Here at donegaldaily.com we know what a fantastic job this voluntary organisation does but we wanted to know a little more about the people behind the scenes at ‘Donegal Pet Rescue’. Our reporter Kate Haley gets the chance to have a chat with DPR’s Fundraising Director, Bronwyn Walsh.
Kate: How did you first get involved with this organisation?
Bronwyn: Looking to purchase charity Christmas Cards when first moved to Ireland (from Australia) in 2008, I eventually found Donegal Pet Rescue (DPR). I offered to help DPR out if they ever needed it – I started doing charity bucket collections (my husband Terence & I often dressed up in dog & cat outfits!) in shopping centres to help raise funds.
Kate: What is your job?
Bronwyn: As Fundraising Director, I am responsible for organising, co-ordinating (& doing) fundraising events, as well as school/community group visits, promotion of our work & generally spreading awareness & trying to get people involved. I also set up website & Facebook page & keep it updated with events & general goings-on (other volunteers look after the re-homing/fostering side of things).
Kate: What made you want to volunteer?
Bronwyn: Being new to the area in 2008 I wanted to become a part of the community & love being able to help animals. Even though DPR was established in 2000, I don’t think many people were aware it, so I wanted to help raise the profile of DPR & Animal Welfare in general. I also suffer from Depression & volunteering gives me a really positive mental boost. Dogs have always been a very important part of my life.
Kate: What can people do to help ‘Donegal Pet Rescue’?
Bronwyn: So many things! Help with fundraising, donate, attend events (or organise their own!), fostering, transport, volunteer in our Charity Shop (recently opened in Letterkenny). Most importantly, they can be responsible pet owners – look after their own pets by spaying/neutering to avoid unwanted pups & kittens, keep control of them so they don’t get lost, stolen; give them proper medical care. And if someone is thinking of getting a dog or cat, remember what a huge responsibility it is financially & time-wise – we have so many cases where people have taken in a new pet, only to find 6 months later they don’t have time for them. Always look at adopting a rescue pet – they not only save the life of that one dog/cat, but it means we can take on another, so 2 lives have been saved! One day we’d love to have a central shelter as well (at the moment we use foster homes all around the county) – so if anyone out there has land to give us…?
Kate: What are the upsides to it all?
Bronwyn: Knowing that I’ve helped make a difference, even if only a small one. Being part of a like-minded community (i.e. people that don’t mind if you’ve dog/cat hair on your clothes sometimes!) The sense of self-worth that comes from doing something I feel is worthwhile & as corny as it sounds, helping those that can’t help themselves. Anyone who does any sort of voluntary/charity work will know what I mean!
Kate: What are the downsides?
Bronwyn: Only being able to make a small difference. Never having enough time to achieve what I want to achieve. Finding the balance between work, DPR volunteering & personal life (what spare time??). People not understanding/appreciating that this is voluntary, and that we do what we can, when we can and that unfortunately are not always able to help/answer calls/ respond straight away as we 1) have limited resources 2) have “real” jobs/lives/study as well. Getting angry phone calls or personal confrontations from people telling us that we’re not doing enough/not helping them right now.
Kate: Is it hard to find volunteers?
Bronwyn: Yes. People have the best of intentions, but often don’t follow through or commit as much as we need them to. Volunteers sometimes have the expectation that you can’t expect the same standard/commitment (of work/time/attitude) as if they were being paid, but it is a really frustrating side of organising things. (I once had a bag-pack organised at a supermarket – 15 people had said they were coming – 3 turned up).We’re desperately short of fosterers & people to help out in the Charity Shop on Saturdays especially.
Kate: How many other people are involved and what roles do they play?
Bronwyn: We have 8 Dog Foster Carers, 3 Cat Foster Carers (across the whole of Donegal).We also have a few dedicated people that are constantly organising fundraising on our behalf. One of our long-term supporters (Marian McLaughlin) recently set up & runs the DPR Charity Shop which has been a huge boost for us, both financially & because it gives us a much-needed physical presence. Our Committee is made up of 7 people who cover roles such as Fundraising, Fostering, Helpline, Treasurer, Secretary, Chairman, Public Relations. Everyone in DPR is voluntary & though we each have ‘specific’ roles, when it comes to fundraising everyone gets on board as the majority of our funds come from voluntary donations (It costs us about €70 000 per year to do our work). We do have a core of dedicated supporters that come along to all of our events which is really important to us & very much appreciated.
Kate: What is your goal?
Bronwyn: To make Animal Welfare as high a priority in people’s minds as other worthy causes such as Cancer, Child Welfare, Homelessness, Domestic Violence, Mental Health & Depression. To make people understand & appreciate how rewarding having a pet can be, not just emotionally, but in terms of health, & also in various roles in some of the above Charities.
Kate: What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Bronwyn: “You can only do what you can do.”
Kate: What’s your favourite animal?
Bronwyn: I’d have to say dogs. But I am very fond of cats, and horses, and donkeys. And wombats (growing up in country Australia I had all sorts of beasties as pets– I had a pet goat & a pet possum as well as always having pet dogs). Not so fond of mice due to experiencing first-hand a full-blown mouse plague in the late 1980’s!
Kate: Is it hard letting an animal you’ve brought back to health go?
Bronwyn: I don’t foster for exactly that reason! I’d end up with a zoo! But the animal’s happiness is the Number 1 priority so it’s always great to see them go to new homes (especially when we get updates from their new owners of their progress). It’s really lovely seeing our former animals with their new families at our events like Dog Shows & Dog Walks etc. I really respect the work of our Foster Carers because they do get attached, but know that they have to let them go.
Kate: Do you have any pets of your own?
Bronwyn: 2 dogs – both Rescues of course. ‘Scrap’ came with me from Australia (he was found wandering the streets in Sydney. He’s now 12 years old –we’ve had him for 10 years – I couldn’t leave him behind!); ‘Rosie’ was found in Inch Wildfowl Reserve in Burt – someone had hit her over the head & left her to die in the swamp. We’ve had her for about 3 years now.
Kate: If you won the lotto, what would you do with the money?
Bronwyn: Pay off the mortgage; Buy a big block of land & build an animal shelter; Go back to Australia for a visit (not been back since moving here); Get a housecleaner (!). Not necessarily in that order!
Kate: What else do you do aside from this?
Bronwyn: I work full-time at Glenveagh National Park in Visitor Services (as a Castle Guide & in the Visitor Centre). I also work the occasional shift at Kelly’s Restaurant Mountain Top.
Kate: If you could have one wish what would it be?
Bronwyn: That people would treat animals with the respect, care & admiration they deserve. That people wouldn’t have the attitude “…it’s only a dog/cat/horse/donkey…” (I know that’s 2 wishes…)
Kate: Where do you see ‘Donegal Pet Rescue’ in 20 years time?
Bronwyn: It’s been established for 12 years now, but I think we’re only just recently starting to build a real awareness of DPR & animal awareness in general here. I’d hope that in 20 years time we would be in a position to have a fully-functioning re-homing centre, and the same sort of public profile/awareness as places such as The Dogs Trust for example. (Though wouldn’t it be nice if there wasn’t a need for these places at all?)