Fran Bell

Sentient Associate Member, Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator

 

I am currently studying vet nursing at TAFE, which for me is a logical next step in my journey to provide better care and improve welfare for all animals.  I am also a member of the WA Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, and the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC).    I am a Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator and have undertaken informal wildlife nutrition studies with a wildlife nutrition professional from the US. 

 

I also volunteer in the cat section at a no-kill dog and cat shelter, and with a wildlife rescue, rehab and release centre in the Perth hills.   In my work as a wildlife rehabber, which has now spanned 7 years, I have undertaken the Basic Wildlife Carers course run by DPaW, and any other advanced course going.  I have taken birds requiring frequent feeding and intensive care into my home.  I strongly believe that continuing professional development is as important for wildlife rehabbers as it is for any other healthcare professional and am constantly looking to improve my skills and understanding, and therefore the standard of care I am able to provide.  I also believe that wildlife rehabilitation should become a recognised profession in its own right, and that consistent and high standards of training should be mandatory for those who want to help wildlife.  I have approached the local wildlife rehabilitation council to see how we can introduce changes which will get these standards introduced.  Part of this training needs to be in the field of nutrition, where sadly, too many centres and well-meaning carers compromise animal health by simply not having the knowledge to provide an optimum diet.

 

Wildlife rehab has taken me out of Australia to South Africa and the UK.  Sadly, not all my experiences were positive and this has fuelled my resolution of never giving up, and of fighting animal cruelty and abuse on whatever front I find it.   I found cruelty, abuse and neglect on a lion and tiger farm – or rather “lion and tiger mill” – in South Africa, where I also found that like many others of their ilk, the owners are involved with the despicable canned hunting industry and a rhino poaching syndicate.  What is just as shocking about these setups is that they con naïve international volunteers into thinking that they are working towards big cat conservation.  In reality, nothing can be further from the truth and I work hard to raise awareness of exactly what volunteers are getting into when they cannot resist the lure of cute and fuzzy. 

I found cruelty and a lack of compassion in a small private zoo.  I have never been a fan of zoos but knowing now from an insiders perspective how they operate, and how profit is at the bottom of everything, I am on a crusade not only to end the practice of keeping animals in captivity, but also to end the illegal capture and trafficking, with all its attendant horrors, that is part and parcel of building and maintaining a “collection”.  

 

Some experiences were more satisfying if not less heartbreaking in some regards.  I landed a 14 month internship at SANCCOB in Capetown, a facility that rescues, rehabs and releases seabirds in general and African Penguins in particular.  Working with a species as endangered as the African Penguin was the jewel in the crown as far as I was concerned, knowing that every individual we were able to release after hand-rearing from an egg, or rehabbing after injury, mattered in terms of maintaining a viable population in the wild.   Indeed it has been my contention – and I’ve found myself in many arguments over this – that every individual, of every species, matters, and the most common deserve as much consideration and quality of care as the most endangered.   All deserve much better protection than they are currently afforded and I weigh in on any effort to introduce more effective and compassionate legislation.

Moving on, I worked at a wildlife rescue and release centre in Durban, where the range of critters was much more diverse.  I worked with everything from antelope to mongoose, tortoises, birds from as small as the tiny finch-like manikin to birds of prey like the yellow-billed kite.  In too many instances the animals have injuries which do not make them viable candidates for release, and there are too many days where there is nothing more that can be done for them than euthanasia.  Public education on so many fronts is needed to mitigate greed, laziness, ignorance and the effects we’ve had on the planet, which result in unacceptable numbers of animals being brought into wildlife centres the world over. 

I also had exposure to game capture – not by choice but by the inaccurate description of a wildlife project by a “responsible” travel agency.  I saw several species of antelope, zebra, even giraffe rounded up to be transported and sold at auction and the one thing that impressed itself on my memory was how cruel and stressful the whole process is.   Animals should not be subjected to trauma for the sake of profit.  Travel companies should also not be promoting “projects” which involve cruelty at so many levels. 

 

The highlight of my time in the UK was participating in a research project, tracking family groups of common bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth.  This non-invasive research project gave me an even greater feeling for cetaceans, and has left me rabid about the conditions of not only cetaceans, but all animals kept in aquariums and dolphinariums worldwide.  This fuels cruel and senseless hunts like the dolphin drive in Taiji, which is also on my “hit” list.  The downside of my time there was working in a wildlife rehab centre where the owners and employees had no training of any kind, refused to educate themselves further, and where the animals were in very poor condition, with very low standards of housing, veterinary care, and nutrition.

On returning home I volunteered at a bat hospital in Queensland for 6 weeks, helping raise fruit bat babies orphaned after the loss of their mothers to the paralysis tick.   Not only did I fall completely in love with fruit bats but it brought home to me – yet again – how much humans have damaged the environment, resulting in changes to the ecosystem that allow these parasites to proliferate in areas where they were formerly unknown.   

 

I was vegetarian before this journey began but along the way I became vegan, and work to end the horrors of factory farming and of animal testing for any purpose. I oppose the use of animals for entertainment, including film, television and racing; the use of animals for fashion, be they feathered, scaled or furred and this includes the horrific seal pup slaughter that still continues every year in Canada;  mindless “traditions” that see animals tortured to death such as the Grind in the Faroes and bullfighting in Spain and elsewhere; festivals such as the kite competitions in India and Pakistan that see hundreds of birds severely injured by glass embedded in kite tails; the nightmare of puppy and kitten farming;  I believe we need to urgently and more effectively address mankind’s obsession with seafood including overfishing, environmental destruction and bycatch; and I oppose live transport.  

It is my opinion that, given their focus on treating animals, vets have a moral obligation to broaden their range of responsibilities and lead global calls for better animal welfare.  Veterinary professionals see it all, not just with domestic animals, and should be at the very forefront of any movement to end cruelty in whatever guise it appears.   As a budding member of the veterinary profession myself, I’m glad to be a member of Sentient, whose mission so closely mirrors my own beliefs on the matter.

I hope to inspire a few people to at least think about changing their opinions and their actions along the way.    My motto is never give up; I am with Margaret Mead in believing that a small group of committed citizens CAN change the world.   

UPDATE September 2018

I became a member of Sentient while I was doing my vet nurse training 2 years ago.  At the time, not having had much experience in the veterinary industry, I didn’t realise how extraordinary my fellow veterinary professional members are.   

 

Two years later, with RVN status in both Australia and the UK, I see how much work is to be done in getting veterinary professionals to lead the charge for better animal welfare.   Sadly, it has been my experience that many vets and vet nurses still need to realise that every animal, regardless of species or where it comes from, deserves the very best attention to welfare.  Our compassion and empathy should not be confined to the “paying guests” – the owned cats and dogs that are the largest part of the average vet’s caseload.   

 

Even with “paying guests” there are improvements to be made.  Nurses need to stop shouting at barking dogs – who are only barking because they’re stressed, and shouting at them only ramps it up.  They also need to stop manhandling cats.   There are some excellent low stress handling certification schemes out there, Fear Free being the one I undertook. I feel strongly that these should be a mainstream part of vet and vet nurse training, and advocate for the adoption of low stress handling techniques whenever I can.    

 

Vets also need to stop encouraging breeders by performing cut-price caesareans.  I’ve seen first-hand the suffering that the mothers endure due to overbreeding; the conditions that babies are born with which mean that they don’t always survive long enough to leave the practice; the shocking lack of compassion that is displayed by many breeders.  It seems to me that the veterinary profession should be advocating for an end to breeding when the animal will be compromised from the moment it’s born, as in the case of brachycephalic dogs and cats.   While I realise that economics are also part of this equation, surely welfare should trump money?  Surely we break the unwritten basic law of “first, do no harm” which should be at our core, when we condone poor welfare by remaining silent? 

 

Wherever I go as a vet nurse in private practice, I continue to bump up against a general lack of knowledge and interest in wildlife.  In my positions within UK clinics, I have often become the “go-to” person for wildlife, in particular birds, since many vets and vet nurses openly acknowledge not only a dislike for wildlife, but a complete ignorance of what to do with non-companion species.  As in Australia, wildlife medicine is not part of the curriculum for vets or vet nurses.   It makes me sad to know that though I tried to pass on my wildlife knowledge to colleagues, and to improve the lot of wildlife left in vet clinics and hospitals, it was often the lay staff – the kennel assistants and cleaners – who were more prepared to learn and to take on their care.   

 

The lack of compassion and regard for welfare also crops up with some wildlife rehabilitators.  Between qualifying in WA and moving to the UK, I went to Queensland for three months to work once more with my beloved baby fruit bats.  Sadly, there were multiple welfare issues, with many animals who could not be released being kept onsite despite a very poor quality of life. There were poor standards in terms of hygiene, and a lack of veterinary care.    There was also zero recognition that continuing education is crucial to provide the very best care to animals who depend on us in any captive setting.  These reasons are why we absolutely cannot allow deregulation of wildlife rehabilitation and should instead be working towards compulsory accreditation for wildlife centres, compulsory certification and continuing education of individual carers, and the recognition of wildlife rehabilitation as a worthy profession in its own right.

 

After my extremely emotional experience with the fruit bats, I went back to Capetown for three months to work with my equally beloved penguins, as a vet nurse this time.   I learnt so much from the vets at the centre who undertake surgery as well as a full range of medical treatments, including laser therapy and very creative methods of physical therapy.  The centre had no vet nurse on staff which allowed me to take on the role of anaesthetist, surgical nurse and radiologist, freeing up paid rehabbers to train volunteers and attend to their other duties.   I’m happy to say that welfare truly was at the heart of everything this organisation did.  This was a mutually respectful and enriching experience, as I was able to contribute my knowledge and skills to case management.  

 

I continue my mission to educate others about the horrors inherent in the way humans use animals for their own ends, and to bring an end to cruelty in its myriad forms.   Sentient plays a large part in this, and I am thankful that there’s an organisation out there that is working so hard to bring more vets and vet nurses into the fray on the side of our voiceless fellow souls – animals.  

 

“For the screams that go unheard, and the cries that go unanswered – we will never stop fighting for you.” - Anon