SPCA New Zealand

Day in the Life: SPCA’s Support Services Manager, Laura

26 April 2024

When people think of SPCA, they think of animals… but it’s the humans behind the scenes who make everything SPCA does for our furry friends possible. Meet one of the amazing team behind it all, Support Services Manager Laura Millar. She takes us through a typical day in her role at Auckland’s busy Māngere Centre.

Day in the Life: SPCA’s Support Services Manager, Laura

An SPCA Centre is a busy place – just ask Support Services Manager Laura Millar! With many things constantly in motion working to keep our animals happy and healthy, no two days are ever the same.

Laura manages people, animals, and big decisions on a rotating basis. Laura is one of our Centre all-stars, making sure everyone is supported in their roles so they can continue to do great work for the animals we care for. Follow along as she moves through a typical day in the life of an SPCA Support Services Manager…

Stop 1: The Hospital

Laura’s role can mean being pulled in many different directions, and today is no exception! Our Veterinary team called Laura into an examination room immediately upon her arrival to the Centre to help process an unwell eight-week-old puppy who had been found abandoned.

Wandering or lost dogs are normally the responsibility of the local council, however SPCA authority is for the sick, injured and vulnerable. This eight-week-old puppy fits under the vulnerable category as they would be unlikely to survive on their own for any period of time without human support, or in this case SPCA support.

There are lots of steps that must be taken when bringing a new animal into SPCA care, and Laura assists the team in any way that’s needed, making sure all obligations are met. SPCA being the only animal welfare organisation outside of MPI that has the powers, but also the overall accountability within the Animal Welfare Act means there is a large amount of process and paperwork that is required for compliance. After helping the team assess the puppy and take into SPCA care, she carries on to her office to start the rest of her day.

Stop 2: The Office

Two dogs in SPCA office

Once settled into her office with her own dogs, Bullet (left) and Rask (right) – and ensuring that the proper amount of treats have been distributed – Laura begins her day by reviewing the Stray Report.

At our busiest, SPCA’s Māngere Centre can see as many as 40 animals come through its doors in one day. With any animal who comes in as a stray, we make every attempt to find potential owners, and make sure we’re providing for the welfare of those animals while they’re with us. Part of this process includes advertising these animals on www.animalregsister.co.nz/LostPet for a period of seven days “stray hold time.” This is one of the legal obligations under the Animal Welfare Act to allow every opportunity for these loving animals to be reunited with their owners should they have one.

Each morning, Laura reviews animals who have completed this stray hold time of one week in care. If no owners have been found, they officially become the full responsibility of SPCA and are progressed to the next stage of their journey. This could mean further medical care, booking in for desexing (neutering) or going into a foster home. During the stray hold time, SPCA is only allowed to provide urgent and emergent care to these animals as the ultimate decision making authority lies with the owner of the animal, should they have one.

At 9:45am, Laura attends a daily operational meeting bringing key team members together to discuss complex cases and make collective decisions on their next steps. As all departments are interconnected within New Zealand’s largest animal shelter, this daily meeting generally includes one senior team member from the Centre, as well as any relevant team members involved in the care of the animals being discussed that day. These meetings can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half supporting the care of, and flow of animals through SPCA.

Following this meeting, Laura completes any actions discussed, such as following up with potential owners or confirming decisions with SPCA’s medical team. She then does a “walk-around” with staff members, vets, and senior team leaders, where they visit the Centre’s various departments and check on the animals in each. Together, they look at any potential pressure points for animal flow, check on the status of different cases, and move animals to various further stages of their journeys.

After this, Laura will check on her teams. She’s currently in charge of three departments; Customer Service for incoming animals at the hospital, Customer service for outgoing animals through our adoptions centre, as well as the overall support of our large Foster and Volunteer teams. Laura makes sure she’s there to answer any urgent questions her teams may have, and that they’re set up for a successful day.

She warns us that at any moment, she might get pulled away to assist with any incoming animal cases. Depending on the day, she may get 100 cases she needs to attend to, or none – she’s kept on her toes!

Stop 3: Cat Ward

Stop 3: Cat Ward

We stop by the Cat Ward next, a room off the main Hospital area where cats are either waiting for, or recovering from, various medical treatments ranging from life-saving surgery, through to routine desexing.

Today in the cat ward there are a range of animals scheduled for care: One is set for an amputation of a badly injured leg; A few others needing x-rays for further assessments on their needs; Several others have scheduled procedures and follow-up appointments for their care. It's not a long-term ward, Laura says; cats are only kept here while they’re acutely recovering, and then they’re moved to a different location within the Centre.

After checking both the felines and humans here have everything they need, Laura moves on.

Stop 4: Canine Ward

Next stop on the daily rounds, we pop into Canine Ward, a similar room where dogs wait for and recover from treatment. No two days are the same in this room, and today is no different to that where dogs are currently kept for pre-sedation prior to surgery scheduled for today, and post-sedation recovery after a procedure already taken place this morning.

While we’re there, we meet Ava, a dog who was rescued by our Inspectorate. In this instance, during the consultation with the previous owner over the condition and state of Ava, she was surrendered into our care. Unlike the ‘stray hold’ we spoke about previously, Ava was under full care and custody of SPCA. As with all animals from SPCA, she underwent her important desexing surgery, and is now recovering and awaiting adoption. Hopefully she’ll find her forever home soon! All of our animals available for adoption up and down the country, like Ava, are posted on our website as soon as they become available for adoption. This is important to ensure that we then have more capacity within our centres to take in more animals in need.

Stop 5: Surgery

SPCA surgery room

Last stop within the hospital is the surgical ward, which we find in a rare moment of calm. It’s typically a very busy space, as the revolving door of procedures is constant. Compared to the volume of procedures and surgeries that take place throughout the year, it’s a tiny space! Laura talks excitedly about the new South Auckland Centre build located not far away in Wiri, scheduled to get underway in 2025, and how this new facility will enable the team to do so much more.

Outside of the main surgical room, there are a few sleepy cats recovering from desexing procedures. They stay in the surgery area during the day so vets and nurses can keep an eye on them while they recover – there's risk with any surgery, even ones as routine as these, and we take all manner of care to monitor them – and later in the day, they’ll be returned to the Cattery or the Cat Ward in the main hospital.

Stop 6: Dog Adoptions

We then head to dog adoptions, and are almost immediately interrupted by Eva, a very talkative puppy in a playpen. Laura stops to give her some pets. I mean, how can you resist these eyes!

SPCA puppies

This is the area where adoption-ready dogs live in the Centre awaiting their perfect match. It includes a space where people who have expressed adoption interest online come to have meet-and-greets with their potential new family members. SPCA staff work extremely hard to match the right pet with the right family. Most every animal that has come into care at SPCA has had a rough start, and we want them to have this move into a happy ending. While dogs are awaiting adoptions in this space, the canine team work diligently to maximise the care and attention they get while in the centre (not their ideal home environment) and minimise the amount of stress they experience. A few pats from Laura as she passes through certainly help in that regard!

Stop 7: Maternity Ward

SPCA team member with cat mother and kittens

Next, it’s onto the Cat Maternity Ward, which Laura says is another crunch area for the Centre’s capacity. In kitten season, this room is frequently overflowing with pregnant queens and queens with kittens. This is a very important and sensitive time for both mum and babies so they need a dedicated area to have that safety and security they need. A bit of privacy, a warm bed and some high quality food all go towards delivering on healthy animals ready for adoption in the future. One of our several Veterinarians on staff at the Māngere site will examine all mums and litters that come in, and once they’ve been given a bill of health, they’ll ideally be sent to foster homes. Fostering a mum and kitten is a special type of foster parent however, so this ward is an area for overflow, when we have no foster capacity left; Space can be tight.

Ideally, all queens and kittens recover and grow in comfortable foster homes, but each year we see more kittens coming into SPCA Centres nationwide. Lack of desexing pets is a big factor when it comes to the number of kittens showing up in Centres, and it remains a top priority for SPCA.

“We really rely on pet owners to meet us halfway,” Laura says. “Desexing your pet means less accidental, unwanted babies coming into SPCA. It frees up spaces for the vulnerable animals that already exist, and it means we can provide them with better care.” SPCA offers support in a number of ways to pet owners around the country when it comes to desexing – read about them here.

Stop 8: Aviary and Exotics

It’s not just all puppies and kittens at SPCA! This is another area Laura oversees in her role, and all Customer Service team members double as avian and exotic carers at SPCA – a place where there really are no one-hat jobs!

We meet Indy and Suda, two Indian Ring-Necked Parakeets. Indy came in as a stray, and Suda came in when he was surrendered by his family. The Auckland Regional Pest Management Plan prevents pet owners from rehoming this species without a specific license, because they’re considered pests. While SPCA wouldn’t normally take in a completely healthy animal needing to be rehomed, SPCA has the required license to do so with these sorts of species, so we agreed to take Suda on to help him find a new home when his family couldn’t.

The team are currently working on bonding Indy and Suda. Like many other species, being alone is lonely. Living in bonded pairs will improve their overall welfare.

SPCA team member Laura feeding parakeet

Stop 9: The Cattery

We pop into the Cattery, the place where adoption-ready felines are held and members of the public come to meet them. What a busy space! There are large numbers of kittens in the room when we visit, and Laura hopes that the adoption campaign taking place over the April school holidays will see many of them adopted. A happy ending for their SPCA journeys, which also frees up space for the next round of animals taken in… A cycle that seems to feel like a never-ending revolving door at times for the staff.

Meows abound in here, and we make our way over to one kitten who’s recently been in hospital to have a badly damaged eye removed. He’s recovered well from surgery and is ready for adoption; Laura picks him up for a snuggle. It’s part of the job, after all!

SPCA team member holds one-eyed kitten

Stop 10: Isolation

We head to the Isolation wing for cats, another area checked daily on Laura’s walk-around with the wider team. This was a purpose-built section of the Māngere Centre, and is called the ARC, or Animal Recovery Unit. It’s where cats suffering from acute and highly contagious illnesses like cat flu and giardia can be treated and recover. This prevents other cats at SPCA Centres from getting ill, and procedures are strict to ensure no outbreaks take place.

The cats here are at various stages in their recovery journey; some are rambunctious and ready to go back to the Cattery or into foster homes, while others are still quite lethargic and need high-levels of care and attention. Laura does the rounds to ensure everything is as it should be and staff have what they need. Good news is that everything here is under control, like a well-oiled machine. Time to head on from the animal areas, and back to check on some more people.

Stop 11: Foster & Volunteer

Laura’s final stop is the Foster & Volunteer department, where a team of coordinators work to find as many temporary homes as possible for our animals. It’s a very busy office, given that 40%-50% of our animals are out at foster at any given time; there’s a lot of work that goes into keeping the system moving as animals will come in and out of foster care potentially up to three times while they are with SPCA.

The foster program is a crucial part of the SPCA ecosystem. It’s an integral component in the flow of animals; if there are enough foster homes available, animals can be placed there to recover from various issues (including needing much needed love) or wait for permanent homes, freeing up Centre space for the next injured and vulnerable animals in need of help. But when there aren’t enough foster homes – which is currently, and sadly usually, the case – that flow begins to bottleneck, meaning there isn’t always enough space to accept more animals into our Centre’s care.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to get people into our Foster program,” Laura says. “When Foster is operating well, it really impacts the flow of the rest of the Centre. If it blocks up – as it often does around holidays, for example – you really notice the impact on other areas of the process. You can’t have anything fall over, or else the whole thing falls over. It’s like a really delicate, furry Jenga puzzle.”

Laura’s job is a mix of regular admin and putting out fires, and that’s just the way she likes it.

“One of my favourite parts of this role is that at any point, I can be completely interrupted by the strangest, most interesting problem,” she says. “I can honestly say there’s something new every single day at SPCA, and there’s just a ridiculous amount of stuff that you can learn from so many passionate, intelligent people.” An example she gives is a meeting she recently had with SPCA’s Animal Enrichment Coordinator, where they discussed the latest research and what more her team can be doing to meet SPCA animals’ enrichment needs while they are in our care.

“Who else gets to do that as a part of their day-to-day? I get to learn about really interesting things; animal behaviour, veterinary science, complex legislation and the application of the law every day. And, unless you did any one of these roles for a ten-year period, you wouldn’t get to do that. It’s amazing.”

SPCA simply couldn’t run without the support and care from its many team members, from full-time staff to volunteers. If you’ve ever thought about putting your hand up to help care for our animals, there are always ways to chip in – and we’d love to hear from you.

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