Rae's Rescue Journal: How Rescue Work Got in the Way of My Blog About Rescue Work
I created The Animalist to show the reality of a life spent dedicated to animals - to share the stories and experiences of animal rescue volunteers and workers, including my own.
And somewhat ironically, the daily realities of my life as someone involved in rescue have frequently scuppered my plans for this blog.
That this was a possibility should have been obvious to me from the offset. After all, it's a blog about how overwhelming and time consuming charitable work with animals can be - about how sometimes, it doesn’t leave much room in your life for anything else. So it should be no surprise that a slight uptake in my rescue-activities earlier in the year left me with no room for regular, lengthy posts. In the summer in particular, on most days I'd be left with a precious hour or so of free time - on a good day. And I'd be quite determined to spend that laying in bed, with a cat on my chest, watching trash and eating Pringles (the Texas BBQ Sauce flavour are vegan, before you start).
I should have predicted that after a long, exhausting day of doing rescue work, I’d struggle to find the energy to then write about doing rescue work.
Sometimes, I just need to give my brain a break from thinking about animals, to persuade myself that there is more to my personality than just them.
I am not just the mad animal lady. I also like to drink.
In the summer, just as I launched this thing, my involvement in wildlife rehabilitation increased. Like a lot.
I went from rehabilitating a relatively minor number of injured and orphaned wild animals from home - to effectively running a very small-scale wildlife sanctuary out of my house. By accident.
It all started with my friend Tracie telling me how overwhelmed she was.
Tracie is a wildlife rehabilitator and the owner of a really cool shop in Blackheath where you should definitely go and spend lots of money. She’s also one of those rare humans who are genuinely good.
For a long time Tracie has effectively been holding up the sky for local wildlife. In the borough of Greenwich and wider South East London area, we have no dedicated wildlife rescue. We also have very few wildlife rehabilitators.
As a result, through social media, local vets, and an organisation called London Wildlife Protection, the vast majority of wildlife in distress locally has found its way to Tracie over the years - the ones that got any help at all. There was simply nowhere else for them to go*.
I've brought her many animals myself.
Like I said, I cared for some; the occasional pigeon or song bird in nesting season. For a while I had a rotation of baby squirrels from an amazing charity called Urban Squirrels. But mostly I was an intermediary between the public and Tracie - collecting from them and transporting to her.
During my years as the Assistant Manager of CatCuddles, my workload was such that I couldn’t do much more. It was difficult enough to contend with all the needy cats in South East London, without branching out into other species.
Beyond that, I was always extremely wary of placing any confidence in my abilities with wildlife. I have a Diploma in Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, but there is little to no regulation around 'rehabbing', and my course drummed into my brain the danger of ‘rouge’ rehabilitators; people who attempt to care for wild animals themselves without the expertise to do so, who therefore make terrible mistakes - like taming animals or rearing them with nutritional deficiencies.
Simply put, I figured that if the animals had a greater chance of survival with someone more experienced, I couldn't morally justify caring for them myself.
Regardless of these reasons, until she told me outright, I had been failing to comprehend the pressure that Tracie was under; the sheer volume of animals that she was contacted about on a daily basis, for whom she represented the only chance at life. And how I was adding to that pressure.
It never occurred to me that I was helping to overwhelm her like I’d felt overwhelmed throughout my rescue ‘career’. I left my role as the Assistant Manager of CatCuddles because of, among other things, sheer burn-out. The result of spinning too many plates for too long; dealing with one urgent case after another, whilst trying to maintain the daily-running of a sanctuary.
In the end, I was worn thin. You're in a place in which your reserves are dwindling, but you’re still asked to give more. Where you will continue to be faced with situation after situation in which you either help the animal concerned, or they suffer or even die. It’s like living in a state of constant emotional blackmail. Sometimes it’s the public blackmailing you, and sometimes you’re just blackmailing yourself. I didn't want to contribute to that in someone else.
So I decided to step up.
I bought a shit ton of books about wildlife rehabilitation, and badgered people like Kelly Wolmer of Runham Wildlife Rescue with questions.
It was nesting season, a period between spring and summer in which the workload for wildlife rescues is insane - something I plan to write more about shortly - and I started taking animals in. I passed them onto Tracie only when I felt I was really out of my depth. Others I transported to wildlife rescues further afield with the help of volunteers recruited through a dedicated Facebook group that I set up. Brilliant, heroic volunteers like Clare Elsey, and my friend Dave, who I’d be a gibbering wreck without.
Eventually we ended up with a small community looking out for wildlife in South East London, and I ended up with a house full of songbirds, seagulls, pigeons, hedgehogs, and one quail.
And there have been many, many periods where I have felt worn thin once again. Working from dawn to dusk, cleaning for three, four hours a day, and back at the same place I’d been a few years ago; overwhelmed, drowning in the pressure, wondering how the fuck I’d managed to put myself in the same position twice.
So as you can imagine, any hopes I had for this blog rather fell to the wayside, as I concentrated on simply putting one foot in front of the other.
But nesting season mercifully, is over. The majority of wildlife reared over the summer has been released, and things are a little calmer.
More importantly, I have jury service and my mum is taking care of all the animals (my poor, poor mother). I have a little room to breathe. And to catch up on six months of blog posts, maybe.
Watch this space.
Support Tracie's Wildlife Rescue Work
Support my Wildlife Rescue Work
(*Can't you take an injured wild animal to your local vet?
Yes and no - it varies from practice to practice. All vets will accept injured or baby wild animals from the public but many don't specialise in wildlife or even birds and exotics, so if they don't have a local rescue or rehabilitator to pass the animal onto they may be at a loss with what to do with it. This is the case with a lot of our local vets, and often the staff themselves feel stuck in this situation.
A vet practice is also a business and there are many limits on what the RSPCA will reimburse - so they may be unwilling or unable to spend money on treatment or allocate staff time to it; bear in mind that nestling song birds, for example, need to be fed every fifteen minutes from sunrise to sunset. Tricky for a busy vet nurse to fit in. For these reasons they may decide that euthanasia is preferable to allowing the animal to suffer. You need to ask them to be transparent about what they can realistically do before you hand the animal over.
What about calling the RSPCA?
If there's no rescue in your area they'll probably tell you to take the animal your local vet... and we know that isn't always a solution because, well, see above. )