Working lives at the NAWT
Find out more about what it's like working with us
Eileen Maryniok, Receptionist, Hertfordshire Centre
When we start work at 8am, the first thing our five strong reception team do is clean the reception area. With such a high footfall of both animals and people, hygiene is paramount. Also we are the public face of the charity, so we try to be well presented both over the phone and in person.
We are open to the public for homing enquiries between 11am and 3pm but we are contacted a lot outside of those times too, by email or phone - usually when people have spotted a cat or dog on the website that they’re potentially interested in re-homing.
We have information in the office on each animal, and can tell whether it is currently on a reserve list. If not, we normally conclude the call by inviting them down to visit. If the rehoming is successful, then the final handover from us to the new owner involves lots of paperwork, and it’s the receptionist’s responsibility to go through everything in detail before the animal leaves. It’s a very happy occasion - although it can be a wrench for us sometimes, because we get to know and love some of the animals. During their stay, the shyer dogs will spend several hours with us in reception as part of their training – the exposure to the constant flow of people and other dogs helps build their social skills.
We also take calls from people looking to give their animals up for adoption. We have a waiting list, and the dog and cat supervisors will go through any new enquiry to check whether we can take the animal on. It can be very hard to put on a brave face when someone who is desperately ill comes in to give away their beloved pets, because they can no longer care for them. I know how to read my staff, and as a team we work together to support one another, if one of us is dealing with a particularly distressing situation.
We sometimes have abandoned animals being brought in too. If it’s a dog we have to contact the local warden, who will take them first to see if they are reclaimed. If not, then we will often take them in. During the very cold weather, some teenagers brought in a Yorkshire Terrier who was suffering badly from hypothermia, and after the warden brought her back it was agreed that we would keep her here. Brodie, as we named her, made such a dramatic improvement that she was re-homed very quickly. To see her change from a very nervous and frightened dog to a happy friendly pet is one of the things that makes this job so rewarding. We always joke in reception that none of us have a perfect fingernail, as this is no ordinary receptionist job.Apart from members of public who visit, we also meet and greet our volunteers and ensure they are signed in and out of the site.
We take it in turns to cover lunch, and in between the various animal-related activities, my job also involves administration. The reception manages the gift shop and I also source and buy all the pet food. I support our finance team too, by reconciling takings and so on.
My working day ends at 4.30pm but only very rarely do I leave on time. Generally someone will phone up to talk about an animal, or they might come to the gate needing help. You do have to be quite flexible and be that caring face. I’ve had people comment on our excellent customer service, so I know it pays off.
Jackie Thomas, Vet Nurse, Cornwall Centre
I’m responsible for the cat section at our Cornwall Centre in Hayle, and when I arrive at 7.30am the first thing I do is check them all to make sure none has been taken ill overnight. Then we feed them and clean their cages.
As a veterinary nurse I am the Centre’s nominated First Aider. If my colleagues have any particular health worries, I will go and assess the animal, and then consult with the vet if I think it’s necessary.
When our vet makes their twice-weekly visit, I assist with blood testing for leukaemia and feline AIDS. I’ll also arrange for any inoculations, and ensure the vaccines are ready and medicals cards available for signing. In addition I provide post-surgery assistance, applying dressings and any extra care, and alerting the vet to any problems.
I practised as a veterinary nurse for 20 years before joining the NAWT nine years ago. I have worked in all sorts of veterinary practices, caring for both large and small animals.
When I worked in vets’ practices I dealt with people who looked after and cared for their animals - sometimes to the point of indulgence. I applied to the NAWT because I wanted to see the other side, when animals are not so fortunate.
It’s really interesting work and incredibly rewarding, especially when you have animals coming in that are very difficult at first, but go on to be successfully re-homed thanks to the love and patience of those owners that are willing to take them on.
Every morning all the staff meet to discuss any issues and I’ll bring up any medical matters – this way ensures everyone is kept in the loop.
When I remember what our working environment was like before our Cornwall centre opened five years ago, it’s hard to imagine how we coped: the building leaked and it was very cold in winter. The new facility is very well-equipped, and it’s really getting lots of attention because of ecological features, such as the wind turbine.
At lunch there’s little time to sit down as I have to rush home and walk my own dogs – border-rough collie cross Fleur, 12, and Yogi Bear, a two year-old German Shepherd I homed from the NAWT as a pup. He’d been found stray, and it was love at first sight - German Shepherds have always been my favourite breed. Even so I must admit it was difficult at first. The fact that he’d been a stray meant some of his behaviour was quite challenging, but it’s getting much easier now he’s not a puppy any more.
Some people are asked if they are a dog or a cat person. I’m neither of those. I just love all animals, so in addition to the dogs we have two rescue cats Harry, a 7 year old black domestic, and Millie, a ginger who’s 4. I also spend a lot of time looking after my daughter’s Dartmoor cross thoroughbred horse Orbit who’s 15.
The rest of my working day might involve talking to prospective owners or handling calls from owners with queries about their newly acquired pets, for example. We are always happy to take calls of this nature, because aftercare is absolutely central to what NAWT is all about.
I usually finish at 5pm. First I take the dogs for a walk before going on to the stables to see to Orbit. Caring for the horse in the winter months is a lot harder and that time is approaching again. Help!
After spending the whole day on my feet and providing care of one sort or another, by the time my head hits the pillow I’m out like a light.
Alison Pearce, Centre Manager, NAWT Berkshire Centre
“I start at 8am, as do all the staff here. The first thing we do is unlock the kennels and stables and go on an inspection. If any of the animals are unwell – refusing breakfast can often be one of the first signs - then it’s my job to decide what the next steps may be. Sometimes a phone call might be all that’s needed but in more serious cases it might require a trip to our vet at Newbury. I’m often the one who will take the animal on those visits. If the animals are OK then I will spend the first part of the morning before the phone starts ringing catching up on my admin.
Our opening hours are 11am to 4pm but the phone normally starts ringing by about 9am. By then some of our volunteers may have arrived and as my office door is always open I usually have a quick catch up with everyone.
We always have a staff get together by mid-morning once the cleaning is finished. We’re quite a small team, with just six paid animal care staff so we always sit and have a coffee to discuss the animals and it’s the staff who keep track of some of the bigger projects that need to be done so we will discuss those and organise what the requirements are.
A good example of this is a dog called Meg. When she first came to the centre she used to run to the edge of the pen in fear as soon as another dog went by; so I used my dogs to help her learn to socialise and help her overcome this.
If we’ve got a home lined up for one of the dogs then I might go on a home visit. New owners always worry about home visits but really they are just a chance to talk through the practicalities of having a pet. Like, for example, where to put the dog bed. I think it’s hard for people to visualise what it’s going to be like with the new arrival unless you’re actually in the owner’s home talking it through.
The NAWT Berkshire centre specialises in the care of older animals and those who could not cope at our other centres for medical or other reasons - and so we also deal with a lot of transfers from the other centres. Dogs like six-year-old collie Ben who came to us from Watford having lost a lot of weight due to stress. He has put on two kilos since coming here a week ago and is just finding it more relaxing than his previous residence. Old dogs are really fantastic companions, a lot of the time it’s purely bad luck that they’ve had to be re-homed and sadly a lot of the dogs at the moment are being brought in because people have lost their homes and they can’t take pets into their rented accommodation. Older dogs are great companions because they are very often housetrained, we tend to know their histories and they slot into your own home quite easily.
People say to me “I couldn’t do your job, those poor animals” and yet I think the opposite is true because it’s about new beginnings and finding a good home for these animals.
As well as having cats and dogs we also have several field animals including horses, a donkey called Noel, goats, sheep and two alpacas.
All the staff check in with each other at around 4.30pm to see whether anyone needs any help finishing off before we lock up at 5pm. No two days are the same in my job and that’s one of the reasons that I love it so much. I’ve been working with animals ever since I volunteered at Wood Green Animal Shelter as a teenager so I don’t think I’d do anything else.”