It was 2015, Coober Pedy. I still remember vividly, what it was like on Winter nights out in that tiny opal mining town in the middle of nowhere.
For those of you not familiar, Coober Pedy is an underground town in the very North of South Australia, with a population of about 1200 people — Mostly remnant immigrant opal miners seeking their fortune from the mid-21st Century, the Indigenous Community and traditional landowners, and the hospitality and retail workers who sought a bit of extra pay, or a way to get their regional community part of their Visa ticked off that didn’t involve fruit-picking.
And there were us, the Emergency Services workers who would go out there to earn a bit of extra cash, gain some career experience, and learn about a whole new world. I lived in Coober Pedy, underground, for 4 years.
Well this whole new world was freezing in Winter. And the evening when it all changed for me was one of those outback specials. You’re rugged up in layers and layers, but still somehow chilled to the bone somewhere — nose maybe, some of us even wore balaclavas at times.
My colleague and best friend had told me about a litter of puppies she’d come across. We hadn’t been sure what to do, but after visiting them on a couple of nights and trying to care for and feed them, because mum wasn’t, it became pretty apparent what needed to be done.
So on that freezing night we went and collected the 2 week old puppies. Their eyes were still closed and they looked like wriggly little guinea pigs. They were covered in poo and ticks… so many ticks that we didn’t even realise how badly until later.
And as they squealed and cried with us moving them into a big plastic container with a towel for nestling, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
The Australian RSPCA received 112,530 animals between 2019 and 2020, and 28,000 of these were dogs. It’s perhaps surprising, and upsetting to read these facts. I myself was aware of these issues. Animal welfare was something I’d been concerned about since I was a child. But something fundamental shifted in me on that cold, desert night.
Animal neglect had been a staple of what we’d seen since being in the community. The nearest RSPCA was Port Augusta, 5.5 hours away, as was the nearest vet. We could make as many reports of neglect as we wanted, but ultimately the resources to do something about it had to come from somewhere. And it turns out, if the outback lacks anything, it’s resources.
So even when I saw the mumma dog for the first time, it hit me in a dull place in my chest that was used to that kind of thing, as heartless as that is. But there were so many gross cases of injury or neglect I saw before that, that I guess I had drawn a shell over myself to for protection.
She was barely moving, unable to care for herself let alone feed or comfort her hungry and cold puppies. Coaxing her to eat was a slow and drawn out process. She was reluctant. Unsure. But eventually, she reached over, moving with tentative steps, and took those first bites. She went on to live another year or so and we checked in on her. I didn’t know what she died of, but I would give her pats whenever I would see her and she seemed happy.
Coober Pedy is sometimes referred to as the “opal capital of the world”, because of the precious opals you can find in the earth there. And we found something precious indeed. This mumma and her puppies, a mix of fluffy colourings all huddled together. In nothing but a cardboard box with a small blanket between them, they were in need of warmth, food and heat — fast. And they weren’t the only ones.
esearch suggests that around 26% of dogs that enter the shelter system are puppies. And have you ever wondered why that statistic is so high? Perhaps because shelters find that only around 18% of dogs they encounter are desexed, especially in more rural areas.
These undesexed dogs are breeding, resulting in high numbers of unwanted litters that are sometimes, like these little furballs and their poor mumma, left to fend for themselves. Rescues are constantly calling for more work to be done to aid owners in these areas to have easier access to desexing.
It is hard to know that these small creatures are not given the start in life we would wish for ourselves, or any young animal. But seeing these small puppies in front of me, left to fend in this cold and unforgiving climate, truly hammered it home to me. Something had to change. I had to change.
There had to be more that we could do.
With the nearest shelter 6 hours away and the nearest RSPCA 10 hours away, it was up to me and my friends to step up and look after these pups. We didn’t want these puppies, or any others we met on our journey into welfare, to become just another statistic.
After placing this litter of 2-week old puppies in a clean warm box, we took turns to play foster mum. Their real mother was treated for malnutrition and we frequently checked in on her to monitor her health. She was so weak that bottle feeding the pups was our only option.
When we bathed these little babes, they were crawling with ticks and fleas. It was horrendous, as I’m sure you can imagine, and must’ve been incredibly painful for them.
But eventually, we got them back into shape, cleaning them up and giving them the comfort and safety to — finally — sleep soundly, for an hour or two at least. We volunteers took turns waking at all hours to feed these hungry mouths, joking that this must be similar to looking after a human baby.
As they slowly began to open their eyes and regain their health, that’s when we saw their true personalities start to shine. In fact, they improved so much that they soon turned into tiny escape artists, wobbling about on their teeny tiny paws.
That’s when we started to name them too. Archibald was always hungry (soon to become Fatty Archibald), Norman the runt was so weak he would fall asleep during feedings, whilst Reginald and Roger enjoyed watching episodes of WAG…
You’ll be glad to know that this story had an incredibly happy ending. Archibald stole my heart and stayed with me, whilst all the other puppies found homes. Norman still loves to be swaddled, like the smallest puppy he was. And Reginald and Roger are living their lives to the fullest too, spoilt absolutely rotten.
We went on to rescue further litters, helping them to find fur-ever homes with caring pet parents. Homes that offered them a second chance at life.
But none of this would have been possible on our own.
There was Jospehine’s Kangaroo Rescue in Coober Pedy, who gave us teats that we could attach to bottles. Despite being made for little joeys, this allowed us to get much-needed nutrition into our little ones.
The kind friends who volunteered to help with feeding duties so we weren’t just doing it on our own.
There was the superhero foster carer, who took a group of 15 puppies like it was nothing. I could barely handle 2…
So many people, giving and contributing and sacrificing, all in the name of caring for these defenceless animals.
It’s easy to hear statistics and feel sad. Or angry. Or demoralised. But then — more often than not — these feelings pass, as they often do when something else demands our attention.
In a busy world and with hectic lifestyles, we have so much we are trying to care about and keep on top of, it’s no wonder we get distracted.
And believe me, I am 100% not judging here. Because it was only discovering that abandoned litter and their emaciated mumma which changed something in me. Irrevocably.
That day, I had a glimpse of what life would be like without these rescues. How that mother would have continued to be unable to feed her puppies.
How they would have remained exposed to the cold night air.
What would have most likely happened to this litter, if my friend hadn’t come across it while working.
It gave me the ultimate appreciation for the incredible work of our Australian shelters and their heroic workers. And it was this day that inspired me to start Paws For Giving.
Paws for Giving was created to give us a simple way to support rescues and shelters and their incredible work. I had a vision of offering animal lovers and rescue workers the opportunity to purchase meaningful, handmade and ethical items, with a portion of profits from each sale then going to the organisations in most need.
Ultimately, the goal is to help send much-needed resources to our amazing rescue partners — those fantastic communities and individualism who are changing the face of these statistics.
In the last 5 years, the total number of dogs received by the RSPCA in Australia has dropped from 45,000 to 28,000, likely thanks in part to the work of local organisations, Facebook groups of volunteers and the people who helped me with my brood. Their work to reach these remote communities, and spread essential education on welfare, can make all the difference.
It’s also thanks to organisations likeSavourLife,Goodwill Wine andPuccii- social enterprises who donate 50% of profits to charities, either all animal rescues, or including animal rescues. These are the organisations I love to call part of the Good Hooman Club — search #GoodHoomanClub on Facebook and Instagram — you’ll see what I mean!
And just like these organisations, 50% of profits fromPaws For Giving goes towards supporting this work. Meaning the simplest acts can make the biggest difference, transforming the lives of some little furballs out there.
As I mentioned before, this particular experience changed me on a fundamental, profound level. It made me realise that there was more I could do. More that I wanted to do.
I would love to hear if you have any rescue stories of your own, or if you’ve been inspired to kickstart your own initiative.
After all, it’s only through combining our efforts, energy and resources that we’ll be able to make a true difference for animals in need across Australia.
It’s up to us. And the time to act is now.
I hope you join me on this journey. I can’t wait to see where it leads us!
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