A Day in the Life of an RSPCA Animal Ambulance Volunteer

Posted Dec 16, 2020
I walk through the gates of the RSPCA Queensland’s Wacol campus less-than bushy tailed at a sparrow’s call of 7am. Animal Ambulance Volunteer Martha Poole, is already in the driver’s seat of the van she’ll be commandeering for the next eight hours
Having rescued injured wildlife and abandoned pets with the RSPCA for almost three years, Martha has the routine down to a fine art. Supplies packed and Navman at the ready, she fields a rescue call for a limping possum in a Kuraby schoolyard and kicks the van into action. 

“I’ve always had a love for animals and always thought that once I retired I was going to do something for charity with them. I started by doing volunteer work for Wildcare but pretty quickly wanted more,” she said.

“So, I started with the RSPCA as an Ambulance Assistant but because I’m no spring chicken and they spend a lot of time running through the bush to catch kangaroos and whatnot, it wasn’t for me. When they suggested that I drive the ambulance I thought there was no way I was driving this huge van! Once I conceded and got used to it, I was fine – I really enjoy my days out and will earbash anybody about it that will listen!”

RSPCA animal ambulance driver reading road map

Besides hefty stretches as a cross-country driver, Martha wears many hats during her morning shifts with the service – animal handler, seeker/stalker of the less cooperative patients, dabbler in diagnoses’, and a shoulder to caw on.

Martha explains, “I start at 7 and get the van ready, make sure I’ve got enough equipment – towels, crates, boxes, because you never know who you’re going to pick up. Some of the calls are from vets, some are straight rescue calls, and then some are calls from places like the botanic gardens about a ‘possum dragging its legs’ with only a broad location. Those are the hardest because by the time you’ve gotten there the animal has usually dragged itself somewhere else and you have to come away without being able to rescue that particular animal.” 

A call from a Manly vet about an injured noisy miner draws us forward. Our van packed to the brim with songs and snuffles including – an unstable magpie, a flightless lorikeet, a wary tawny frogmouth, two orphaned possums, a yellow-faced honey eater fills every nook and cranny. (And it’s not even 9 AM). 

 “One call was to Gatton where somebody had dumped seven puppies on the side of the road in a box. We were bringing them out and putting them in the van – I’ve got an armful, the vet’s got an armful, everyone’s got an armful and just as I started to drive the long drive back to Wacol, a couple of them immediately did the dirty in the back. Boy… the smell!! Of course they were all rolling in it and we then had to get them OUT of the van. But they were cuties.”

Rescued tawny frogmouth in towel

After a brief detour to check for a live joey in the pouch of a hit by car kangaroo, we pass hulking semi-trailers with bulking loads as we go. It is a hive of activity in the back seat. A cockatoo has eaten its way through its box (and the boxes of its fellow travellers) in an attempt to start an ill-informed freedom riot. Luckily he is still safely secured in the ambulance (he was in a box within a crate).  Martha has transported many adventurous cockatoos in her day!

In fact, for Martha, mischievous cockatoos or an armful of puppies covered in poop are simply laughed off as her determined urge to just pick up ‘one more’ stretches her eight hour shift closer to ten. She recounts tales of plover attacks while fishing chicks out of drains and wrangling ringtail possums from in between cracks where daylight can’t reach, always ending with a laugh and never with a sigh.

“You know, they get scared, they get stressed, they get frightened and they don’t know what’s happening so it’s understandable,” she explains in the critters’ defence.
“I’d be pretty freaked out if somebody was trying to grab me with a towel.”

RSPCA animal ambulance volunteer holding baby possum

The good Samaritans placing the rescue calls are as impressed as I am at Martha’s dedication as they put a comfortable distance between spritely magpies and themselves. They thank her for coming and she thanks them for calling, adding later that she wishes she could do more.

“I’d love to be able to help out on the hospital side of it too but I keep too busy. Sometimes I laugh about having retired to have more spare time and now having less than before – but I love it so much. 

“Without the RSPCA Animal Ambulance Service there would be too many animals dying potentially horrible deaths full of pain – not only wildlife, but domestic animals too. This service is absolutely, without a doubt vital and I can’t speak of it highly enough.”

Brisbane City Council supports the RSPCA in their work of rescuing sick and injured animals by providing a dedicated BCC RSPCA Wildlife Ambulance which attends calls 24 hrs, 7 days a week. We thank them for their support.

Learn more about becoming volunteer at the RSPCA. You can also sign up to be like Martha and drive around for a shift a week helping injured and sick animals. 

Cassidy Chapman
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