by Ashley Henry
On May 20th, 2011, I received two phone calls that changed my life. In the morning I got a phone call from a representative for African Conservation Experience informing me that I had been accepted to travel to South Africa the next year to spend 6 weeks working with a wildlife veterinarian. In the afternoon, I received a call from the Shelter Manager of The Winnipeg Humane Society asking me to come in for an interview for a job that I considered a long shot to get. I felt pretty ecstatic but I don’t think that even I understood just how much those two phone calls were going to change my life.
I have been working at The Winnipeg Humane Society for nearly 3 years now and it has affected me in so many ways and so did traveling to South Africa. Here are a few insider tips for anyone curious about the life of an employee at The Winnipeg Humane Society.
1. Do make things work with whatever you’ve got.
We, as a charity, are often short staffed and we have to make do with what we have available. The same is true in South Africa. The ability to “roll with the punches” is essential for working in any field with animals, because whatever can go wrong, probably will.
2. Do prepare yourself to be dirty for the rest of your life.
I could never count the number of times that I have said “Oh darn, I have poop/boogers/pee/ vomit etc. on me.” Working with animals is a dirty job no matter how you spin it. When I was in South Africa it was winter time in the southern hemisphere and not incredibly warm outside as the sun was not very strong. But we would all have a day where we came home from some outing and said “Oh I finally got a little bit tan today,” and then the tan would wash off and we would realize that we were just very, VERY dirty.
3. Don’t assume you are safe with any pet (or animal) that you don’t know.
A minute before this photo was taken, I was thrown flying off of this giraffe, who had decided that he was no longer sleepy, or enjoying my presence on his neck. Many of the animals come into our care at the shelter and are very frightened by the new surroundings. This fear often makes them unpredictable. I always make an effort to fight my own fear and connect with the animals who scare me the most, because I know that they are more scared than I am.
4. Do have a sense of humor about dirty jobs and less than stellar situations
The ability to laugh at yourself and your situation is crucial when you find yourself covered in drool and acting as a pillow for a groggy buffalo. It’s also very necessary when we find ourselves dealing with loss in the shelter. Often when I tell someone where I work they say “I don’t know how you can do that.” My response usually is “I don’t know how I couldn’t do it now that I have done it.”
5. Do educate yourself on all aspects of the issues.
I want you all to meet Valentino. Valentino is a Southern White Rhino calf who was orphaned when his mother was poached for her horn. Valentino was sent to our farm to be cared for and he has since returned to living with his own kind. Rhino horn poaching is a major issue globally and is resulting in the extinction and endangerment of many rhino species. It is also resulting in the deaths of many people, as poachers and anti-poaching units carry automatic rifles and shoot to kill each other. “Poach the Poacher” is not the answer to this issue. What would you do to feed your family if you were desperate, as many in rural Africa are?
With most cases it is not our place to judge people for not being able to care for their pets anymore. It is our place to thank them for recognizing the point where a situation has gone beyond what they are able to handle. It is our place to ask them to give what they can and ask for no more. It is our place to give their pets the best possible chance at finding a new loving home where they can grow old.