The society was formed in mid 2009 after there was an urgent need to re-establish a safe sanctuary for animals. The shelter now offers free clinics with veterinary treatment, free vaccinations and even fun dog shows intended to raise funds and awareness.
Muriello expressed some interest in the society and because of it she was invited to a community meeting in October 2013.
“Within five minutes of being introduced to 10 perfect strangers, I was welcomed to the KAWS committee,” Muriello said. “Since that whirlwind meeting, I’ve found myself doing things I never thought I’d have the courage to do because I believe so strongly in the KAWS mission to improve the lives and relationships of animals and humans alike.”
Muriello visits kennels a minimum of five days a week to play with, socialize and walk with rescue dogs. In addition to her day-to-day activities, Muriello maintains ties with the local community with daily Facebook updates and helping with a few school field trips to the kennels.
Muriello and other Kitwe Animal Welfare Society members approach various government officials to get approval for activities such as free rabies vaccination drives.
“I’ve befriended the district veterinary officer in my town of Kalulushi who gave permission for a rabies vaccination drive and went on a local radio station with me to sensitize the community about rabies,” Muriello said.
Although Muriello keeps herself very busy in Zambia, she still finds time to visit her family in La Crescenta. But that does not mean that her work with the welfare society ends. Last June, she gave a presentation on KAWS to the staff at La Cañada Pet Clinic. They showed much interest in her work and have been very supportive.
On New Year’s Day, Muriello was at a dog beach at Huntington Beach and approached people with flyers and to inform them about what the society does. She did the same at the Crescenta Valley Dog Park and was overwhelmed by the positive response.
“Honestly, I spend pretty much every waking hour being at or thinking about KAWS kennels,” Muriello said.
Although Muriello has had many hopeful and thrilling experiences by volunteering at Kitwe Animal Welfare Society, she has also had some sad and disappointing ones as well.
“Because we are located in a developing country in Sub-Saharan Africa – a place where the lives of animals are not necessarily of much value – KAWS continues to face many challenges,” Muriello said. “KAWS needs the support of donors from outside Zambia to help advance our mission to improve and protect the welfare of our animals.”
The society deals with issues like animal cruelty due to ignorance and negligence, including the vending of small, sick puppies on the roadside and rabies outbreaks in both animal and human populations.
“I know there are plenty of people who live and work and volunteer in foreign countries and have done much more meaningful things with their time than I,” Muriello said. “But right now all I have is the story of KAWS, and I’d like for it to be shared with our local community. I’d like for people to have the opportunity to help KAWS or, at the very least, to be inspired to venture outside the safety, convenience and familiarity of our valley.”
For more information on KAWS, visit www.kitweanimalwelfare.com. To donate, visit www.youcaring.com/kaws4paws-zambia.