23 June 2022
DIWP Role Models: Susie
Back in February, as I am sure many of you did, I looked on in horror as the Ukraine was invaded. It was heart-warming to see that many of the people fleeing were taking their pets with them but this was not the case for so many animals who were left behind to fend for themselves. Even those being taken with their owners were going to face hardship and hunger as their owners would inevitably struggle to find supplies to keep their pets fed and safe.
As many of us did, I looked around my house and donated items I no longer needed to those fleeing the war and took them to local collection points. Unfortunately, there was nowhere local to myself where animal aid could be donated apart from to those traveling over in their own vehicles to volunteer. There certainly wasn’t anywhere filling lorries with animal aid.
After seeing a post from Network for Animals with a small concise list of items desperately needed which included foldable crates, carriers, pet blankets, food, bowls, harnesses and leads, cat litter and puppy pads I looked around my house and instantly realised I had many items I could donate. Chatting with others I discovered I was not the only one and after failing to find somewhere taking items locally I set about finding a lorry company who would deliver items to Foundation ADA in Fredropol, Poland who are a partner charity of Network for Animals. They are working hard to rescue abandoned animals and support owners fleeing with their pets or struggling to obtain food for them. They provide veterinary care and have set up pop up shelters including a cat shelter in a disused restaurant. They have now managed to establish a 24-hour traumatised animal centre.
I volunteer for Shropshire Cat Rescue and chatting with other volunteers I discovered I was not alone in my desire to help the animals of Ukraine as well as the humans. They were keen to get stuck in, so we created the Paws for Ukraine appeal and set about the mammoth task to collect and pack donated items to fill a 42-tonne lorry. This was also a massive learning curve for us all as we had no experience with logistics, customs, packing boxes and loading pallets.
Thanks to an anonymous donor and to Dale Brothers who gave us a brilliant deal to supply us with a lorry and driver we were able to accomplish what initially seemed impossible in just over 4 weeks. To make this even more special it turned out that our driver Chris had adopted a kitten from Shropshire Cat Rescue 3 years earlier and was very excited to be the one chosen to drive the lorry load of precious animal aid to Poland. He and his co-pilot Greg made it in record time, leaving in the early hours of Easter Monday morning and arriving at Foundation ADA on Wednesday afternoon.
People have been so generous, and we were stunned and touched by the heart-warming stories coming through from collection points. Many donations were being made in memory of family members and much missed beloved pets. Children were using their pocket money to purchase food to send and other local animal charities donated surplus items they had because they felt it right that the animals of Ukraine should benefit from them.
As the donations came in, we had help to pack from not only human volunteers but also two of my cats, Freddie and Gizzmo, who inspected all the Amazon wish list donations that came to my home. Up at the Shropshire Cat Rescue shelter, where most of our packing was done, some of the free-ranger cats joined in by adding extra weight to boxes by jumping onto them whilst they were being weighed. They took very seriously the duty of testing out the quality of beds and bedding and when they thought no one was looking made off with the odd cat nip toy. They guarded the packed boxes as well as going to sleep in some of the empty ones. Bertie managed to stow away in a vehicle which had been to the shelter to donate items. Fortunately, they instantly recognised him and quickly returned him to the shelter.
I am passionate about being a Veterinary Nurse. I came to this path later than most VNs when I was in my thirties. Volunteering for Shropshire Cat Rescue opened the door for me and in April 2018 I received the wonderful news that I had passed my OSCEs. Due to being a late starter and having a huge passion for cats, whilst studying to become a Veterinary Nurse I was part of the first cohort for the ISFM Advanced Certificate in Feline Behaviour. Inspired by the achievements of qualifying as a veterinary nurse and passing the ISFM course with distinction, I then started the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing.
I love all aspects of nursing and I wanted to be the best nurse I possibly could. Unfortunately, in June 2019 I had a huge set back and poor health meant I couldn’t work for over a year and I needed to take a break from studying, I have Functional Neurological Disorder which had affected my walking from 2018 but it escalated so that I suddenly had balance and dizziness issues. Brain fog crept in so everything went on hold. I slowly readjusted to how my body now worked and got used to the lack of energy and increasing issues with walking and for longer distances moved from using a stick to a walker.
In November 2020 I found an amazing practice (Carmel Vets, Pennfields, Wolverhampton) that saw my potential and took a chance on me after seeing how passionate and positive I was about being a veterinary nurse. They have been amazingly supportive and even though back in December my mobility decreased further I still felt I was a valuable member of the team.
So, what does this have to do with Paws for Ukraine I hear you ask? At the end of February as the lives of those in Ukraine changed so did mine, but for the better for me. I had been accepted onto a physio trial and I spent a week on an intense physio course which helped reconnect my brain to the automatic functions such as walking. As my physio put it “I had to remind my brain to select the appropriate cassette,”. (Yes, I am old enough to remember cassette tapes) “rather than the one created by my body in emergency mode to cope with my dizziness”. As I built myself up following this my brain fog dispersed and my mobility improved. All who know me say that the first “Paws for Ukraine” lorry also helped me massively. You would never realise now that back in December walking unaided for more than 2 minutes was virtually impossible for me and took all my energy.
The first lorry arrived on 20 April and the team at Foundation ADA were amazed and extremely grateful for the lorry load of aid which they instantly started to dispatch to help the animals of Ukraine. Chris and Greg stayed over in the lorry on site in Fredropol and said the team were amazing and so positive. They were constantly filling up their animal ambulances with supplies to then drive them over the border into Ukraine. In the following week some of our donations were loaded onto a train destined for Odessa. After that the team managed to get donations into a town previously blocked off so that pet food could be handed out to a huge queue of people desperately in need of this for their cats, dogs, and small animals.
The final part of the donations went to Kyiv so now their stores are running low again. Due to the amazing response we received to our first appeal and many people asking if we were going to send another lorry and the need for animal aid still being massive, I set about finding another lorry company to help us. Unfortunately, as Dale Brothers are a refrigerated lorry company they are now at their busiest so currently don’t have the capacity to help with a second lorry. However, we have now found another lorry company who have confirmed they can help us so collections to pay for the lorry and to fill it are continuing and it is hoped we will be able to send this over to Federation ADA in the first half of July.
Through sheer determination and my passion for animals I have managed to help others to help animals in desperate need. I wanted to share my story to inspire other veterinary nurses that although you may know nothing about something you wish to accomplish you can always learn. Making a difference to just one animal means the world to them. Never underestimate the skills you have as a veterinary nurse and as one door closes look for the crack in the next one and go for it.
If you want to support or help by becoming a collection point then please get in touch with me via email@example.com, check out the recent blogs about Paws For Ukraine on www.shropshirecatrescue.org.uk. These contain collection point locations along with the Just Giving page and Amazon wish list.