I've worked in animal rescue for seven years, after my previous life in the commercial world, and I often say 'I should write a book about this'. Because you look back on some days and say 'Did that really happen?'
So here is a glimpse into what it's really like running a rescue and rehoming charity like the National Animal Welfare Trust.
I rarely work with animals
Most of my time is actually spent dealing with people - you cannot run an animal rescue without people. Every penny comes from donations from the public, or on occasion from a grant making fund, so building relationships with our supporters is crucial. Also we rely on people to sign over or rehome animals from us, so good customer service is vital.
Moreover, working in an animal welfare environment means you are managing people who have a passion for their job that goes way beyond anything the average office worker may feel. Staff and volunteers understandably get emotionally involved with the animals, which can lead to tensions either between employees or about management decisions. Often there is no right or wrong answer so you are looking for the compromise that is in the best interests of the animals' welfare.
I never lose sight of why I do this job
My guilty pleasure is taking a few minutes to peer through the window of the Kitten House and see the new mums proudly suckling their brood, or to watch the older kittens exploring every inch of their exciting new environment. I love chatting to the prospective new owners as they start to bond with their chosen dog - to hear stories of previous dogs they have owned or the difference this one is going to make to their lives.
I work full-time and have two dogs
I am lucky that my dogs can come to the office with me and I am able to take them with me when I visit the centres. Life's not half bad when you get to walk your dogs on a Cornish beach and watch the sunset after a day's work at the centre!
There are meetings to attend where my dogs cannot accompany me, but thankfully I have a very flexible dog walker for the days they stay at home. So, who am I to say we can't home a dog to someone who works full time? As long as the support network is there.
We don't deal with many cases of animal cruelty
Most animals come to us as what we call 'sign overs'. This is where someone can no longer look after their pet for whatever reason - from working longer hours to a change in family circumstances - so they ask us to take them for rehoming. Most people understand there is a waiting list and are prepared to wait, but occasionally we are asked to take an animal from someone who seems to have arranged their entire emigration in a week!
We also take strays and that is where we may see signs of neglect such as kittens covered in ticks or dogs with severe skin conditions. We can give them the time, treatment and TLC that is needed to nurse them back to health. It is a special moment to finally see what colour the coat is of a dog that came in almost bald. Tears really do flow when one of these animals finally leaves with their new owner.
Charities of this size can't run with volunteers alone but our overall success depends on them
Running a charity the size of NAWT with over 120 employees is similar to running any business. We have to comply with all appropriate legislation be it employment law, health and safety, accountancy practice, fundraising standards - the list goes on. You need people with the right business acumen to run such an organisation not only on a day to day basis, but to look to the future to secure funding to be able to continue and grow the work. A charity that fails to meet the Charity Commission requirements or is unable to fund future work will not last long. At NAWT we are very conscious that every penny donated has been hard earned by someone so we do not have a big Head Office team (six people) and we all take on additional roles (me included) to ensure that the majority of the funding goes on our work with the animals.
The NAWT has over 500 volunteers supporting us and we could not raise as much money or go that extra mile for the animals without their help. We are eternally grateful to them.
We have to spend money on raising the National Animal Welfare Trust's profile
We continually face a dilemma. People donate money to support the animals and the more money we raise the more animals we can help. So the charity needs to increase its profile in order to attract more donors. The question is how much of the donated money is it acceptable to spend on marketing? We have to speculate to accumulate but do it in the most cost effective way. A tough challenge!
Spending money on animal welfare is always our first priority
Like any business we work to income and expenditure budgets. As we receive no government funding and the economic downturn has impacted the level of donated income, we have to cut our expenditure cloth accordingly. Our primary expense has to be the rescue and rehoming work at the centres and for the last few years these running costs have been all we can afford. Some of the facilities at our centres are getting old but our teams do a great job of small refurbishments and repairs and they remain serviceable. Of course we would like to be able to employ more staff or pay them more, but we have to stick to the budgets.
A typical day does not exist
For example: I may drive in to find someone has just let a cat loose in the car park, we may have dogs signed over to us that turn out to be stolen so we end up working with police and owners; I may deal with a complaint from an Elvis impersonator whose parrot was handed in to us or it may feel like I am providing marriage guidance to a couple who cannot agree wehther the dogs should be signed over. You just never know.
On occasion it really is a matter of life and death. Often there are decisions to be made about how far to take the treatment of a sick animal, where we unfortunately have to weigh up the cost versus the welfare of the animal. On the other hand, in one recent situation a quick Facebook appeal generated £3,000 from generous people, to enable young dog Bonnie to have the heart operation she needed to allow it to live a full and happy life.
Oh, I love my job! I wouldn't want to do anything else.
This article also features in the latest issue of the National Animal' Welfare Trust's magazine Animate. You can sign up for a free copy of it here