Many of us are working from home or perhaps furloughed and not working at all because of the pandemic. But some businesses don’t stop, and the work can’t be carried out from the confines of the home office. Northamptonshire’s Animals in Need centre is one of them. Volunteers are hard at work as usual, ensuring their menagerie of rescue animals are healthy and happy. Two of those volunteers making a difference during these challenging times shared their stories with Pulse’s Sammy Jones.
Rachel Wilson began volunteering her services nearly six years ago.
“Finding myself out of work, not wanting to return to sitting at a desk all day and above all, having a love of animals, I decided it would be a good way to see if I could make a career change,” she said, “Little did I realise it would almost take over my life!”
At first, Rachel would visit with her aunt Lesley, and later her cousin Karl, and they would take some of the canine residents for walks.
But it wasn’t long before Rachel was ‘taking her work home’.
“I adopted Buffy, an elderly dog who didn’t adapt well to kennel life.
“Then I fell in love! George, the gorgeous cross-breed, became almost as much a part of my life as my own three dogs. I accompanied him, along with his best friend Bobby, to various Animals in Need dog shows and pack walks, in an attempt to generate interest in them.
“We had lots of lovely long walks, via the cafe in the park for a cuppa for us humans and a sausage roll for the dogs.
“In between spoiling George and Bobby, we found time to walk many other lovely dogs and discovered that we, and Karl in particular, had a knack of working with the most nervous and frightened, some with very few social skills, to show them that the world and the humans in it can actually be quite nice. I am pleased to say that many of the dogs we initially thought would never get a ‘furever’ home have since been adopted and have their own sofa and lap to cuddle up on.”
Donating time for charity work is wonderful, but it has to be said that there is often much more involved than merely slipping on a dog lead and going for a brisk walk with the four-legged girls and boys.
“I won’t say it has all been plain sailing!” Rachel admits, “We have turned out in all weathers, hot and cold, wet and windy. I have been dragged across the car park on my hands and knees, dragged through brambles and even paid a visit to A&E for attention to a small bite delivered by a very frightened little dog, but I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever.”
Still, when the dogs are safely back in kennels Rachel can go home, put her feet up and relax, eh?
Not quite; she gets creative for the charity!
“The kennel staff discovered I am reasonably handy at repairing chewed leads and harnesses and I have actually made quite a few leads when there has been a big intake of dogs without enough to go round.
“Using mostly donated wool, I have crocheted around 40 blankets while watching TV in the evenings. I hear they are quite hard-wearing so I’m pleased that my canine friends, and feline if they want, appreciate my amateur efforts.”
The pandemic has put added pressure on animal charities, and with many fundraising efforts curtailed, it’s a tough time. But the volunteers have no choice but to ramp up their efforts; there are hundreds of animals reliant on their support.
“This last year has been particularly difficult for Animals in Need with fewer volunteers, so Karl and I have doubled the amount of dog walking we do. I have become a bit of a go-between, collecting donations locally and bringing auction winnings back to Northampton for distribution as a way of keeping fundraising going.”
And last year, after losing one of her own beloved dogs, Rachel had a space on her sofa again, which was quickly occupied by another pooch: “She was a fosterling who was too scared to stay in kennels…actually she seems to have claimed the whole sofa!”
Animals in Need rely on volunteers like Rachel and Karl, but there is plenty of give and take from both sides: “It has become a huge and very important part of my life,” she realises, “I am proud to be part of this amazing team and feel more fulfilled now than in any other of my jobs over the years, possibly because I am doing it because I want to, and not because I have to.
“Karl and I and the dogs need each other, and long may it continue.”
Joshua Jarvis is one of those making a difference to the lives at the centre and has been donating his time at the Little Irchester site for the past year.
“We discovered Animals in Need when we re-homed our first dog, Gucci, in 2015,” he told us, “They really care for their animals and find them the most brilliant homes.”
When Gucci sadly passed away in 2019, Joshua and his family had love to give another pooch, and knew exactly where to go – back to Animals in Need they went, and Sumo is now a part of their unit.
“I wanted to volunteer there because of the variety of different animals they have; pigs, sheep, ponies and chickens, a lot of hedgehogs, and we even get to see the odd deer, and the baby ones are so cute!
“I have ADHD and I never got on well at school, but I am always happy around animals and when I am outside – which is another reason I wanted to volunteer, and everyone at AIN is so nice and welcoming that I wouldn’t want to help out anywhere else.”
He does have a few cheeky characters to work with though…
“I normally work on the farm which is really fun, and the first thing I do is go straight to Robbie and Chester, the ponies. I let them out and clean their stables while they enjoy some play time – and if they are being cheeky they will come and knock my tools over, or sometimes even take them!
“Once I’ve cleaned their hay nets and water they usually let me know that it is food time!
“Once Robbie and Chester are sorted, we go to feed the sheep – and if we don’t do that, we won’t get in the field to feed the rest of the animals!
“Our two pigs are big boys and love their food and sleep more than anything. The goats are next, but if it’s raining they won’t come outside – they hate the rain!”
Once Joshua has ensured all the animals in his care have full bellies and clean beds, he checks in to take care of any random jobs on site, before popping over to assist the wildlife staff.
“I don’t mind what animals I work with,” he says, “I’m always happy to work with all the animals we have until they find their forever home with a lovely family.”
To find out more about Animals in Need visit www.animals-in-need.org