What it is like to be a Volunteer for the Herts East Branch (Home Visitor)
Are you interested in volunteering? Nicky is one of our Home Visitors who would like to tell you what it is like and what she does.
A bit about me... I have always kept animals and currently own two rescue terriers; a 14 year old Patterdale Terrier (who previously had 3 homes) and a Yorkie-Jack Russell (a little dog in big dog’s clothing and who was destined to be put to sleep for behavioural issues!). I also rehome cockatiels, canaries, budgies, doves, rabbits and guinea pigs. I have a BTech Level 3 National Award in Animal Management and I’m always happy to give advice about keeping rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, dogs and cats (although Paula is definitely the cat expert!).
In 2012 I was made redundant and had a lot of spare time on my hands. While looking for another job I decided to do some voluntary work and having always loved animals (especially rescues) I decided to apply as a volunteer for the RSPCA Herts East branch as a Home Visitor. After completing the application form and providing two references, I was accepted. I did my initial training with Paula (the Branch's Volunteer Homing Co-Ordinator) and sat in on several home visits before I was let loose! Then I was on my own! Scary!
In my view, to be a Home Visitor you definitely need good communication skills and you also need to be a people person as well as having a love for animals. You need to be polite and friendly – remember you are going into people’s homes after all! Organisational skills are also good to have as you will be organising your visits. You need to be diplomatic and be able to show compassion as well as being able to ask the right questions in a way that will get you the answers you need! It is also important to take people as you find them – their home may not be as clean and tidy as you would like it to be but that does not necessarily mean that they are not going to look after their pets. You don’t need to be a pet owner to be a home visitor but it does help to have some knowledge of keeping domestic animals such as cats, dogs and rabbits.
As a Home Visitor, I meet many different people – old and young, friendly and warm, eccentric, difficult, know-it-all types and people with little knowledge of keeping animals and who are willing and pleased to listen to my advice. I can usually get a feel for those who are genuine animal lovers and will take good care of their pets.
I visited one lady who was a hoarder and I initially thought “hmmm, not sure about this one...” but after talking with her for some time I got the feeling that she was a very caring person and needed some company. I passed her for the adoption of two cats and she was overjoyed!
Another lady I visited admitted to me that she could not really afford to keep another cat (she already had a dog, cat and rabbit). We both agreed that it was not the right time for her to adopt.
I have visited people who initially have appeared very difficult and unfriendly but I have managed to get them to chat and be more approachable by the end of my visit!
I sometimes get asked to do dog visits for other branches which I am always pleased to do. A pre-visit for a dog requires a thorough inspection of the potential owner’s garden to look for possible escape routes! I have pointed out to people that a terrier is very capable of getting through the tiniest gap in a fence or even scaling a fence whereas a larger dog is quite capable of just hopping over a fence if it is not high enough! However friendly the dog is, it needs to be prevented from escaping from the garden and either getting run over or lost and if someone feels frightened by a loose dog they can report it to the local authority, even if it has caused them no harm! I always mention front gardens too – it’s all well and good having a secure back garden but not so good if the dog gets out of the front door and into an unsecure front garden! Then there is the question of how long the dog will be left and if the potential owner works during the day will someone be able to call in to let the dog out or take it for a walk? If I feel that the dog will be left for too long it is unlikely that I will pass the adoption. I’m happy to give advice on dog training and can recommend a good training school!
Follow up visits are usually very rewarding. It’s lovely to see the adopted pet it its new home, settled and happy. But follow up visits are also the time see if new owners need any advice and support. If there is anything I am not sure about, I will always ask Paula.
Paperwork is important too - it’s no good doing the pre-visit or post-visit and then not completing and submitting the paperwork to the office!
All in all, being a Home Visitor with the RSPCA is a very rewarding thing to do. It’s great to be able to find an animal a new loving home and also to help people to get the right pet for their circumstances. Often a cat or dog is the only company an older person might have and to see how they have bonded with that animal is very rewarding.