huha nz volunteer clare barrett raising funds at a market

Interview with HUHA NZ Volunteer Clare Barrett


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Anyone who knows PD Insurance knows that we’re big animal lovers. That’s why we’re pretty passionate about our animal shelter partner HUHA. We wanted to find out what it’s like to be a HUHA NZ volunteer, working for New Zealand’s leading no-kill shelter.

We sat down to chat to Clare Barrett to get a glimpse into an average day in animal rescue. After all, they’re everyday superheroes!

So, meet Clare.

How did you get involved with HUHA NZ as a volunteer?

Clare: Back in 2013, when my working arrangements became more flexible, I decided it was a good opportunity to fit in some volunteer work. I remembered a friend telling me about HUHA – which stands for Helping You Help Animals.

So after I’d looked at a couple of other people’s websites, I had a look at HUHA’s one. That would have been HUHA’s first website. It might not have conformed to the look of websites today, but it was full of charm and heart and the kaupapa of HUHA; a kaupapa which HUHA still has today.

There was a simple adoption post on there about some horses that caught my attention, mentioning their qualities and background, simply saying that if they didn’t find the right person for these particularly troubled horses then that would be ok; they would live out their lives at Kaitoke.

It touched me greatly and it was the first time I’d come across the concept of a no-kill facility. So, I rang up and made an appointment to see the Otaki shelter and started work doing the morning clean-out every Saturday.

What sort of tasks do you do as a HUHA NZ volunteer?

Clare: Well, the tasks have changed and keep changing, and that’s the beauty of HUHA. There’s literally so much to do. There’s something for everyone!

I started doing the morning scrub on Saturdays in the Otaki shelter. The Otaki shelter has most of the dogs, though there are quite a few at Kaitoke as well. In fact at the Otaki Shelter there are also plenty of other non-dog residents. Ex-teaching mice, goats, calves, hedgehogs, a magpie – there’s always something you can’t classify as a dog there.

For the morning scrub, it means getting there between 7.30 and 8 am and cleaning out all the rooms, changing the water and the beds. Sometimes there’s a couple of “scrubbers” and the shift leader, but sometimes there are more. Four is the perfect number.

It’s quite physical work and there is a lot of mess. Only new people go “squeeeee!” with joy when they hear puppies are in the shelter!

However, you get to meet all the new dogs and hear their stories. It’s a full-on, difference-making contribution. Of all the HUHA tasks I’ve been involved in, that one made me feel most of all a part of the team. After the shift, you can have a cuppa and sit with or walk your favourites.

I also work on the website, I do some editing for documents, I foster some mice, and I’m trying to establish a routine for dog walking. My new thing is to get my cello up to the shelter and provide some warm and beautiful (if a bit out-of-tune) classical music for the dogs. It’s a known technique for relaxing dogs in shelters.

Tell us more about your involvement in the online side of things?

Clare: Yes! A year or so after I started, I set up a HUHA online shop. It was so far outside of my experience and took longer than it should to set up. (Find out more about the HUHA ethical gift store and maybe buy a cute, ethical treat for a human or pawed friend.)

It was a classic HUHA project and if you read Carolyn’s book Animal Magic (available on the online shop) you’ll recognise the theme: something needs doing, so we get it done.

Eventually, someone knowledgeable will come along and do it properly. The right people always come along, but the work still demands attention in the meantime, so everyone just steps up. 

At the same time, HUHA had launched a new website, and I got involved in providing content for that, which is something I still do.

HUHA volunteer clare with HUHA dog peppa at the beach

What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about animal rescue?

Clare: I can tell you a few things that surprised me when I first started as a HUHA NZ volunteer:

  • one of the hardest things to see in an animal shelter is the grief and desolation of a person who has come in to surrender their companion because they have no other choice. Surrender is not always what you think
  • you can go to rescue a swan and find your net isn’t quite big enough and have to go back
  • the extent of animal welfare; it’s not all cats and dogs. HUHA’s CEO has gone out to pick up a dog and come back with a one-eyed magpie, a wild piglet from the bush whose mother had been shot and a baby bird with its feet stuck in melting tar on the road
  • after 30 years of rescue, Carolyn (Press-McKenzie, founder of HUHA) will tell you that the hard things never get easier and the fabulous things never become ho-hum. Your entry into animal welfare starts fully coloured and none of it goes grey over time.

Read the PD interview with Carolyn for more on the HUHA story.

What’s the best part of the job as a HUHA NZ volunteer?

Clare: It’s very difficult to limit myself to picking one favourite thing, I must say. There are so many wonderful things about volunteering for HUHA and all of them will keep you there. Some of the best parts aren’t even things you would be personally involved in.

For me right now, I guess my favourite thing is getting to see a dog come in closed down and damaged emotionally and physically and after some care, treatment and open-hearted love from everyone at the shelter, see that dog recover and be the happy and healthy being they should be. I’ve seen that over and over and over; with animals I didn’t think would or could recover.

Another favourite – I know, you can’t really have more than one favourite – is everything you learn. Animal handling for instance, and all the issues relating to animal welfare and animal rights. And you learn a lot about yourself. I never did quite master scared rabbit-handling technique though, in the rescue of 70 ‘meat’ rabbits.

But my favourite could be something else tomorrow!

What’s the biggest challenge of being a volunteer at HUHA?

Clare: There’s heaps and heaps of different challenges. For me personally the biggest challenge is time. I know, it’s a boring one.  

I work full time and until recently have been a carer for my Mum. The biggest challenge is seeing the need for hands on the ground and the big rescues HUHA is involved in these days where they need people to come to different parts of New Zealand for major rescues.

I find it hard not being involved and free to respond and hope that can change soon.

How can the general public help out? Volunteering? Donating? What else?

Clare: There’s so much for the general public to do to help out. Whoever you are, there’s something that needs to be done that you can do. No matter your age, fitness level or location.

Here’s some ideas, but they’re not exhaustive by any means.

  • Donating funds. HUHA’s ability to respond to every imaginable animal/bird/fish/insect  need is finished without donations
  • Donating goods like knitted jumpers, bedding, or anything else listed on the website. Or just email and ask if we can use your items
  • Donating skills. Maybe you could take photos, help with websites, build shelters or similar
  • Volunteering time in the op shops
  • Shopping online at our gift store and in the physical shops
  • Volunteering time at the shelters (scrubbing, dishes and laundry, maintenance, training and rehabilitating the animals) and time with the horses
  • Dog walking
  • Rescue response team
  • Responding to calls to petition politicians, local authorities, attending rallies before Parliament, wising-up on where advocacy is needed and the stands that HUHA takes
  • Helping with stalls, events, street appeals.

There’s so much more you can do. These are just off the top of my head, but HUHA is always grateful for help, support, and donations.

Here’s some more advice on what and how to donate to animal shelters.

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What was the most memorable day on the job as a HUHA NZ volunteer?

Clare: Every day I’m there is memorable.  Everything about rescue and kindness and second chance is memorable. As a person whose brain leaks like a sieve, I never forget what I’ve seen at HUHA over the seven plus years I’ve been volunteering there.

My most recent visit was last week where I went into the shelter with the Shelter Manager and walked towards the gate to one of the yards and there was Ruby, an unassuming, brown dog, wagging her tail at us. I could not believe my eyes.

Ruby was rescued by HUHA when up at the Northland floods. She is a dog who has lived her whole life on the streets and has never known people. I’m not sure how old she is, not a young dog. The last time I saw her, you honestly couldn’t get near her nor touch her.

I have a million stories to tell you, but my million will be different to the million of each person working for HUHA.

Be honest – have you taken any of the animals home permanently?

Clare: I am proud to be honest about this and unashamed. After I had been volunteering for HUHA on my Saturday morning scrubs for two months, I had adopted Angel the greyhound.

 And two months after that I had adopted Yaz the greyhound.

I currently also have Ardie and Amati, two pink-eyed white rats from HUHA. And though I have three foster mice at the moment, I would be horrified if anyone wanted to adopt them! They will not be the last animals I adopt from HUHA, that’s for sure.

How do you feel about pet insurance?

Clare: I have spent thousands on animals over the years and have been lucky to be in a position to work and be able to pay. But that could always change, and what would I do?

I have always assumed pet insurance would be a must-have. You know from the get-go that within a short time, there will be a claim.  

I am glad that HUHA is partnered with PD Insurance, and hope that more people can become aware of the benefits of the pet insurance industry.

(A word from PD Insurance: we totally agree, and we love being able to help pets and their parents in times of crisis. Check out our pet insurance plans to find the right one for you.)

A last word from our HUHA volunteer

I am very proud to be a volunteer for HUHA. I have met the most extraordinary people there. HUHA punches far, far above its weight.

It doesn’t know “can’t”, even in what are quite clearly “can’t situations”. How is it even possible? I can tell you.

It is passion and clarity – it is two phrases: “Every life matters” and “If you don’t, who will?” That is what will make one person fly down to Nelson and decide there might be a need for a temporary shelter during one bush fire event and in the course of making that happen, shelter over 900 animals for displaced people for a month. That’s HUHA.

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