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!

Volunteering With Animals – Part Three: Puppy Raising (Customs and Police Dogs)

Puppy Raisers – Service Dogs

Would you love to raise a puppy but are too busy for a guide dog puppy? If you work full-time you might consider raising a detector dog for the Australian customs department, or Victoria Police. They can be left unsupervised for longer each day, but you should still be able to walk them every day, take them to lots of different places and attend puppy classes regularly.

In reality sniffer dogs don't have to inhale any of the drugs to be able to smell them.

In reality sniffer dogs don’t have to inhale any of the drugs to be able to smell them.

To dispel the myth: detector dogs and police dogs are not addicted to the substances they are taught to detect. They are trained using food rewards to detect narcotics, explosives and human remains. You don’t have to worry about the puppy you’ve invest so much time raising being given harmful drugs.

Customs and Border Protection Puppy Raising

These days sniffer dogs are usually Labradors, and those are the breed of dog in the Customs and Border Protection breeding program. Sorry to disappoint if you were hoping for a puppy-eyed Beagle, you would still need to be willing to take on a large breed of dog to be a part of this puppy raising opportunity.

Smelly Sniffer

Families with other dogs and children are welcomed to apply to be a puppy raiser for Customs, but you must have a secure yard that is at least 10 metres by 5 metres that can be accessed when you are not home. In contrast to guide dog puppies, Customs puppies must spend most of their time outside, and sleep outside in a dry place such as a veranda or in a kennel (supplied by the foster family).

Puppies stay with their foster family from about 8 weeks old, until about 15 months old. All food and veterinary care are supplied, as well as some equipment, training and support.

For more information visit the Customs and Border Protection Website.

Sniffer pups

Police Dog Puppy Raising

The Victoria Police Dog Squad has been breeding Labradors and German Shepards for their team since 1990.

Puppy raising for police dogs is much the same as other
programs: puppies are assigned to foster families until they are 12-14 months old and carers must keep them in a secure yard, walk them daily and expose them to many different places and experiences. All food, veterinary treatment and equipment is supplied by Victoria Police at no expense to the foster family. Other dogs are not allowed to be kept on the property while you have a police puppy living with you.

This program has one interesting twist: the dogs are returned to the training centre regularly for assessment, and you may receive a different dog after each assessment. This gives each pup an even broader socialisation and produces more confident and well trained dogs.

If you are interested in becoming a puppy raiser for Victoria Police, you can find more information at their website.


A Post About Poo!

I have exciting poo news!

You know you were meant to be a veterinary nurse when you can get this excited about cat poo. I won’t be offended if you decide this post stinks (see what I did there?) and don’t read any further…

Studying pet nutrition and working with vets has taught me that there can be heaps of benefits to feeding pets premium foods. Lowered risk of health issues, a longer average lifespan, smaller meals required and smaller, less smelly droppings. The manufactures have done countless studies to support this, and most veterinarians will recommend a premium pet food over other options.

But still, I wanted to see for myself. When Aztec the Russian Blue arrived as a house guest she had been fed supermarket foods. What a perfect opportunity to do a food trial, and see whether I noticed any difference to her health.

For the first few weeks of her stay I fed her the rest of the food she came with. She would get dry food in the morning (which would last her through the day), and then half a sashe of wet food in the evening. A fussy kitty, she likes the fish flavoured foods.

When she poo’d, boy did we know it! The smell would wonder into the lounge room faster Aztec could! This was the only upside to being between jobs: I could clean it up quickly before the stink seeped through the appartment.

Once the food was running low I ducked down to the pet supply store to pick out a premium food to trail. Out of work, I still wanted to go with the cheapest option. Most of the premium foods have an approximation of how many days of food are in each bag, so you can calculate the cost. Generally pets will need to eat less of a premium food than a supermarket food, and it can work out to be only a little bit more expensive or even cheaper. I chose Advance food because it seemed to be the cheapest option.

Cats and Dogs aged 7 years or older should be on a senior food.

Advance Mature Cat food was the cheapest, most appropriate premium food for 15 year old Aztec.

I transitioned the dry food first, because I still has quite a bit of wet saches left. Over the course of a few days I increased the percentage of Advance food I was feeding, so as not to upset her tummy with a sudden change. By this stage I didn’t really notice any difference in Aztecs behaviour, stools or body condition.

Finally the supermarket wet food ran out, and she was only eating Advance food. Two days later I found a poo in her tray. Aztec hadn’t got up from her spot in the lounge room for some time. It must have been there an hour, and we hadn’t smelled it! What a difference after only two days without supermarket food!

Sadly I couldn't find an Advance wet food in a mature variety, or with a fish-only flavour. Since I'm only feeding Aztec about a table spoon (1 third of a can) each day, and the dry food is her primary diet I decided it was ok to go with a non-mature food.

Sadly I couldn’t find an Advance wet food in a mature variety, or with a fish-only flavour. Since I’m only feeding Aztec about a table spoon (1 third of a can) each day, and the dry food is her primary diet I decided it was ok to go with a non-mature food.

Over the last few weeks since then I’ve noticed further improvements. Her poos are smaller, firmer (not too firm) and a healthier brown than the somewhat yellowy colour they were before. I haven’t noticed any changes to her behaviour or body condition but those were good to begin with.

I must say she doesn’t like the wet food as much as the super market brand. It might be because it isn’t enough of a fishy flavour for her, or perhaps she doesn’t like the loaf style texture, but she doesn’t get excited and wolf it down like the other stuff.

Even if it weren’t for the other health benefits, I recommend switching to a premium food for the sake of your pets poo cleaner-upper!

What I learned this week: Job Trial

This week my online courses have taken a back seat because I’ve spent 3 days completing a job trial at a vet clinic on Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Of course, this means I’ve been learning a LOT!

Every practice and workplace functions a little differently, so even if you’re starting in a role almost identical to one you’ve held previously you need to expect a steep learning curve to begin with. Everything will be kept in a different place, your boss will have a different preference for how things are done and you’ll have a whole new workplace culture to navigate.

This clinic uses the patient management software RxWorks, which I think is one of the most commonly used in Australian veterinary practices. I was excited to have the opportunity to have it explained and give it a crack, since I’m likely to use in my work even if I’m not offered this job. 

It’s hideous; a stark white spreadsheet with blocks of flurescent blue, green, navy and maroon to indicate different kinds of appointments. It might get hard on the eyes looking at this for too long every day.


Would you believe the version they’re using at this clinic is even uglier than this image? I’m not sure if they got to choose their own colour palette, but who ever decided fluro and poo brown go together was seriously mistaken.

But I’ve found I’ve picked up the basics of the software pretty quickly. It’s not entirely different from AlisVet, which I used at the last practice I worked at (AlisVet is somewhat less ugly). Apparently there is a training version of RxWorks, so I’ll hopefully get a chance to have a play with that. 

Another new thing they’ve been teaching me is monitoring anaesthetic during surgery. Like many of the nursing things, I’m actually finding it less complex and daunting than I would have expected. 

I’ve never had surgery myself, and to be honest I’ve always been a little terrified of surgery in general, and of anaesthesia specifically. Learning about anaesthetic has made me a bit more comfortable with the safely of it all. If I can monitor it, then it’s probably pretty safe for humans who have a highly educated anaesthetist looking out for us. 


Feature Pet: Aztec the Russian Blue

I’d like to introduce you to my dads fabulous feline – Aztec the 15-year-old Russian Blue. I’m babysitting Aztec for a few months while my dad’s house is being renovated.

My dad has some specific preferences when choosing a kitty companion – short hair, and one single coloured coat (sorry torties, tabbies and tuxedo cats). Which colour doesn’t matter so much; he’s had several whites, greys, blacks and even a gorgeous red Abyssinian. Aztecs blue colouring certainly caught his eye!

I was so impressed when Aztec first arrived at our place. She wasn’t shell-shocked or scared, in moments she was calmly surveying her surroundings and greeting her new temporary carers. Such a difference to what I’m used to seeing in cats arriving at boarding condos! She learned to be comfortable in new places from moving house so much early in her life, seldom staying in one place for more than 2 years.

It’s been really great to have a kitty to cuddle when I’m feeling down in my job hunt these past weeks.