Please tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Bernie Bates, These days, I am a retired Registered Veterinary Nurse. I live in
Waterville with my husband Geoff, my boxer Cass, bull-mastiff Bailey , and my geriatric black cat Denzil.
How do you volunteer with KLAWS (what do you do) and how long have you been volunteering for KLAWS? Why did you become a volunteer?
During the late 80s and 90s I worked for Wood Green Animal Shelter in the UK. ( currently featured on TVs "The Dog House". ) During this time I obtained Diplomas in both canine and feline psychology. My time there was either spent helping dogs with behavioural problems, usually caused by humans, or working in the cat flu ward where my nursing skills were challenged on a daily basis!
In 1999 I switched to general veterinary practice and stayed in this field until 2017, working both in the UK and Ireland. It was during my time at Kenmare Veterinary Centre that I first became involved with KLAWS. When I started working at KVC in 2007, KLAWS was just starting out. At that time KLAWS was a small handful of like-minded animal loving people . It was not a registered charity, just people doing their best for whatever presented itself on a daily basis.
I never volunteered to become a volunteer!!! This is something that just evolved. I was driving regularly between Waterville and Kenmare for work at the vets, and there would be animals that needed to be brought into KLAWS from the Waterville or Cahersiveen area. It made sense that they travelled with me. So initially I was just a driver.
Whilst working in the vets I was used to seeing waifs and strays dropped in or "found on the road" and at times we were overwhelmed with them, especially the kittens that should be full of fun and joy that were housed in hospital cages for weeks on end waiting for a new home. These would often become " institutionalized " so I eventually gave in and brought them home to foster. At this stage, 14 years later, I must have fostered in the region of 200+ kittens, and a few special needs dogs, such as bottle feeding puppies or post operative recovery for orthopaedic dogs.
Aside from the driving and fostering, I have worked in the KLAWS shop, maintained the animal records, help run the FB page, manned the KLAWS telephone, arranged homechecks, trapped feral cats, been the Secretary, been a trustee, instigated and designed the early KLAWS calendars, ran fundraising stalls at Christmas markets and was generally the KLAWS person in Waterville until 2018 when I stepped back to take a break ( Now I only take the specialist cases. I currently have a kitten that I have been bottle-feeding since 3 hours old).
What have you learned from volunteering? Has it changed you in any way?
Being a volunteer can be quite draining, both physically and emotionally. I know we like to think that we can save all the animals , but sometimes you do have to step back and assess your own welfare. If you are doing too much then you are no use to the animals that need you. You have to know your own limitations and stick to them!
Many fosterers "fail" because they adopt the animal rather than foster. Which means that their "vacant place" is permanently taken , and then there is no room for the emergency that needs a home for a few weeks.
Any standout fosters or foster stories for you?
In my 14 years with KLAWS , there have only been two "regrets" with animals that I know should have stayed with me.
But I realise that by letting them go to new homes that I can help the next one that comes along. You can change the lives of many animals rather than just one.
One of my "regrets" was Albie a white feral cat that was knocked on the road. He was a young adult male cat. His injuries were horrific, his pelvis was smashed to 6 pieces, ( usually when they break it is into two pieces). He had a broken leg, a dislocated jaw and several open wounds.
Henk at the vets did an amazing job with the orthopaedic work, where many vets would have called for euthanasia, he persisted. The problem with Albie is that he was in a small veterinary hospital cage, where he was struggling to use the litter tray, due to his pelvic injuries. Being a white cat meant that he needed a bath most days. In the end I decided to bring him home, because it was easier for me to manage him there.
He went from being a wild feral cat to an absolute dote. He would let me do anything with him. Daily baths and bandage changes were no bother . As he started to regain mobility, it was obvious that there was neurological damage in one foot as well. Tom at the Ark in Killarney was very helpful with this and between us all we had to teach him to walk again. I was using a poker chip taped to his foot to keep his paw flat , and you would hear him "tip tapping "around the house. He stayed with me for 4 months, until he was ready to go to a new home and had no further repercussions with his injuries. His rehoming happened so quickly because everyone had been following his story and there were many offers of homes for him. My home felt very empty after he had gone, and certainly took a piece of my heart with him too.
What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering?
Anyone can become a volunteer...you do not have to have professional training like myself. Everyone has a skill or something to give.
* Fostering an animal for a few weeks/ days.
* Helping with homechecks.
*Manning the telephone.
*Driving an animal to the vets.
*Taking photographs of animals for rehoming.( good photos "sell" an animal)
* Walking a dog that is stuck in kennels or in the vets.
*Baking cakes for a fundraising stall.
* Organising a fundraising event.
* Media skills such as fb
* Corporate help for large scale funding
* Secretarial skills
The animals need people from all walks of life; and any help, large or small, makes a difference to their future.