Volunteering With Animals – Part Six: Veterinary Clinic Volunteers

When I started trying to break into veterinary nursing a lot of people told me volunteering in a clinic is a great way to get experience and improve your chances of landing a job. However, when I asked around and local clinics none of them were interested in taking on volunteers. So how do you land a volunteer role in a vet clinic?

It doesn’t hurt to ask anyway, and you never know if your local clinic is different to the ones I approached. If you know someone already in the industry then ask if the clinic they work at would be willing to let you volunteer a few hours a week. It’s not uncommon for the kids of vets to help out around the clinic, so having the right contact who can vouch for you might be a way in.

Otherwise some of the not-for-profit animal hospitals do take on volunteers in their clinics. Around Melbourne these include the RSPCA and Animal Aid. Volunteer roles in the clinic are very popular, so you may be added to a waiting list. It’s highly recommended that you take on shifts as an animal attendant or dog walker in the meantime.

I’ve only done a couple of volunteer shifts in veterinary clinic, so I can’t be sure that they’re all the same. You can expect to be cleaning and resetting enclosures, restocking supplies, helping with feeding routines and doing lots and lots of laundry. You might take dogs out for toilet walks or spend time with patients while they’re in recovery. Animals that are sick or recovering for surgery usually need to be kept quiet and inactive, so these kinds of positions may not involve all that much animal handling. What they do offer is the opportunity to see the inner workings of a veterinary clinic and what vets and nurses do day-to-day. It also offers great networking opportunities – introducing you to industry professionals and giving you priority consideration if they start looking for new employees at the clinic. This kind of role is great for people wishing to work in a vet clinic, but if you’re in it for the cuddles I would look at other ways of volunteering.

A lot of the patients you might deal with at a shelter clinic will be surrendered animals undergoing routine desexing surgeries. However, you may also be faced with animals that are recovering from severe neglect, cruelty or disease. Since you will only be there for a few hours a week, and most patients are not in the hospital for more than a day or two, you won’t find out the outcomes of every patient – but, not all of them will make it. These are things to keep in mind when considering a role in a vet clinic.

All-in-all volunteering in a vet clinic is a great way to give back, and to gain experience and contacts in this rewarding field!

Have you ever volunteered at a clinic? If you know of other clinics that take volunteers I’d love to hear about them!

Volunteering With Animals – Part Five: Animal Attendants

As not-for-profit organisations all animal shelters require volunteers to help with the day-to-day running of things. Volunteer animal attendants generally help out in a number of ways; daily cleaning of pens, litter trays and food bowls, setting up clean pens ready for the next tenant, feeding, grooming and walking/socialization of animals. It’s rewarding, but be prepared to do some repetitive, physically demanding and messy work. Remember there is always work to be done, so ask an employee what you can help with if whenever you some down time.

Animal attendantsWalking dogs and socializing with the animals is probably the most important (and the best) part of these roles. Unfortunately shelter workers rarely get the time in their day to socialize with the animals. To make the most of a shift always ask shelter staff which animals they’d like you to spend more time with. These won’t always be your first choice – they’re often the animals that have been there a long time, or that need to get more confident around people before they will be adopted. For shy animals remember to go slowly – it’s about giving them as positive an experience as possible so if they’re too scared to leave the pen or sit with you then don’t make them.

shelter kitty noseAt smaller or regional shelters you may be working across the shelter; with cats, dogs and any other animals in the shelters care (which generally include rabbits, guinea pigs and the occasional chicken or ferret). The larger shelters will generally have you stick to one area (either cats or dogs) per shift, which will allow you to work with the species you have the most experience with or steer away from animals you have allergies to. Volunteers are needed every day of the week and shifts are generally three to four hours long. Most shelters will require you to be able to attend a weekly or fortnightly shift for at least six months. At a minimum there is usually an information event you must attend before your first shift and some shelters require a police check (at your own expense) in order to volunteer.

Not everyone is suited to this kind of role. Before taking on a position like this consider whether you agree with the shelters policies and how you will be affected seeing the animals in this environment every week or fortnight.

dog_cage_jumping_pawsShelters are doing an amazing service but the care the animals get simply doesn’t compare to that of living in a home with a loving family. Sadly, some animals are in shelters for a long time and some volunteers can’t cope with seeing the same sad eyes week after week. You will also hear the sometimes heartbreaking stories of the animals past. They may have been victims of cruelty or neglect. They may have been surrendered for reasons that make you angry, like adopting a younger pet that doesn’t get along or shedding too much hair. What ever the reason, some people find shelters to be too emotional to visit every week.

I like to remember that the alternative is worse – a life on the street is never a good one for these animals and they could be threatening precious native wildlife. If you do decide to volunteer as an animal attendant remember what a huge difference you are making to the lives of the animals.

If you like the idea of volunteering with dogs, but not with the heartbreak of shelter work you may like to look into volunteering with Guide Dogs Victoria instead. All the fun of pooper-scooping and poochy smooches without the sadness of shelter life.

To find out more about volunteering at a shelter check out their website. I’ve compiled a few from around Melbourne:

Share your stories of wonderful shelter animals you’ve met in the comments below!

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Feature Pet: Gus the Tibetan Terrier

I recently read an article discussing the disputed phenomenon known as “Black Dog Syndrome“. Basically, staff who work at animal shelters have found that black dogs are less likely to be adopted than lighter coloured dogs. There are a few theories as to why – superstition, black dogs being view as aggressive, black fur showing up more on light coloured clothing and larger breeds being more frequently dark coloured (and larger dogs are harder to re-home). One theory is that many people turn to Internet profiles to help them choose a dog, and black dogs are harder to photograph well. This theory inspired photographer Fred Levy to create the Black Dogs Project, a collection of beautiful pictures of black dogs against a black backdrop.

I certainly discovered that black dogs are difficult to take good pictures of last weekend when I met this months feature pet – Gus the Tibetan Terrier! Coupled with the fact that Gus is a rambunctious 5 month old; he proved to be a very tricky subject.

Do you have any great snaps of your black pooch? I’d love to see your pictures!

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The Tawny Frogmouth

Yesterday a kind stranger noticed a small Tawny Frogmouth on the ground and brought it into the vet clinic I’m working at to be checked.

side view Tawny

In true confusing Australian wildlife style, the Tawny Frogmouth is often mistaken for an owl because of its boxy body, wide eyes and nocturnal nature. But just as Koalas are not bears, Frogmouths are not owls.

No obvious injuries were found, however, it was very skinny and being awake in the daytime is very odd for this nocturnal species.

Top view Tawny

While waiting for the wildlife carer we gave the little guy some water, and put in a cat carrier covered with a towel in a quiet area of the clinic.

The vets decided it was best to contact the local Wildlife Victoria volunteer foster carer, who came to collect the Frogmouth in less than an hour of being contacted. She will care for the Frogmouth until it puts on some weight and is well enough to return to the wild.

 

Volunteering With Animals – Part Four: Wildlife Foster Carers

Photo via AWARE Wildlife RescueWildlife caring is both more involved, and less involved than caring for companion animals. All wildlife carers and shelters in Victoria must be licensed by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) and undergo training in wildlife care to comply with the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Wildlife During Rehabilitation. Some shelters and groups receive grants or donations, but the cost of transport, equipment, medication and food required are usually paid for out of the carers pocket.  Baby animals may need feeding around the clock and sick or injured animals may need to stay in care for quite some time, so you can expect the role to be both time-consuming and expensive.

However, independence and an instinctual fear of humans and domestic animals is essential for the survival of native animals, so carers are encouraged to handle them as little as possible. They must be kept apart from all pets, children and noises of the home, remain on the designated property except for visiting the vet and being released, and not be handled by friends or guests. The work of a carer includes providing shelter, water and food for the animal, cleaning their enclosures and may include administering medications.

Possum eyesA “shelter” consists of carers with the experience and equipment to provide care of wildlife with minimal support from others (except for a veterinarian for medical issues). Some shelters are larger groups or organisations, but individuals can also register as a ‘shelter’ once they have the training and experience to care for wildlife independently. To start caring for wildlife you must become a carer for a shelter. The shelter will provide training and support either in a group or via one-on-one mentoring. Once you have started this training you can register with the DEPI as a carer for the shelter.

I hate to turn people off this kind of volunteering – but the sad truth of it must be mentioned. Not all of these animals can be saved, and euthanasia is sometimes the only option. Animals must be 100% fit to survive in the wild, so if a full recovery cannot be made they must be euthanised. You may theorize that severely injured animals could be adopted and live out their lives as pets, but for wild animals this is an extremely stressful experience and a very poor quality of life. All wildlife must be released close to where they were originally found, which increases their chances of reclaiming their territory and finding appropriate food, reduces the spread of disease, stops unnatural interbreeding and stops introduced animals from threatening other wildlife of an area. If they cannot be released where they were found they are legally required to be humanely destroyed.

Although the work is costly, demanding and sometimes comes with heartbreak, watching an animal grow, recover and return to thrive in its natural environment can be immensely rewarding to foster carers. The most common animals requiring carers in Victoria are possums, magpies, ducks and Eastern Grey Kangaroos, and the kinds of animals you are asked to care for will largely depend on your experience and facilities. I found this adorable video by Wildlife Victoria which will hopefully inspire you to help despite the challenges:

There ‘s heaps of great information on becoming a wildlife carer, but the first step is to get in touch with a shelter operator in your area. The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife’s website has a great list of shelters across Australia to get you started.
Do you have any heartwarming stories of rescued wildlife? I’d love yo hear them in the comments section!