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The life of an Animal Care Assistant key worker during Coronavirus

We recently caught up with Ashley Stevens, who has been working at NAWT since June 2019, to ask her about the impact that Covid-19 has had on her role as an Animal Care Assistant at our Hertfordshire centre.

How has the Coronavirus changed your working life?

"Unfortunately, our centre has struggled. We’ve had to cancel our main fundraisers such as our open days and whilst we are closed to the public, we have no income from our cafe or reception/gift shop areas.

It has meant our animals aren’t used to seeing the public, so we’re doing non uniform days two days a week to help desensitise the dogs on the yard to people walking past in different clothes.

With many people furloughed/working from home, the amount of animals coming in has slowed and we are all bracing ourselves for a big influx of animals should people need to go back to work/find a new job etc.

It’s a scary time for our centre, we’re just trying our best to keep afloat and give all the animals the best care we can during these unprecedented times."

How did the national lockdown starting in March affect the day-to-day routine at the centre?

"We were still taking in animals that desperately needed our help but naturally with more caution, protective personal equipment and cleaning in place.

We were no longer able to welcome any members of the public to the centre, so those animals had to wait a little longer to meet potential rehomers.

We had to implement more vigorous cleaning of areas, so it takes a bit more time throughout the day. We also had to just converse with each other from afar.

It was difficult but as a team, we got through it!"

Did many animals have to spend longer in your care due to lockdown?

"A few, especially those who arrived as emergency cases during lockdown.

However, we were so lucky to have our manager and supervisor make the amazing decision that on the day lock down was announced, any animals in our care that were on reserve to people and had started the visiting process, could go home earlier.

We spent the day lockdown was announced contacting all people with animals on reserve to ask if they would like them on that day. We were so unsure what the future would hold and so wanted our animals to go to their homes, rather than face many additional months at the centre throughout lockdown. That day the staff delivered 22 animals to their new homes, it was such a great heart-warming day!"

How did you feel about the risks you had to take as a key worker?

"The only thing I was worried about was that if they announced lockdown, I wanted to be in work. I spoke to my manager Jackie and told her I’d be willing to sleep at the centre if I had to, as long as I could continue caring for the animals!

Thankfully as a key worker, I was able to stay in my own bed and still look after the animals every day.

We were all nervous when lockdown restrictions started to ease and we found out we would start doing appointments with the public to begin rehoming again. However, we’ve all been sensible and cautious and it seems to be going well.

All our staff are fit and healthy and so the animals are well cared for."

Was it difficult introducing PPE and new Covid-related safety measures at the centre?

"Yes, now it comes as second nature but in the beginning of lockdown, remembering to sit three chairs apart in the staff room and social distance was tricky.

Each staff member is given a designated area to clean throughout the day, and we have to sign off that we’ve done all of our cleaning checklists that our manager has set out for us.

As we weren’t used to this, in the beginning it may have slipped our mind and we’d be 30 minutes late cleaning it, but now with our senior staff radioing reminders five minutes in advance, we’re all pretty much pros at deep cleaning!

We have also started wearing masks when working with all the animals to get them used to it and to show them that masks aren’t so scary."

Now lockdown has eased slightly and you can rehome animals again under strict social distancing rules, what does the ‘new normal’ look like at NAWT?

"The new normal is a yard closed to public access, but pre-booked appointments for people who would like to meet their potential new pets. Both parties have to wear face masks, social distance and wash hands thoroughly at our hand washing stations before and after visits.

We are carrying out all animal visits outside. Luckily, our catteries have outside ‘catios’ where their visits can take place and the small animals have outside runs. Our dogs can meet their new people under our marquees and then go on to spend time together in our field paddocks. We then have to use special wipes to clean all animals after their visits."

Do you have any lasting memories from life at NAWT during lockdown?

"As I mentioned before, the day lockdown was announced for many was a scary time. For me, it was amazing being part of the delivery team and getting 22 animals off to their new homes!

One in particular drop off which made me so emotional was taking Sidney to his home. Sidney had been at our centre for just over 2 years; he was an older dog and did have a bite history. Therefore, we had a few select carers who were trained how to work with him, how to gain his trust and where he was comfortable for you to touch him etc.

Alongside this, he also had medical conditions such as allergies, sensitive skin and a collapsed trachea. These things may have put most people off but just before lockdown, Sidney won over one lady’s heart and I had the privilege of delivering him to his new home!

We still get to see Sidney, he comes to our centre for boarding when his owner has busy days and he’s so loved and happy! It was an honour to take Sidney to his home."

Ashley and the rest of our animal care team have been working hard during the pandemic to keep our furry residents healthy and happy. If you’re in a position to be able to support our animal rescue work, please make a donation towards the care of the pets who will soon become casualties of this new financial crisis created by the Coronavirus pandemic.

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