A passion for helping native wildlife

Katherine Lohse didn't picture herself as a volunteer. She thought volunteering was something that retired people did.

But she always had a love for animals so when a friend suggested she apply to volunteer as a wildlife carer, Katherine gave it a try. She hasn't looked back.

Katherine's role with the Shepparton Wildlife Shelter has her looking after sick and injured native animals in her own home, sometimes for weeks at a time. The animals reach volunteer carers like Katherine in a number of ways. 'People can contact us directly if they know our number or they can reach us through wildlife associations or vets. People who find sick or injured native animals often take them to the vet, and the vet then gives us a call.'

'It's not all fun and positive outcomes', she says. 'Some of the injuries we see are pretty bad and it's always hard when you have to euthanise an animal.'

But the benefits far outweigh the difficult aspects. She's had some wonderful experiences – almost too many to choose from – but one baby brushtail possum's story stands out. 'A lady told us that her Labrador had found this baby possum, collected it and brought it to her without harming it at all.'

Katherine cared for the little possum for about two weeks – he only weighed about 180 grams – and noticed something different about him. A vet checked the tiny animal and soon realised it was blind. Next stop, the eye specialist, but the cause of the blindness was a mystery.

'There didn't seem to be anything physically wrong with him', says Katherine. Dedicated to the little brushtail, Katherine kept up her care of him and a couple of weeks later, he was suddenly able to see. 'We think it might have been some sort of developmental delay,' she says. 'When he could fend for himself, we were able to set him free.'

As a volunteer, Katherine receives training and support. She's licensed by the Department of Sustainability and the Environment (DSE). Wildlife resource centres and shelters provide support with opportunities to meet other volunteers and learn from each others' experiences.

Katherine Lohse believes everybody has a passion and that volunteering is a great way to do what you love. 'Sometimes your job doesn't give you the opportunity to work with your passion. My volunteer role with Shepparton Wildlife Shelter has allowed me to follow my passion by working with animals.' She says she'd advise anyone interested in volunteering to give it a try. 'You just have to know your limits', she says. 'If you can only volunteer for a few hours a week then find a role that lets you do that.'

The Shepparton Wildlife Shelter is responsible for the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned native wildlife in the Shepparton area. If you'd like more information about volunteering, call Wildlife Victoria on 03 9445 0310 or visit www.wildlifevictoria.org.au