Team work makes the dream work
It’s a Thursday afternoon and the SPCA’s Waikato Centre is swamped. It’s been a busy day with different animals having been brought in, vet-checked, operated on, and adopted out to loving families. At 5pm there seems to be no signs of slowing down.
Laura Vander Kley takes a moment to stop and look around at her team bustling about. Every member is working together to get everything done with smiles on their faces. “It’s moments like these that really make me appreciate what I do,” says Laura. “I love what I do and I have a wonderful team working with me. They never complain, even if it’s been a horrible day – there’s always a positive atmosphere.”
Laura’s journey to Centre Manager
Laura’s love for animals and drive to make a difference inspired her to train as a veterinary nurse. Before starting at the SPCA, Laura was a veterinary nurse at a private practice. After six years working in the private space, Laura was ready to move on. “I wanted to do more,” she explains. “I applied for the role of Head Vet Nurse at the Auckland SPCA Centre and I got the job! I worked there for three years, and fell in love with it.”
“It’s very different working in a shelter compared to working in a private practice. Obviously you do everything you can for animals who are brought into a private veterinary centre and give them the best possible care, but you know at the end of the day they’re going home to families who love them and would do anything for them. A lot of the animals that come into the SPCA are ownerless. They don’t have someone to love them so you become that person. You take more ownership, more responsibility for them. I find I am much more passionate working in a shelter.”
Working in the Auckland Centre’s hospital was a busy role, with Laura’s team doing 40 plus surgeries a day. And while she loved the practical side of the job, she also loved the management and human relations side. So, when a job came up at the SPCA’s Waikato Centre that would see her explore her management skills, Laura thought ‘I have nothing to lose!’ and applied for the job.
Now, Laura has been at the Waikato Centre for a little over eight months. Since starting, she’s helped develop the Centre in a number of ways. It’s now open six days a week and has a vet visiting on-site once a week, meaning they don’t have to take animals externally for vet treatment. Laura’s also helped fundraise for specialist cat cages to house cats comfortably and safely during the summer kitten season – all while keeping the place running smoothly and building the team up with more staff and volunteers.
No such thing as a typical day
For Laura, a single day sees her doing a multitude of things. “My role ranges from accounts to helping out on the floor where I can,” she says. “I also deal with all sorts of weird and wonderful questions from people, help organise events like the Annual Appeal fundraising, liaise with the Inspectorate team, and keep in touch with people outside the Centre such as the Marketing team in Auckland. Every day there’s a different situation.”
With a small team of just five staff on each day, the team are definitely kept busy. “I sometimes joke about bringing a sleeping bag in. There’s always more to do,” says Laura. “I have to force myself and the team to finish up otherwise we could end up staying all night. But at the end of the day, we just ask ourselves ‘have the animals been attended to, have we done the best we can?’ If the answer to both of those questions is ‘yes’, then we can go home happy.”
The highs and lows
Working at a charity doesn’t come without challenges. Perhaps the biggest of these is resourcing. “Obviously we’re run on donations,” says Laura. “The truth is what we can do for the animal depends on what people gives us. The more the community gives us, the more we can give back. On the back of that is managing public expectations versus what we can do. We have to work within our means and we have to abide by the law.”
While coming from a bigger Centre has taken some adjusting for Laura, her new role has allowed her to participate in one of the best parts of shelter life – adoptions!
“Before working at the Waikato Centre, I’d never done an adoption before. I got so excited when I did my first adoption. It’s so rewarding getting to see the final stage of an animal’s journey with us. I relish it every time. Even when we’re run off our feet, I’ll make sure to pause and enjoy the moment.”
The animals who have stolen her heart
While Laura loves all animals who come her way, she has fallen especially hard for one or two in particular. One of these is Henrietta, a Beardie-cross 18-month-old dog who was found as a stray. “She looked like she just had puppies, but unfortunately they were nowhere in sight,” says Laura. “We brought her into the Centre at the same time as a couple of very young puppies who were sadly dumped in a box. Henrietta immediately took to the puppies and helped us raise them.” Soon it was Henrietta’s chance to be looked after and she was adopted by a loving family. “They still keep in touch with us,” says Laura.
Another animal who has impacted hugely on Laura is a cat she named Neckie. Neckie was brought in with a huge wound on her neck, as well as a badly infected eye. Sadly, her eye had to be removed due to the nature of the injury but otherwise she has healed up nicely. “We absolutely fell in love with her,” says Laura. “She is personality plus, loves to talk, loves to be picked up, and loves to be cuddled. She is pretty much like a dog. She even hangs out with us in our offices. I’m actually about to check on her shortly to see if she’s ready to go up for adoption. I’m really hoping she is but it’s going to be hard to say goodbye. I think I might cry.”
While she’s already done so much for the Waikato Centre, Laura’s not done yet! “We’re still focusing on kitten season but once that’s over, I really want to work on a good strategy for where we want the place to go. There’s so much more we can do.”