What Volunteering For A Rescue Is Really Like

Choosing to volunteer for a rescue is one of the best decisions I have ever made, but it’s not easy. I have always been drawn to rescue animals, even before starting my career at a rescue. I have adopted animals that other people didn’t want – I always asked my Mum if I could have a dog as a child, and remember saying to her “I want to give an older dog a second chance!” instead of begging for a puppy as many kids do. I think I drove her mad, as I asked for a dog every single day. Eventually, our circumstances changed and we were able to adopt a dog, although that’s for another post!

I still remember the day I started volunteering, nearly 10 years ago – I was at the train station when the rescue phoned me, asking if I could foster a litter of hamsters. I instantly said yes, and it has grown from there. I stuck with rodents, to begin with, then expanded and took in rabbits (I still lived with my parents at the time, and luckily my mum was very supportive of my dreams), slowly filling the garden with hutches. After this, I opened my doors to dogs and cats!

Image shows a Jack Russell Terrier under a duvet.

I didn’t swamp myself with animals, but the amount I took on did grow. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed with animals, especially when you know you are what stands between their life and death, however, I am only one person, and for me to take on more than what I could cope with would mean the animals would suffer, something I am not prepared to see happen.

When I first started to foster I was at college. I was in a relationship too with my now-husband. I went to university for a brief time (it wasn’t for me, so I changed courses), moved out and got married. These are all excuses I hear on a daily basis from people wanting me to take their animals and yet, during this time I literally had a house full of unwanted pets that I made the time for. I can never fully understand why some of these people don’t want their pets anymore. Yes – sometimes there are genuine reasons why they cannot keep their pet, but they are few and far between.

I am not ashamed to say I have cried more tears for the rescue animals than anything else in my life. For the ones I am too late to save, for the ones that come in; neglected, beaten, starved. For the ones I try to save and have to have put to sleep because it was too late to change things for the better. I have had my heart broken many times, and I am sure it will break many more times in the future.

I have had sleepless nights, worrying about animals, and used all my free time nursing and caring for sick ones. Recently I hand-reared a litter of 6 baby rabbits, which took up a lot of my time. But I don’t regret any of it and would do it again in a heartbeat if it meant I had a chance to help an animal. I think I am really lucky as I have had so many wonderful animals come into my life. Some have captured my heart and ended up staying permanently, others have stayed due to medical and behavioural reasons. However, most go off to new homes, which is hard, but for the best as I cannot keep them all – no matter how much I want to at times!

volunteering for a rescue 
Image shows a litter of baby rabbits asleep in a nest.

Although there are bad times, stressful times even – The positives outcomes are what keep me going. When you have a scared, unloved creature turn up at the door, and you nurse them back to health and watch them thrive, it just fills me with joy. The hardest bit is waving them goodbye when they find a new home, but I know that if I didn’t let them go to new homes, I wouldn’t be able to help anymore.

I think if there ever came a time where I didn’t get upset when a neglected animal came into my care, or if I didn’t feel that happy/sad feeling when they go to a new home, I should give up as my heart wouldn’t be in it anymore.

For me, rescue is a 24/7 job. I can get called out at any time to assist with a rescue, then as well as that, there are vet runs to do, walking my own dogs, and helping to walk the rescue dogs, cleanouts, handling and feeding. As well as the hands-on animal care, the website needs maintaining, the Facebook and Twitter account needs updating, I need to come up with fundraising ideas, as well as the countless emails and phone calls I have to trawl through (mainly from people who can’t possibly look after their animals). I can’t just switch off – my day doesn’t end at 5 pm like most people who work do. It’s mentally and physically draining. Even on my yearly holiday, I find it impossible to completely switch off and will keep checking in to see how the rescue is doing.

Sometimes it feels like it will never end – but I love it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Although I know I can’t save every single animal I am told about, I know that I have made a difference in a few precious lives. When I die, I will know that I did all I could to make a difference in this world to those few who passed through my life, no matter how briefly it was.

Image shows an elderly tabby cat with a pink collar, standing on a cat tree.

I am very fortunate to have a very supportive husband who knows how much these animals mean to me. In fact, I cancelled some of our first dates as my rabbit was unwell, so he knew what he was getting into from day one! Although I no longer volunteer for a named rescue, I do still have lots of animals from my time working with them and still take in animals that need a home.

If you’d like to learn more about rescue, have a look at the 10 most annoying things to say to an animal rescuer.

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