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!

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!


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.

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!


Pets of Kinglake

On this cold and cloudy day we escaped the hustle and bustle of our inner-city home, to visit Marina’s (my partners mum) picturesque property in Kinglake, Victoria, Australia. Cold and foggy day. Beautiful view over the Yarra Valley from Kinglake Happily, the property is home to a myriad of animals; so I took the opportunity to practice some animal photography.

Waddling duckies. Nameless chooks.

Matilda the Goat.

This portrait of Matilda the goat is my favourite picture of the day.

Rufus the Kelpie in his dorky orange collar.

Kitten-Cat being beautiful.

Claws out!

Kitten-Cat being annoyed.

Portrait of Dorian the goat.

This is Dorian, an eight month old, one-horned goat adopted from the good people at the Collingwood Children’s Farm.

Butters in the laundry basket.

Don’t worry, that’s not a real bearskin in the background.

Pot-bellied goat Matilda Metal dog. Rufus the Sook