After 10 years of working in television and print media industries, I went back to school. I studied geography which led me to pursue a master's degree. I focused my research on human-animal relations within particular spaces, looking further into animal rights and veganism. In 2013 I went to the Animal Rights National Conference in Washington, DC. While there, I decided to start Roy and Cher's Rescue Farm. At this conference I met several individuals who founded animal rescue organizations and I learned a bit about how to operate a charity. I was pumped. I was going to save animals!
It's been just over six years since executing my initial animal rescue idea. And it's been an emotional roller coaster. September of this year, I met with the board members and informed them that I needed a break. I was emotionally and mentally drained, and needed some time to focus on me, and my well-being. Throughout the six years, I tried several times to step back for my health but couldn't find anyone to hand over the reins to and I couldn't figure out how to step back.
I had big ideas, big dreams. I researched other animal rescues and they all seemed to be doing just fine. But as the years went on and I met more people in animal rescue. I learned that I was not alone. I was not the only one who needed a break.
Before founding Roy and Cher's, I wish I knew this...
1. People are cruel. And I am not referring to people being cruel to animals. I already knew that. I am referring to people being cruel to people. No matter how hard I try to make the world a better place, there are always people who try to bring you down. Over the years there have been many, many, many people who have gotten downright angry at me because I did not have the resources to assist a particular animal. Or angry with me because I didn't return their call within minutes of them leaving a message. Many times, the following comments have been directed at me: "what good are you?" "I thought you were a rescue!" "you're useless!" No matter how many times I explain to these people that I am volunteering my limited free time assisting animals and am doing what I can with the resources that I have, people still expect me to be a superhero.
2. You are not a superhero. Apparently to many, I am. Realistically, I cannot be. I can't work full-time, take care of my health, and keep my sanity and assist every animal that needs rescuing. Since 2013, Roy and Cher's has assisted more than 500 animals; we have provided love and warmth for animals that have been abandoned and abused. But it feels like it is not enough. In the first few years I wanted to help every animal I was contacted about; every animal that someone tagged me in on social media; and every animal I saw with my own eyes.... domestic, feral... It took me while to realize that I couldn't help every animal. Financially, it was not possible. Timewise, it was not possible. Mentally, it was not possible.
3. Not everyone works as hard as you. My mom told me a few years ago that not everyone is going to want to work as hard as me, for free. I am a volunteer with Roy and Cher's. I don't get paid for the hours I put in. Other than summer students (who we receive government grants for), no one gets paid for the work they do for Roy and Cher's. For the first several years, I was spending a least 20 hours/week volunteering; trying to build up the charity. I was almost doing it all -- recruiting volunteers, vet runs, social media, fundraising, creating and executing programs (such as equine education), finances, public and media relations, and the list went on. While I did have some dedicated board members and animal rescue team members, most volunteers didn't stay very long. I expected every other board member and rescue team member to work as hard as I did; to be as dedicated as I was; to put aside their own personal lives like I did; and to sabotage their sanity, sadly, like I did.
4. You can’t do everything. I didn't just think I could do it all. I felt as if I needed to do it all. Firstly, I didn't think anyone could do all the things I was doing as well as I was doing them. And I thought it'd be easier and quicker if I just did it all myself, since, well, all my ideas were tucked away in my head. I needed to get things done, so why explain to someone else what to do, and how to do it, when it'd be easier and quicker to do it myself. Of course, trying to do it all, played a toll on my health... my mental state. I cried a lot. I was frustrated often. I wanted to do it all. I wanted the charity to be successful. I wanted to help as many animals as possible. I wanted to educate the world about animal rights. Apparently, volunteering is good for your mind and soul, but I believe that over-volunteering is toxic to your health, both mental and physical. Now that I have reflected over everything during my temporary leave from Roy and Cher's, I have learned that while it is good to push yourself (as a volunteer) to make the world a better place, it is hazardous to over-volunteer.
5. Volunteers come and go. For as long as I can remember, I volunteered. I was active in all sorts of extra curricular activities in high school and after high school, I volunteered for numerous organizations, particularly environmental and wildlife charities. I felt incomplete if I wasn't a volunteer at a not-for-profit organization. I loved volunteering. Little did I know that not a lot of others felt the same way I did. Less than half the population of Canada volunteers. In 1999, the province of Ontario started requiring high school students to complete 40 hours of community involvement in order to graduate. This was implemented two years after I graduated. By 1999, I was already fully involved in volunteering at the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia. Volunteering was a part of my life and has continued to be a part of my life. I spent three years volunteering at the Ecomuseum in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec before founding Roy and Cher's Rescue Farm. I only left my volunteer position at the Ecomuseum because I just couldn't find the time to run Roy and Cher's and volunteer at another organization. If I hadn't of started a charity, I probably would still be part of the volunteer team at the Ecomuseum. But volunteering isn't in everyone's blood. My mom has told me that I inherited my organizational skills and love for volunteering from my grandmother. Perhaps it is inherited. Research shows that children are more likely to volunteer if their parents volunteer. My parents are two of Roy and Cher's most dedicated volunteers. The most common reasons for volunteers leaving Roy and Cher's is that they don't have time and/or it's too much work. Volunteers will come and go. Some will stick around for months, some for years, others for just a few days. Don't take it personally. Don't try to get them to stay if they don't want to. Don't lose sleep over it. Don't dwell upon why they are leaving their volunteer role. You have a charity to run. You need to stay focused and move forward.
I am still on a leave from the animal rescue. I told the board that I would be ready to start fresh in January. During this time I have been able to reflect on why I started an animal rescue; what my goals were six years ago, and what they are now; and how to scale back on all of my ideas and ambitions, to learn how to tackle only what I can without sabotaging my health, family time, social life, and my career.
Coming soon.... How to Keep Your Volunteers
Celebrating my charity's 2nd anniversary in 2015.