Getting hold of a rescue isn’t always easy and we understand that’s frustrating and stressful when you have a wild animal in need of help. You may be tempted to get angry – why aren’t they answering the phone? Why aren’t they calling me back? Why can’t they help?
The TV perhaps has given the impression that wildlife rescues are all run from big shiny centres with plenty of paid staff and a fleet of liveried vans. In reality, the vast majority of wildlife rescues are run by normal people, usually from their home or a shed in their back garden. The folks caring for the animals are almost always volunteers giving up their free time or, in the biggest rescues, perhaps they're lucky enough to be paid minimum wage and work well beyond their contracted hours to make sure the animals get the care they need.
Over the busy Spring and Summer period their day likely starts about 6am and finishes around 10pm and includes
Feeding baby garden birds as often as every 15 minutes. Often so many of them that by the time you’ve fed them all it’s time to start again.
Feeding baby mammals every couple of hours including through the night.
Cleaning every single cage out at least once a day, often more. Animals are messy!
Fully assessing every new admission for what care they need.
Taking sick and injured animals to the vet. Often to a pre-arranged appointment where they have to wait their turn just like you and your cat.
Administering medications, fluids, syringe feeds, cleaning wounds, pulling maggots out of orifices, splinting broken bones.
Taking upwards of 50 calls a day and trying to triage the ones which actually represent an animal in need of help, which ones need to be admitted, and which need to go direct to a vet for emergency medical care.
Making heart-breaking life and death decisions 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, no break, no summer holiday, just relentless blood, suffering, and pain.
And somehow finding time to answer emails, update patient records, keep up with the admin required by law, educate and advocate on social media, and find ways to raise money to make all this possible.
We wrote a post on our social media to try and give some insight. This isn't hyperbole, this is genuinely a typical day for most small rescues.
So when they don’t answer the phone, it’s because they’re busy doing all of the things listed above. Very few rescues have reception staff so it's usually the same person who is looking after the animals trying to take calls. It's simply not possible to answer every call they receive as well as take proper care of their animals.
Perhaps you left a message and waited for a rescue to call you back but they never did. Surely that's the least they can do? Well, again, returning all those messages takes time, time they often just don't have. And if they're full, they'd be returning messages just to say no. In recent years we’ve seen a distressing increase in rescuers being abused. When they say they can’t help they get emotionally blackmailed, shouted at, sworn at, told they don't care and they're useless. During a period when they are overwhelmed and struggling to keep up, of course they're going to prioritise caring for the animals they already have rather than subject themselves to the risk of abuse when they have to say no.
And they really do have to say no sometimes. Chances are you've seen media reports of rescues which have been raided by the RSPCA who found animals in awful conditions leading to animals being seized and the rescuer being prosecuted. That's what happens when rescues don't say no. It's not that they don't care or can't be bothered, but they have limited time, space and funds and they have to stop somewhere. Every animal they can't help haunts them but they can only do so much without standards of care becoming unacceptable. Their primary responsibility is to the animals in their care already.
So please, keep this in mind before you criticise wildlife rescues. While you're trying to help one animal, they are helping dozens, even hundreds at once. When you found a wild animal in need it was possibly the first time you'd given much thought to the plight of wildlife in the UK but they have been struggling for years to redress the balance as best they can. Before you criticise them for 'not doing enough' ask yourself honestly what you've done until now. How much have you donated to wildlife rescue to ensure they have the funds they need for vet bills? How much of your time have you given to help clean cages or transport animals to rescue? Now you've had a glimpse of the reality of wildlife rescue what are you going to do to help? Because caring for our wildlife is ALL of our responsibilities and rescuers can't do it without support. Rather than getting angry, do something to help ensure they’re able to help the next person in your position.
Often when we suggest that to people we hear ‘Oh no, I’m far too busy, I work full time’ or ‘I can’t volunteer, I have children!’. Rescuers are not a special breed of human who don’t have to work to live and don’t have families. Many work full time, have kids, have caring responsibilities or health issues. But they make time because they care so passionately. Many rescues close each year through exhaustion, lack of funds, compassion fatigue, or just being worn down by constant abuse and criticism on top of the trauma of seeing relentless death, cruelty and suffering every day. You can either help them stay afloat or you can add to their burden. Please choose wisely.
Some examples of posts wildlife rescues have felt forced to make in response to the unreasonable pressure people have been placing on them and the abuse they have received