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Behind the scenes at Melbourne’s oldest animal shelter

March 2, 2020

Melbourne’s Lost Dog Home cared for more than 17,000 of the city’s strays last year alone. Now, the shelter’s hardworking staff have opened up about what keeps them motivated in a highly emotional, and often heartbreaking industry.

Thousands of lost cats and dogs pass through their care every year, now staff at the Lost Dogs Home have opened up about what keeps them going.

Leader went behind the scenes to play with pooches and take a glimpse at the inner workings of a pillar of Melbourne’s animal rescue scene.

Run by dedicated staff and volunteers, the Lost Dogs Home was founded in 1910 to provide a temporary home for the area’s stray pooches.

Since moving to its North Melbourne site in 1913, the group has cared for and rehomed tens of thousands of Victoria’s abandoned dogs.

Today, the home offers foster care and adoption programs, veterinary services and behaviour training for both dogs and cats.

The organisation’s growth has made way for a growing satellite shelter in Cranbourne to care for animals in Melbourne’s booming southeast suburbs.

While the organisation has copped its fair share of past criticism over its euthanasia rates and rotating board of directors, staff told Leader animal welfare was at the heart of everything they did.

Adoption pathways team leader Gemma O’Connor was already a qualified vet nurse when she felt the pull to get more involve in animal welfare.

“I went to a pet shop in Cambodia and they had a birdcage hanging from the roof with six neonatal puppies for sale with their eyes still closed,” she said.

“It was really hard for me to process.”.

Ms O’Connor said that was the moment she realised the privileged position Australia had in being able to facilitate animal welfare.

She started in the cattery and started fostering neonatal kittens.

Now, she and colleague Eliza Ham help find homes for animals who might not be able to be adopted in a traditional way, due to injury, anxiety or trauma.

The bulk of staff and volunteers rescue and foster animals of their own.

“If they don’t have a ferret, dog, or cat they’ve rescued they’re probably fostering,” Ms O’Connor said.

 “If not, they’re doing both. It speaks volumes about why we’re all here.”

Alternative pathways could include surgery, specific foster carers or tailored behaviour programs while a unique Office Foster program sets up workers with four-legged desk mates during work hours.

Teams work together with more than 400 foster families to make sure animals have a smooth transition to their new homes.

Animal behaviour team lead Jade Curry described behaviour management as “intrinsic” to work across the entire shelter.

 “Our training is heavily focused on force-free, positive reinforcement training,” she said.

“The most common we work with are dogs suffering from some kind of anxiety.”

The team explores underlying reasons for anxiety and addresses behaviour problems on a needs basis.

Ms Curry said post-adoption support was an important part of the work her team did.

“When dogs do get returned, it’s probably a mismatch of people’s expectations of what the dog is really like,” she said.

“We really try to work with the dog and its new owners to alter those expectations. Sometimes a dog isn’t going to be able to go to the dog park two hours after it gets home. It’s going to take a period of settling in.”

Lost Dogs Home shelter supervisor Amanda Smith said compassion fatigue was a very real side effect of working in an animal shelter.

“Compassion fatigue is a big one to be aware of when you’re working in animal welfare, especially when you’re working in a shelter,” she said.

“But we have a very supportive team, and we look after each other like a family.”

Source: Leader/Herald Sun Online