Starting Up a Rescue
By Mairwen Guard
Before any practical advice is given there are four basic questions to ask yourself: why do you want to do this type of work?; what do you hope to achieve?; how much time and effort are you prepared and able to give to the project?; how are you going to fund the work? Bearing in mind that most small animal rescue centres give up within the first two years, it is vital to plan ahead and think things through thoroughly. This gives you a much greater chance of succeeding and “staying the course”, and perhaps you may even enjoy yourself in the process! Let’s take each point in turn.
Why do you want to do this type of work? It is very common to be swayed emotionally to “do something” when you hear of cases of neglect or cruelty, but you can easily end up doing more harm than good if you start up for the wrong reasons. Many people do charitable or voluntary work to fulfil a need in themselves, and this is not a problem in itself so long as their inner motivation is strong enough to keep them going even when things get tough, as they inevitably do in this line of work. By the very nature of rescuing, many of the animals taken in will either have health or behavioural problems or both, so you must have a level of competence, knowledge and experience beyond that of basic husbandry.
What do you hope to achieve? You need to decide whether you want to take in a few animals and keep them for the rest of their lives (a sanctuary), or whether you will be re-homing on a regular basis. The two approaches are completely different, one involving yourself and those immediately around you, the latter resulting in you having to deal with the public – a very difficult, time-consuming and at times frustrating task! Either way, decide on the maximum number that you can take and stick to it, no matter how people try to pressurise you to take more. The use of a waiting list is essential, together with a list of other rescues that you can refer people to when necessary.
How much time and effort are you prepared to put in? Do not underestimate how much animal rescue work will influence and affect your life. There is a tremendous amount of hard work involved, both physical and mental, and most people give up because they are not properly prepared or have not realised how much time has to be devoted for it to be run efficiently and competently. Many marriages have crumbled due to the stresses associated with rescue work! If you have a full-time job, it will probably not be realistic to try running a re-homing centre, although having a few “unwanted” animals may be a good alternative. Bear in mind, however, that the animals should be cleaned out daily to avoid unpleasant smells. Furthermore, you may have to apply for planning permission as your local authority may look on the project as beyond the range of a hobby. Neighbours can create a great deal of trouble in this respect even although the premises may be kept clean and tidy, and they may even involve the Environmental Health Department. These are all important issues that you should be aware of before you start.
How are you going to fund the work? Animal rescue is not cheap. A good rescue centre may neuter and vaccinate all the animals prior to adoption, and this can be very expensive unless you can make a special arrangement with your vet. Another important issue is that of public Liability insurance – this is primarily for your own protection if you are going to have members of the public visiting on a regular basis, but is usually available at a reasonable cost and well worth the money.
I have prepared a set of guidelines for people about to launch into rabbit rescue for example or just thinking about taking the plunge.
GUIDELINES FOR STARTING UP YOUR OWN RABBIT RESCUE
Before you start taking in unwanted animals, you will need to equip yourself with appropriate housing. It is also important to provide somewhere for the animals to have exercise such as a run or enclosure, preferably on concrete or similar surface to allow for regular cleaning and disinfection of the area. Better still, the runs can be attached permanently to the front of the housing allowing access all day. Take into account possible fox problems before allowing 24 hour access.
It is important to ensure good ventilation to minimise the spread of infections. Remember that visitors take note of how well the animals are kept and it pays to set a good example – if standards are poor there is no incentive for new owners to do any different.
Smaller items of equipment will also have to be bought, such as water bottles, food bowls, pet carriers, and cleaning utensils.
Find a reliable, cost effective and preferably local supplier of food, hay wood shavings…. You may find it helpful to check if they will deliver to your door, as these are bulky items and sufficient quantities cannot be easily transported in an ordinary car. You will also need to consider what storage facilities are available.
Decide how you are going to safely dispose of the inevitable bags of manure/soiled bedding. Some local authority tips will not accept animal waste, and most dustbin men refuse to take the quantity that you will generate. Local allotment holders may be interested as it is excellent for use in the garden once rotted down.
Regular (annual) inspection by your local vet at your own invitation is an excellent idea, and there is usually no charge if you explain that you are taking in rescued animals. This is primarily for your own benefit as you can display the subsequent letter in a prominent position for visitors to see. The letter should contain the following points:
1. How long you have been regularly attending that particular practice.
2. How much experience you have with animals, and any relevant previous employment details.
3. That the premises is clean, tidy, with no overcrowding, that all the pens/hutches are of adequate size for the animals housed, that there is provision of food and water, that bedding is clean, with free access to good quality hay. That all food is stored in rodent-proof containers.
4. That no breeding of the animals is taking place. If one is rescuing animals then one should not be adding to the problem by producing yet more. It would be like the RSPCA breeding dogs and cats – it just isn’t appropriate.
5. A maximum number of animals should be stated appropriate for the premises concerned to avoid the temptation to overcrowd.
6. That there is evidence of good basic book-keeping, including details of the animals kept, the dates that they were brought in and re-homing dates, details of new owners, and any miscellaneous details such as veterinary treatment, vaccination and neutering dates, age, and any other relevant information.!
Records should be kept of money received as donations and money paid out in expenses. Bear in mind that if a new owner can’t afford an appropriate donation to purchase an animal then there must be some doubt as to their ability or willingness to pay for their pet’s upkeep, veterinary bills etc.
A waiting list is essential as there will be times when you are full up but don’t want to just turn people away. Overcrowding must be avoided at all costs due to the high risk of spreading disease as well as other welfare issues. A fair priority system should be operated so that animals in danger of cruelty or neglect come higher on the list than those who need to come in because their owner is bored with them, but remember that an animal that is unwanted may well be at risk of neglect too. “Pretty” cats, rabbits or dogs should not have a higher priority over “standard” looking ones, and likewise animals with a mild deformity should not be penalised. Animals should be accepted all year round, space permitting, as rescue work does not stop just because it is winter! In fact, it is often the busiest time of year due to people dumping their animals because of their reluctance to look after them in the cold weather.
Veterinary advice recommends that all rabbits be vaccinated against VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) as soon as possible after their arrival at the rescue centre. VHD is a killer disease and highly contagious and therefore the rescue would need to close for several months should there be an outbreak. Remember, VHD is an airborne disease so the rabbits do not even need to be in contact with others to contract it. Myxomatosis should also be vaccinated against, but current veterinary advice is that there should be a period of at least two weeks between the two vaccinations. Whether one vaccinates first against VHD or myxomatosis depends on location and circumstances, but remember that myxomatosis is also a highly contagious disease and is spread by biting insects such as fleas or mosquitoes, the majority of rabbits contracting the disease not surviving.
If there is any doubt that the animal is not going to a good home, then follow your instincts and refuse to let it go. If it is possible to carry out home checks then this is very helpful in making this decision, but this is not always possible in small rescue centres where time and manpower are both in short supply. However, always make sure that you get details of the new owner’s name, address and telephone number prior to the animal going out so that you can keep in touch. A follow-up visit could be arranged if you felt it necessary and if this were possible. It is useful to ask the new owners to sign a declaration, an example of which is below.
the undersigned promise:
1. To keep the animal in good healthy condition and provide veterinary treatment where necessary.
2. To allow a representative of (name of rescue) to see the animal and it’s living accommodation at any reasonable time.
3. Not to part with the animal except with the permission of (name of rescue), but to return the animal to (name of rescue) if no longer able to look after it.
4. Not to allow the animal to breed.
N.B. (name of rescue) reserves the right to remove any animal considered to be unsuitably placed.
An information sheet should accompany every animal that is placed in a new home, and the new owners encouraged to contact you for advice should any problems arise.
It has to be up to individuals to decide on their policy for euthanasia in cases such as severe behavioural problems or chronic long-term health issues. However, one must consider that for every individual animal that you keep on a permanent basis this is one less place you then have available to take an animal that you could do something for and successfully re-home. Sadly, if one adopts a non-euthanasia policy you would quickly fill up with problem animals with no room to take in any more. This is often the case with sanctuaries whereby a new animal is only taken when an inmate finally passes away, but this policy rarely works in a re-homing centre unless extensive foster caring facilities are on offer.
It is often useful to notify your local RSPCA/SSPCA and any other animal welfare organisations and inform them of the type of rescue work that you offer, and you will likely find it helpful to work in conjunction with such organisations, rather than in competition with them.
Posted by MBll in the General section