Please tell us a little bit about yourself
Rowan Mc Donagh, from Dublin but I have been living in west Clare for the last 3 years. I work in music festival production.
How do you volunteer with KLAWS (what do you do) and how long have you been volunteering for KLAWS?
I have grown up with dogs but hadn’t owned one since my teens, when I moved to co Clare I was keen to rescue a dog. I rescued my first dog MAC, then a year later I found KLAWS through Facebook where I saw that a dog called Sailor was looking for a forever home. He had been rehomed a few times without success as he was quite afraid and tended to run away. I adopted him and after a few months’ work he came out of his shell to be an amazing dog. It was my first experience dealing with a dog with any kind of trauma. He used to wet himself a lot and was generally just scared. A year or more on and he is the most loving goofy mutt and he and Mac are solid brothers. This peaked my interest in becoming a foster home. And KLAWS have a second sight about stuff like that so soon enough I was onto my first foster dog!
Why did you become a volunteer?
I’d like to say it’s cos I’m a great human! But it’s because bringing a scared, abused or generally upset and lost dog into your home, and been privileged enough and trusted by KLAWS to help learn what the dogs needs are. What’s it’s fears and quirks are. It takes about 2/3 weeks at least for a dog to even start to think it’s safe again. Then another few weeks to gain its trust and that’s when you see it’s personality come out. It’s a joy to be a part off. That first night or two after they know they are safe and you watch them settle down to a deep sleep and not jumping with fright or having nightmares. And the joy slowly creep back in as the days go by. All the way up to when they are nearly ready for rehoming and they are out playing with the other dogs. They have claimed their sleeping spot and are feeling part of a family, loved and they are able to trust again. That’s the best part. Obviously you develop a huge bond even over a few weeks. That bond lasts well past after they leave for their forever homes. But it’s a feeling like no other when you get good reports back and pictures of a dog who knows he’s home and safe. It’s a special feeling.
I tend to keep the collars they arrive with And send them off with a new one. Just a reminder of the intense amazing small part they played in my life and hopefully I in theirs.
What have you learned from volunteering? Has it changed you in any way?
Yes, For sure. There’s good and bad in this answer. First the good change is that I’ve learnt that with enough love, patience and time that any dog, no matter how badly abused or “aggressive” it may be upon rescue they always turn out to be the sweetest most caring animals. It has sparked my interest to read as much as I can about dog psychology and see it play out for the better in any fosters I’ve had. The bad is you lose a little faith in people when you see how badly abused some of the dogs are. It can make you very angry when you’re trying to figure out what caused a tiny animal to be treated so badly. I’ve had to hand back a foster to another female foster as he was simply so scared of men that staying with me was not helping him at all. He’s doing great now but it’s a horrible feeling when you see a poor tiny dog with such trauma from what can only have been a life of terror until then.
But again, most that I have seen eventually come round. KLAWS are super supportive and there is a huge wealth of knowledge and experience for all the fosterers to lean back on. We have a WhatsApp group that we can ask and seek help or advice that’s full of very experienced fosters and there is always huge support there. That’s been vital to me as I’ve learnt along the way. One can tend to blame yourself for some dogs not doing well but it’s just a trick or a piece of advice from another KLAWS foster parent that can unlock a dog.
So yes, it’s changed me for the better, I really believe im a happier and more caring and patient person in general from having the trust and opportunity to foster with KLAWS.
Is there anything about volunteering you didn't expect?
ha!! Lots, the intensity at times, worrying about them, some late nights when they are ill or first arriving. But also the amount you joy and pride you gain and have in the dogs as they find themselves again. They are such brave loving animals when given the time and patience. And at times it’s all about patience as another remote gets chewed or you’re on your tenth poo of the day in the kitchen. But it's all worth it!
What would you describe as a high point and a low point of your time volunteering?
I don’t have a particular high point as all the dogs are so individual and need different care and work and time. So it’s lots of little wins. I mean when they head off to a forever home and do I get an update a week or two later saying how well they are doing and how happy they are that’s the reward right there. On the WhatsApp group we all are rooting for every animal so we all get to share the highs and lows and support one another.
The lowest point for me was having to put a foster to sleep. Prince, it was about 2/3mo the ago maybe. Prince was a very old dog who had had a hard old life, he was very friendly and loving and settled in after a good while but then slowly fell ill and in the end after a week of late nights and vet visits it was decided that he was in too much pain, his heart was giving in and had fluid on his lungs. I had brought him to the vets to get a check-up and the vet advised there and then for his sake it was time to let him pass over. I wasn’t prepared for that at all. And was able to hold him as he slipped away painlessly. But he walked straight into my arms and settled right down and gave a final wag of his tail as he went to sleep. It crushed me. But it was the right thing to do. It really brought home how close a bond you form over those short weeks or months they are with you.
Any standout fosters or foster stories for you?
Honestly not really, every dog is so different and has their own set of needs, issues and personality. So every foster is different for different reasons. I’m just so grateful for KLAWS trusting me to take them in and so honoured to be a part of their journeys from feeling unwanted or scared to getting themselves back and been happy and also bringing happiness to some family.
8. What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering?
It’s super rewarding and fulfilling. It is a commitment to foster. But there are a lot of different ways to volunteer that are just as vital as fostering, e.g. fundraising, donating, supporting the shop in Kenmare, and to me it’s so so important that the social media is shared. That’s how we get the dogs to the right homes. I’m amazed at how dedicated all the KLAWS folk are in doing right by the animals first and foremost. An amazing bunch of people. I’m so glad I get to do it.