Being an animal welfare assistant is both the most rewarding and the most emotional job. You leave knowing you have done your best and all the dogs have been kept safe and been well cared for. Although we have a daily routine and a set number of tasks that the animals need and depend on us for, there is no typical day at Assisi – every day is unique and full of surprises!
A typical day at Assisi
We have a usual routine, but some mornings will be a bit different if we have a vet run to do. The morning starts with serving breakfast and issuing any medication to animals that are on prescribed meds. Some may also be on certain ointments or ear/eye drops which we would also administer.
Once the animals are all fed and sorted, we set up the outdoor runs with fresh water, clean blankets and some nice toys to play with before putting the dogs out for some fresh air and space to play and exercise. We take the weather into consideration as it may be too cold for the little ones or it may be too hot for them all (not that this happens too often in Northern Ireland!). If it is too cold, we have to try to work around each dog.
Every dog is different and may require special handling or even a specific handler to get them out. If all dogs go out then the cleaning and refreshing or replacement of bedding takes place which includes scooping poop – (not the most glamourous part), putting disinfectant down, scrubbing, hosing and then drying so no one slides or falls in the kennels. This is the same for each kennel and the puppy unit.
Once cleaning is done, it is time to prepare for the day ahead. This includes
- Visits with potential new owners
- Taking every dog for a walk and a play in the field as well as caring and checking on them throughout the day
- Handing out any lunches
- Carrying out health checks (all of our animals are wormed, deflead and spayed/neutered but require appropriate after care)
- Doing any assessments on dogs that are needed
- Admitting new dogs that have arrived that day or the day before
- Speaking to the public
- Dealing with strays or walk ins that may appear
- Replying to emails and voicemails, answering calls and calling people who have submitted application forms for particular animals and then placing bookings on dogs to find them their suitable forever homes and doing all the paper work that comes with the rehoming of each animal.
Quick break of duties for cuddle time!
Then it is back to cleaning around the sanctuary, clearing the empty dishes from all the animals, plus any other surprises that may pop up throughout the day. We also need to be able to respond quickly if an animal gets injured or sick requiring an unexpected run to the vet.
After the many tasks and unplanned things that occur throughout the day, we then bring all the dogs in from the outdoor runs and clean all the runs in the same way we do the kennels in the morning so that they are prepared and ready for the next day. Dinner then needs prepared and any further medication distributed to those that need it.
At the end of the day and when all the tasks have been completed, we go around and say goodnight to each of our animals. We go home with a bit of sadness in our hearts that we cannot bring them with us but are happy in the knowledge that they are safe, know that they are loved and that we will see each other again tomorrow.
It is not always belly rubs and walks
Working in an animal sanctuary is bittersweet. It has its ups and downs, but it is very fulfilling and rewarding regardless of the difficult moments and the emotional rollercoaster every day brings.
The hardest part is switching off each day when we leave; which is almost impossible. We have a million thoughts running through our heads worrying about them and going through the routines and to do list for the next day.
We fall in love with each and every animal that comes to us. We build bonds with them and they become like family to us, they are loved like they are our own. Finding them the right and perfect forever home is so important to us and is so rewarding, even if it is extremely emotional and hard to say goodbye each time.
Another very difficult task in our day can be some of the calls we have to take. People regularly call us asking us to take their dogs. Of course, all we want is to help and take them all but it's not always possible for a number of reasons, and this really affects all of us. We are dog lovers and we are passionate about what we do, so we want to help every single one.
We sometimes end up with dogs that we call ‘long termers’ because for one reason or another they get overlooked and find it more difficult to find their forever home. Unfortunately, we have had four legged family members pass away during their time with us due to ill health. This breaks the hearts of the entire sanctuary. We build bonds with them and provide the best life for them to enjoy. It makes it even harder because with the grief of a lost animal, we still have to carry on and care for all the others who depend on us.
Being an animal welfare assistant is not a job, it is a vocation. It takes everything out of us but we wouldn't change it for the world!