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 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!