How to save a life

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Jordan Barker has always loved animals from a young age, so it was no surprise when she became the director of Geelong Animal Rescue. She believes that it is easy to become quite jaded in such an emotionally charged arena like animal welfare. People enter this line of work hoping to make a difference but often find themselves burning out.

GAR volunteer with her foster dog. Source: https://www.instagram.com/geelonganimalrescue/

“I used to always wish I could talk to animals and honestly, now I am glad that I can’t. How could you explain some of the horrible shit people do to them? What would you tell them when you pick them up from the pound? How do you explain that they were used as an ashtray, their owner dumped them and we saved them by an hour and a half? How would you tell someone that?” she says.

Geelong Animal Rescue (GAR) is now pleading for more foster careers as the nation enters a euthanasia “crisis”.

Due to a lack of space across Victorian pounds, Geelong Animal Rescue is encouraging more locals to temporarily open up their homes to a fury friend.

Domino the rescue cat now up for adoption. Source: https://www.instagram.com/geelonganimalrescue/

GAR is a not for profit organisation established in 2012. The organisation is run by more then 200 unpaid volunteers, who dedicate themselves to the rescuing and rehoming of often mistreated or abandoned animals.

A recent social media post that can be found on both the organisation’s Instagram and Facebook says: “GAR is full! Save a life from Death Row. It’s free!” The alarming post also says that cats and dogs are dying due to a lack of available foster homes.

Jordan, who has been a part of the organisation for six out of the seven years, believes the Australian public is oblivious to the current animal welfare crisis.

Across the 10 pounds which GAR works with throughout the state, they receive a weekly request to foster up to 80 pets who have been placed on euthanasia lists.“There are about 80 animals that need to come to us per week. We can take an average of three,” she said.

The current animal welfare framework means that the animals who are not collected by their owners will usually undergo medical and behavioural assessments. The animals who pass these tests will typically go up for adoption while those who fail may end up on the euthanasia list. “That’s where rescue groups come in … we work solely off those lists to match that animal up with an available foster career that we have.”

Volunteers and their foster pets. Source: https://www.instagram.com/geelonganimalrescue/

Unlike pounds, rescue groups do not have a physical location, staff or government funding. From the moment an animal is matched with a foster home, GAR will organise transportation for that animal straight from the pound to their new home.

While the animal is in foster care, GAR will pay for the vaccinations, de-sexing, microchipping as well as any vet bills, food, toys and other supplies. “Foster careers pay for nothing the entire time that animal is in their care … because we want to know that our animals are receiving the correct nutrition and that is not a financial restriction for people to foster,” she said.

Jordan and the entire GAR organisation do not wish to demonise the pounds that they work with, as they involve people who love animals and are passionate for their welfare. “They do not have elastic walls. If a facility has 100 pens and the 101st animals comes in that just comes down to numbers,” Jordan says.

While Jordan did not disclose the pounds that GAR work with, a Google search of ‘Geelong Animal Welfare Society’s’ (GAWS) annual report shows that the rate of dogs being euthanised has more than doubled between 2016 and 2018, rising from 4 to 9 per cent. The report further indicates a 10 per cent decrease in the number of cats being euthanised during the same period; however, this still resulted in 423 cases last year.

GAWS has a ‘no-kill policy’, meaning the animals who were euthanised were deemed to be untreatable or have severe behavioural issues posing a threat. However, this often comes down to a lack of education and irresponsible pet owners. Jordan believes in minimising these rates, all animals must be trained and to “stop breeding” and start caring.

Education is key. Source: https://www.instagram.com/geelonganimalrescue/

“There is no need for any more animals in the system. There are a lot of rescue groups out there and we all exist for the pure reason animals are dying in pounds all across Australia,” she says.

A major concern for animal welfare facilities is overbreeding. Too many new animals in the system means pets already in care get pushed out. “Every time there is a new puppy or kitten brought in, it literally takes the place of an animal in a pound that is dying for that place,” Jordan says.

The crisis has resulted in an estimated 250,000 healthy animals being euthanised every year, according to a Sydney Morning Herald article. “The sad reality is if the pounds don’t have room, then they come to us but now we don’t have room either, so all resources are full,” said Jordan.

Jordan sees a lot of empathy in the younger generation. Maggie Leahy, a 20-year-old nursing student, is an example of the young people that Jordan is referring to. The Leahy family fostered dogs through GAR from 2013 to 2015 while having already adopted four dogs from the organisation.

The Leahys foster dogs. Source: Maggie Leahy

After coming across a similar post on social media pleading for more foster homes, Maggie could not resist. Afraid that the dogs were going to be put down, she got the support of her family to start volunteering as a foster career. “I joined the group and had the most amazing support and could select dogs that suited my house, family and other pets,” she said.

The Leahy family has fostered many dogs however their most memorable included Brutus a bull arab, which is a breed that is often stigmatised. Brutus stayed with the Leahy’s for four months before finding his forever home. “We still have the owner on social media to see how Brutus is travelling,” Maggie says. 

Foster dog Casper sleeping with the family dog Lulu previously adopted from GAR. Source: Maggie Leahy

They fostered another bull arab called Casper for two months and a Jack Russel called Bobby who stayed with them for six months. “You build a connection with these dogs like they are your own pets. We always struggled when it came to rehoming them, however we got to meet the families and knew they would live a happy, loving life,” Maggie says.

She says GAR’s financial and emotional support is crucial. “They always checked in and worked with us to find the dogs a loving home. They were easily approachable and supportive during all fostering applications,” she says.

While the Leahy’s are not currently fostering any animals, they still help with fundraisers, donate food and blankets and continue to follow GAR’s journey.

Maggie believes that anyone who is in the position to foster should. “It was the most rewarding experience. My advice is to not stress about it and just go with the flow. The dogs are companions and are just after a loving and supporting home,” she says.

Casper and his new brother at his forever home. Source: Maggie Leahy

Jordan says there are opportunities for people passionate about animal rescue to help in all aspects. All contributions big or small are greatly appreciated as “there is never a shortage of animals that need our help,” she says.

Applications can be sent into the GAR website to receive access to a closed Facebook group that will notify members of any fundraisers that require help. “There is no pressure and no time commitments so you can just do it as you see,” Jordan says.

“I know we aren’t changing the world, but we are changing it for that one animal and that’s how you keep going. There is a massive shortfall that we are not able to save, but for the ones that we do that’s life-changing.

“One at a time. One by one, until there is none, is our mantra.”

There are currently 1438 rescues to date.

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