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!

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.


Volunteering With Animals – Part Two: Companion Animal Foster Carers


“Draw me like one of your French kittens”
– Lilian, one of three kittens I fostered from the Cat Haven while living in Perth.

If you would like to take a pet into your home temporarily but cannot commit to a year or longer, then foster caring could be a great option for you. These opportunities vary quite a bit – it might be caring for assistance-dogs-in-training while their raisers are way for the weekend, taking in a mother and her babies until they are old enough to be desexed and re-homed, helping to rehabilitate a pet after injury or surgery, or socialising and training a pet that hasn’t been in a loving home until they’re ready to be adopted. Cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs are the animals most commonly sent to temporary foster homes.

The time commitment of these roles can range from days (in the case of assistance dog minders) to many months for animals recovering from serious surgeries or requiring behavioral training. Organization that have bricks-and-mortar shelters can take many of the animals that go to foster back to the shelter once they are ready for adoption. There are also an array of fantastic groups that keep the animals in foster homes until they are adopted. In these cases, the animals might be with you for a while longer and you should be prepared to allow interested parties to visit your home.

Eee & Arr - two kittens I fostered from the RSPCA Vic. Being cute snuggling in my lap.

Eee & Arr – two kittens I fostered from the RSPCA Vic. Being cute snuggling in my lap.

Personally, I have taken to fostering up to three orphaned kittens. I’ve cared for two lots now, each from about 5 weeks of age until about 8-9 weeks. This is the best option for my household, as we only need to commit to 4 or 5 weeks, they are happy enough in a tiny one bedroom apartment and they can be left at home alone throughout the day (confined to one room). They are the best fun; I spend at least an hour each day playing with and socializing them. It’s very rewarding seeing them go from scared kittens who have probably hardly been handled by a person, to confident, loving companions. Even after only a few weeks it is hard letting them go. But I’m happy knowing they are going to loving homes, and I helped them get there.

The different requirements for foster carers do vary quite a bit (i.e. some allow other pets and children, some require back yards, some require lots of attention and some will need to be kept quiet), so if you are interested it is best to speak with an organization to see if they can fit an animal to your situation. Requirements that you can expect for any foster animal are that you are allowed pets on your property, and that you can bring the foster animal in for check ups every few weeks. The shelters will usually supply any food, bedding and litter required so that the cost to you will be minimal.

If your interested in foster caring, you can contact the major shelters around Melbourne:

RSPCA Victoria
Lort Smith
The Lost Dogs Home (not just for dogs)
Save A Dog Scheme (dogs and cats)
The Pets Haven

Or, you can support many smaller organizations doing great work for homeless pets. There is a comprehensive list of rescue groups around Australia on the Pets Rescue website. Here are a few around Victoria with foster programs:

Melbourne Animal Rescue
Victorian Dog Rescue
Siberian Husky Rescue
Second Chance Animal Rescue
Forever Friends

Thanks to Alyson and other great foster carers!

My friend Alyson fosters greyhounds in Perth. This is Stewie, a throw-away from the racing industry. He found a home after only a week in foster care!

I’d love to hear you stories of fostering animals!