Running a Wildlife Rescue Unit.....
.....it’s all cuddly & fun, or is it?
We often get asked about running the rescue unit, and people are often shocked to hear that it isn’t quite as they might think. There are many presumptions made; it’s a nice hobby to have, you get paid to do it, we don’t have other jobs, we get lots of funding from organisations and government, we can cuddle the animals in our care.
So I thought maybe I should give a small taster of what the reality of running a small rescue unit is like, and here it is.
Let’s do the clichés.
Let’s first get some simple clichés out of the way, yes it is; a wonderful thing to do, rewarding, uplifting, a way of life, something we now couldn’t imagine not doing. Yet on the other hand it is; stressful, depressing at times, tiring and many other things.
OK now to burst the balloon on some basic misconceptions.
No we don’t get paid to do it, all of our time given (which is considerable, basically all the time when not at our day jobs or sleeping) is given free.
No we can’t have a holiday, we have many patients all year round and we can’t close the doors for a few days or even one.
No we don’t receive government funding; we have to fund raise every single last penny ourselves.
No we aren’t rich; in fact we are the opposite. The heating in the house is very rarely on, we put jumpers on, the hospital area is always heated, poorly hedgehogs can't wear jumpers .
No it isn’t a hobby. Dealing with injured, sick and orphaned animals has to be carried out professionally and once you have made that commitment it is a total commitment, day in and day out.
An Average Day.
So what is an average day? Well in truth there is no such thing but there are some things that have to be done every day with a multitude of other possibilities added on top. But let’s try to imagine an ‘average day’ for us.
Firstly the rescue unit is owned and ran by myself (Charlie) and Jayne my better half. We both have regular day jobs, mine working as a Ranger is a little less regular in that I often work weekends, early starts and late finishes, but to all intents and purposes we both as does everyone have to go to work.
The rescue unit is there 24 hours a day though, so one of us will have the hedgehog phone with us and will return any calls when we can on breaks during the day. The day for us will start typically at around 5.00am and will finish around midnight.
In the morning the hedgehogs in our care will be checked before we head off to work to make sure that they have sufficient food and water for the day. Any that are very messy will be cleaned out and those needing twice daily medication will receive treatment.
Any critical hedgehogs that need intensive care will be thoroughly checked over and often fluids and some supportive feeding will be given. When we have hoglets in (which covers pretty much from the end April to September) they will be given their first feeds and toileting of the day.
Off to work….. (Oh, when we have hoglets in which is a lot of the year, these get dropped off to our hoglet nannies house so they can have their two hourly feed throughout the day). Lets fast forward eight to twelve hours...
Evening time, a relaxing time of the day.
First job is to check the hedgehog email account and follow up on any calls we have taken during the day.
(Of course we have already picked up the hoglets and settled them back in, the two hourly feeding is now up to us until midnight when they have a break until 5am. Weekends and work days off they stay here so lots of hand feeding and toileting).
The hedgehogs from any calls during the day will now start to come in for admission. We will go to our vets to collect any critical cases that have been taken there on our instruction and we will go out to calls where people are not able to bring the hedgehog to us.
We always ask that people where possible bring the animals into us, not because we are lazy but because we have a lot to do in just a few hours a day and also because it helps us keep fuel costs down.
Maybe now we grab a bite to eat, but don’t think we can have a rest and let that food settle!
It's now evening rounds time. We take up to around sixty hedgehogs (sometimes more with hoglets) in the hospital area. Often we have more patients with us but some will be out with any of our twenty or so foster carers who help finish off the feeding up process after they are off treatment before release back into the wild.
The Evening Rounds.
Sounds quite posh doesn’t it?
Well in reality it consists of: Cleaning out and disinfecting of all the pens one at a time, weighing the hedgehogs and recording their progress, preparing and providing food and water, cleaning the hospital area and administering treatment be it medications, cleaning wounds, examination and medical chart completion or checking samples under the microscope.
This in the winter months takes around two hours a night, the majority and rest of the year up to four hours a night. Of course during this time one of us will probably be responding to new calls and admissions (it isn’t unusual for up to four new cases to come in on a night). This inevitably extends the time spent in the hospital area as all new patients have to be thoroughly examined, injuries cleaned, treated and admission paperwork and charts created.
So, finally all done we head back into the house and now tend to be back to the hedgehog paperwork, checking the emails again, updating records, possibly researching information on new cases, ordering food and supplies, spending time preparing for talks and events. Maybe there is a midnight call to St Tiggywinkles to ask for a second oppinion on a case. Often at midnight Jayne will be sat in the middle of a pile of items putting tickets on for tombola’s for an event. The hedgehog phone is also of course still on and it isn’t unusual for hedgehog call to come in at 1am, so maybe bed doesn't becon until 2am and of course the alarm is set for 5am.
The Weekend at last!?
So simply replace the day job with being at an event, often in a freezing cold, rain sodden field hanging onto the gazebo for dear life.
The events are important for us to be able to talk to people about wildlife, the natural world and the plight of the hedgehog in particular but also for us to be able to bring in much needed funds. Sometimes we can be a whole weekend at an event and raise £30, other times a couple of hundred pound, but good day or bad we have to take both the same because without these funds we would be closed in a very short time. Of course even though we are at an event that doesn’t stop new cases arriving and worst case scenario we have even had a new patient brought to us at an event.
Still you get to work with cute hedgehogs!
Yes we do and yes they are cute, but imagine this. Imagine a hedgehog coming in with both its back legs bitten off, a hedgehog with its skin and spines removed by a strimmer, a hedgehog with maggots oozing out of a wound. Or maybe, a hedgehog with pnemonia struggling to breath, a hedgehog screaming with fluke, a hedgehog hyperthermic from falling in a pond unresponsive and close to death. Imagine dozens of thumb sized hoglets whose mum has been killed and now have to be hand reared, fed and toileted every two hours from 6am to midnight, or an autumn juvenile close to death from starvation collapsed on the examination table. No it's not cuddly and cute. There are aww moments but there are many more moments that are so very much not heart warming. And of course you can't walk away or leave it for later, even if your stomach is turning from the smell of a maggot infested wound, you take stock, you put your emotions aside and you do what you have to do for that animal in your care.
How about you go out to a rescue where they can't possibly bring the animal in to you to arrive to find four expensive cars on the drive (as you pull up in your twelve year old car), everyone sat comfortably watching telly and the reality that that hedgehog has been seen lying on its side in the garden for three days and now near death. Believe me self restraint and holding ones words is often a required skill. That said there are many more people who go out their way to bring hedgehogs in and support us in many ways afterwards, and our heartfelt thanks is given to those who care.
Some other simple little things often not thought about. We don’t have a dining room, it is stuffed with tombola items for events, and display boards and a gazebo and a host of other hedgehog related things. We don’t have a hall, well we do but you have to side step your way past lots of 10kg sacks of food and stacks of dog food can packs oh and a hedgehog paperwork filing cabinet. We often don’t seem to have a living room either especially during event season as you have to pick your way through items being sorted out for that weekend.
So what do we do in the odd spare minute or two, well how about some hedgehog blanket washing, or washing up dozens of dirty hedgehog food bowls, or possibly rocking backwards and forwards in the corner of the room.
Back into the Wild
Of course there is a good reason for spending all of the time we do rehabilitating these animals. The fact that many (sadly not all) make it through the rescue, treatment and rehabilitation process and we finally get to that day when we can return them to the wild. The sheer joy of watching an animal that has been injured or ill return to the wild healthy and ready for a second start is worth all the stress. Watching a hoglet hand fed from only a couple of days old with us as its replacement mum walk away into this whole new world it now has a chance to explore is an emotional thing. It is wonderful and worrisome all at the same time. Wonderful to see it go off into the natural world and worrisome for the same reason as you hope that it won't be one of those that as an adult finds itself back in our care because of injury or illness through the many man made issues in the countryside and urban landscape.
You may think that once you have seen one hedgehog that you have seen them all. Not true, you shouldn't really impose human traits on them (but then again what is a human... a mammal), but each and every hedgehog has some trait or attribute that sticks in your mind. So to us they are all individual and precious.
Tidying up the loose ends.
So there we have it, a glimpse of the life and times of a small rescue unit.
The next time you see some poor bedraggled soul looking like they haven’t seen sleep or a good square meal in months and who seem to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, take pity it might just be someone like us who has a ‘bit of a hobby’ running a rescue unit.
Finally,believe me we might often be very tired, concerned for patients in our care, worried about where the funds are coming from next but we have chosen to do this and we couldn’t imagine not doing it. The pleasure of seeing an orphaned hoglet grow into an adult to be released, an injured adult recover or a sick hedgehog make it through to live it’s life in the wild is precious and life changing. Not that I am sure that we remember what a life is, but there it is.
FInally, finally (I always seem to do two!), I have to say thank you to the wonderful people we have already met and will meet along the way. People that support us in so many ways, our hoglet nanny, our foster carers, our supporters with donations, our followers on the internet and to those that make changes to their gardens and habits to help wildlife. I also have to thank the lovely people who come and talk to us at events and shows, the people and groups who invite us to spend some time with them to listen to a talk and to the hundreds of children in schools I visit to talk about the natural world and hedgehogs.
We are often reffered to as 'the hedgehog lady' and 'the hedgehog man', well to me that is a compliment. Of course we are only two of hundreds of people who rescue wildlife and hedgehogs and our thanks and thoughts go out to these people as well. So the story above is ours but it is just as applicable in varying degrees, (some smaller scale some very much larger) to all those involved in wildlife rescue as well.