5 Minutes with SPCA’s Rachel Sumner

The SPCA carry out life changing work in the animal sector daily in centres across the country. They are constantly the go-to place for New Zealand’s animals in need and their upcoming annual appeal needs your support! 

We caught up with Rachel Sumner who works as an Animal Attendant at the SPCA in Napier to hear about the work she does behind the scenes (and also out on the frontline) caring for the local animals. 

Tell us about your role at the SPCA?
Rachel: I am an Animal Attendant in a medium-sized centre which means I do anything and everything relating to the day-to-day, ground floor centre stuff. If you came by to view the cats, I’m that fast-talking blur you will see running from one part of the centre to another. You can find me facilitating adoptions, cleaning cages, processing new animal entrants, answering a thousand phone calls, talking to the vet, coordinating foster families, administering medication, microchipping anything that moves, quietly cursing the computer and/or printer, and muttering something about needing more coffee. 

What does an average day look like for you? 

Rachel: All going to plan (with no abandoned animals left at the front of the building overnight, and no one walking in at 8am with an animal in need), I like to get in a little early because a peaceful coffee makes me a nicer person. We feed out breakfast, giving each animal in the centre a look over before our amazing volunteers get in and start working their magic. We work together flipping every space with an animal in it. 

We open, the phones start ringing and the running starts. We have people bringing us sick and injured animals, coming in to adopt, to ask advice, to bring in donated goods, to seek help and to offer it. We see the absolute best in humanity, and the absolute worst. Once we shut, we catch up on paperwork, do rounds again, settle the animals for the night and ensure the centre is prepped and ready for the following day. The days are always varied, usually very fast-paced, and never what you’d expect. 

What led you into this job – becoming an Animal Attendant? 

Rachel: I really just wanted to impress my kids. They’re even greater animal enthusiasts than I am. My daughters and I fostered kittens for a year before I applied for the job. We raised almost 30 little beans into strong independent kittens. Injustice doesn’t sit well with me, and I am a bit of a control freak so in working for the SPCA I can (in my head, anyway) control injustice towards animals by fighting for them in a capacity which makes a real difference. 

What’s your favourite part of your role, and what can be the most challenging? 
Rachel: ‘Before and afters’ and making good matches are the best! Seeing the transformations some of our animals go through is why we do the job, and watching them head out the door with their best fit forever family is why we ride this crazy rollercoaster every day. Besides the emotional trauma of seeing some pretty horrific stuff on occasion, the most challenging part of the job is probably misinformation and managing some wild expectations from the public. The highs are high but the lows are low. Our community can bring us to tears with their kindness and generosity, but some seem to think it’s ok to be threatening and abusive. 

Is there anything you think people would be surprised to find out about? 
Rachel: What the public sees is only a tiny slice of what we do. Privacy and sometimes legal proceedings mean we can’t share much of the full picture. People can get frustrated if we aren’t speaking up about something that is all over social media, but the law isn’t just a suggestion, and we take our work seriously. We also talk about poop a LOT…

Best advice you’ve ever been given? 
Rachel: My mother always says, “if you can’t change your situation, change your attitude”, and she is right. There is so much we can’t change, at work and in life, and we are limited by budget and resources, so being able to change your attitude and focus on solutions is a handy skill. I don’t always manage, but that’s the general idea. 

From just speaking with Rachel for a few moments about her role, it is evident the hard work that the SPCA team members put in to protect the beautiful animals of this country – their dedication is extraordinary and impressive. Want to help? The SPCA Annual Street Appeal is taking place around the country during the 1st to 7th of March and is the SPCA’s largest fundraiser to generate much needed funds for New Zealand’s sick, abandoned and abused animals. 

Signing up for just two hours makes a lifetime of different for animals in need – they need people now – register on their website (https://www.spca.nz/news-and-events/event/spca-annual-street-appeal). Save your change to donate to collectors during the appeal week or add a donation via one of the Coffee Club stores nationwide. Your support has the opportunity to help this wonderful charity and the in-need animals of NZ!