WHEN DOG LOVERS hear that I live and work in a dog rescue centre in Connemara, I can see them go all misty-eyed as they tell me that it is their dream job. I imagine they think I spend my days frolicking in the long grass with a bunch of puppies, but the reality can be very different.
The way in which dog rescue centres can vary hugely, from the large re-homing facilities with several staff to the one-man-rescue managed from someone’s back garden. My centre lies somewhere in the middle.
MADRA, or Mutts Anonymous Dog Rescue & Adoption, is a registered charity that is run by a committee of volunteers and staffed in the main by volunteers. We receive a grant of €3,000 from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government each year, and rely heavily on support from members of the general public to help us meet our running costs of €150,000 per annum.
Annually we rescue over 700 dogs and pups from a variety of sources, the majority from local authority pounds. Since 2005 the County Galway put-to-sleep rate has fallen from 83 per cent to 14 per cent. Similarly, in County Mayo, MADRA has helped the Council to reduce its put-to-sleep rate from 72 per cent in 2008 to 11 per cent in 2012. When I see these statistics in black and white every year I do feel proud, but it is bittersweet at times as the statistics just highlight how hard we have worked and how little people have learned about responsible dog ownership.
You are never fully off duty
I live at the rescue centre and we generally have between 35 and 45 dogs on site at any one time. It is hugely important to have someone living on-site at the kennels, but from a personal point of view it actually means that you are never fully off duty. Apart from the constant noise of dogs barking, the never-ending early mornings, and the three changes of clothes a day (and yet you are still covered in dog hair), there is also a huge lack of privacy as people roll up day and night to “meet the dogs and have a look around”.
To be fair, in this job you have to like people just as much as you like dogs, as you have to meet a lot of them and talk them through some very emotional decisions.
A typical day at MADRA usually starts at 6am when all the dogs are brought out to relieve themselves. They are taken out in small groups or singly, after which I pick up any “presents” that were left during the night and then I move on to breakfast time. Each dog is fed and brought straight out for a proper morning walk to help them keep their kennel clean. Our aim is to have our dogs re-homed as pets, and so it’s important that we work on house-training and lead work every single day.
Next the kennels need to be cleaned, medications given, dog dishes washed, laundry done, all of which needs to be finished by midday. The afternoon is more of the same with emphasis on exercise and training rather than cleaning and feeding.
60 calls per day
While all of this is happening I still have to answer up to 60 calls per day, send and receive texts, deal with visitors, settle in new arrivals, get dogs to and from the vets, and try to keep an eye on my emails too. This is to facilitate either people who wish to view dogs with the intention of adopting one, or to arrange for people to leave their dogs at the centre instead of giving them to a pound.
In the case of the latter, people don’t always call us. We sometimes get dogs left at the gate overnight and have to shuffle all the others around to make room for them somewhere. They will often be left in a pitiful state, as you can see from one of our recent arrivals, Kila.
When I have volunteer cover at the kennels I then head out in the van to collect dogs from some of the local authority pounds that we deal with. These runs can be particularly heartbreaking if we do not have space to take all the dogs, as if we do not re-home dogs we already have then we cannot take more dogs in.
There are also home checks — as we must check that the home where the dog is being re-homed is suitable — fund-raisers, meetings with dog wardens, training sessions, and trips to the bank, vets or wholesalers all to be done as time permits. I usually sit down to do the accounts, grant applications and reply to emails after I finish my evening meal.
Physically very demanding
By now you may be starting to realise how important volunteers are to the whole process and our regular dog walkers are very much needed to keep things running smoothly and to give the dogs some much needed one-on-one time. Like any job, some days you really have to drag yourself out of the bed moaning and whinging about your workload, but the one big difference here is that you cannot ring in sick or bury your head in the pillow.
Those 35-45 dogs need to be fed and walked, and they don’t really feel like waiting for food. For all that, I am very aware that I’m here because I choose to be and although my days are physically very demanding, I also feel that it is important work and I am very lucky to be able to work with the animals that I love so much.
Probably the most negative aspect of my work is the fact that I have had to learn to steel my emotions as I meet these abandoned, confused, traumatised dogs, some of whom are also in physical pain. The sheer emotional and physical neglect they may have suffered can overwhelm me at times but I have to put my own feelings on hold while I tend to their most basic needs. At times this can make me appear cold-hearted or uncaring but if you scratch below the surface I think you will realise that I actually care too much.
Please note that the captions in this slideshow were written by MADRA.ie.