• Rae Gellel

Meet the Rescuers: An Interview with Kelly Wolmer, founder of Runham Wildlife Rescue

Runham Wildlife Rescue, a wildlife and domestic bird rescue operating between Norfolk and North London, has gained a reputation for taking in animals that no-one else will.

Formerly known as ‘Kelly’s Rescues’ after its founder, Kelly Wolmer, it’s an organisation that does not recoil at cases carrying the promise of hefty vet bills or long and complex rehabilitation times. Its success at bringing so-called hopeless animals back from the brink is undoubtedly down to the competency and expertise of Wolmer herself, particularly in the avian field. The Animalist caught up with her this week.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, and how you got started in animal rescue?

I have worked with animals and children my whole life, switching between the two from the age of 16 onwards - I'm 29 now.

I started Runham Wildlife Rescue through my work in retail, specifically the pet industry. It’s something that I completely disagree with, but after seeing animals being sold willy-nilly, and people being given the wrong information about their care, I felt compelled to become involved in tutoring staff and overlooking sales. Now I work very closely with a wide network of shops to encourage better animal management and welfare. It was during this work that the Rescue started - I’d often be asked to take on animals that weren’t selling, that had been returned, or that were sick, injured and generally unwanted. It began as a domestic rescue, but as my knowledge grew, I also began rescuing wildlife.

What inspired you to start your own rescue organisation?

Honestly? I saw a lot of domestic rescues using animals as a means of getting money. I felt that this was wrong, and so set out to form a rescue that was moral, and for the birds. We are currently working on a new rescue operation, and this is firstly because I want this to be my life and my career, but secondly, because I noticed a serious lack of large-scale wildlife rescues in London. We plan to set up a weekly courier service from London to Norfolk, for all the individual wildlife rehabilitators in London who are overwhelmed and driving miles and miles every week to drop animals for soft release in suitable organisations.

This will hopefully mean that they get to spend more money on medical treatment and less on petrol. This will all be coming together in the next few months with the help of my trustees Maryna, Lyndsey, and Monica, who have been amazing - you really need enthusiastic genuine people behind you.

What does an average day look like for you?

It's pretty hectic. I spend all my life cleaning and feeding animals, along with vet trips and treatment. We have several aviaries, and will soon be expanding to a very large area, so just keeping everything clean and fed is a never-ending task. I can’t go anywhere without monitoring the animals, so we have cameras in every room, and when I do go out I am usually accompanied by many hungry mouths! As a result, I tend to go out as little as possible.

New data from the US suggests high levels of depression among animal shelter workers. Why do you think this might be the case?

It's a 100% stressful and lonely job! In addition to that, a lot of animal lovers suffer from mental health issues in the first place, and see animals as a form of socialisation and bonding. I myself have suffered from depression in the past. When you’re under pressure to find money for animals that will be released back into the wild - so there's no return financially - it has a great impact on your mood and energy levels. The night feeds can be soul-destroying too, and when you’re covered in bird poop, you stop taking care of your appearance and that has an effect on your self-esteem. There’s definitely pros and cons to wildlife rehabilitation work, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

What keeps you going in your most difficult moments?

Their little faces. I know that if I wasn’t around, many thousands of birds would have died. Our Rescue is quite well known for taking on cases that other rescues have turned down due to cost, and rehabilitation time. When we finally release (or rehome in the case of domestic birds), that is the best feeling in the world - knowing that you have succeeded where others failed and, as a result, an animal has its life.

Are there any other rescues or rescuers that you particularly admire?

There’s lots of rehabbers that I admire. To name just a few, Wendy at Falling Feathers, Kay from IOW Wild Bird Rehabilitation, Rachel from the Pine Tree Small Animal & Wildlife Rescue, and my wildlife rehabilitator friends Tracie, Wei, and Paul 'The Pigeon Man'.

What can the general public do to make your job easier? Both the people who contact your organisation for help, and the public in their day-to-day lives?

There are many things that the public could do. Rescues struggle to pay for the treatment and food that they provide. And if you can’t contribute to either of these things by donating food or funds, then simply taking an animal that you’ve found directly to the rescue is very helpful, instead of leaving it to them to arrange transport. You can also offer your services for transporting, cleaning or feeding animals, and spread the word about the work and encourage others to support and donate.

Do you think greater legislation related to animal protection is needed?

Definitely. We spend a great deal of time trying to prevent things like netting, unnecessary use of inhumane pest control, larson traps, tree trimming - the list goes on. There are so many scenarios that we deal with on a day-to-day basis, that could be eliminated with stricter regulation in favour of animals. People think that us rehabilitators are somehow funded for the work we do, which is not the case, and all of these issues eat into our pockets whilst causing unnecessary suffering.

What advice would you give to someone in rescue going through a difficult day?

My advice would be, believe in yourself, do what’s best for your animals, and educate yourself as much as possible - don't let your ego prevent you from learning from others and providing your animals with the best chance at survival. Wipe that poop off your hands, and pat yourself on the back, because you deserve it.

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