Lort Smith volunteer named a finalist in nation-wide rescue awards

Lort Smith is delighted to announce that volunteer Kaye Cromie has been named as a finalist in the Pet Insurance Australia Companion Animal Rescue Awards – Volunteer of the Year category! The Rescue Awards are Australia’s first and only national awards program that celebrates and recognises achievements in the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of companion animals. 

Read our nomination of Kaye – we are sure you will agree that she is already a winner!
Note: at the time of nomination, Kaye was fostering Tessa.

Kaye has been a volunteer with Lort Smith for the last eight years. As a volunteer she supports the operations of the Adoption Centre, is a foster carer and sits on our Volunteer Advisory Committee.

Kaye volunteers on Wednesdays at Lort Smith, spending her mornings in the laundry, and the afternoons with the dogs in our kennels. In the laundry, Kaye collects and washes animal bedding and surgical drapes, sorts and distributes donations from the collection container, and assists staff to induct new volunteers into the role. In the kennels, Kaye cleans enclosures, walks and feeds the dogs, and offers them enrichment through physical touch, training, games and toys.

As a foster carer, Kaye provides care to surrendered animals that need to remain in Lort Smith’s care for a longer period of time to allow for growth, development, rehabilitation or respite. Kaye’s current foster, Tessa the five-year-old Staffy cross, has been available for adoption for almost a year. Tessa has some complex medical and behavioural needs, requiring treatment for her skin each week, and constant behaviour training to get her ready for adoption. She’s a special case that some would shy away from, but Kaye has taken care of Tessa as if she were her own dog, even taking her on a family holiday!

Additionally for the last 12 months Kaye has been a member of Lort Smith’s Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC), with 11 other volunteers. The purpose of the VAC is:

  1. As an avenue to consult with volunteers regarding matters which impact them.
  2. To provide a direct channel of communication between Lort Smith administration and the volunteer workforce, enabling two-way flows of information, advice and ideas.
  3. To advise on and support the improvement of processes which impact volunteer engagement and volunteer roles.
  4. To increase awareness throughout Lort Smith of the role and impact contributed by volunteers to support the organisations mission.
  5. To increase the engagement and connectedness of volunteers at Lort Smith.

Like all our volunteers, Kaye receives extensive training and support through her role. In the initial stages of recruitment, volunteers receive online training on animal handling and behaviour. New volunteers receive a comprehensive facility tour, introductions, face-to-face training on their initial shifts, and learn from our experienced volunteer mentors and staff. When volunteers take on a position in the cattery or kennels, they receive further face-to-face training on specific tasks. Additionally, open training sessions on cat and dog behaviour are available to all volunteers, and run approximately every quarter. For volunteers in our pet therapy and concierge roles who have direct contact with the public, training on mental health, self-care and wellness are offered through external providers. Volunteers are supported by shift supervisors and they have access to the Volunteer Engagement Team at any time.

Additionally as a new Foster Carer in 2020 Kaye participated in a pilot as a foster care mentee and was matched with an experienced dog foster carer. During the six month pilot Kaye benefitted from the support and guidance of the knowledge and experience of her mentor (in addition to the Adoption Centre staff). This peer support assisted Kaye with navigating her role caring for her long term foster dog.

Initially joining the Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program in 2013, Kaye began volunteering so she could share the joy and love she experienced with her own dog, with others. In her pet therapy role, Kaye visited aged care facilities with her terrier, Meg, to offer comfort, happiness and relief to residents experiencing loneliness, grief and a variety of health issues. After Meg passed away Kaye noticed that we were asking for extra volunteers to assist in our Adoption Centre, and she was keen to help. In an interview for National Volunteer Week earlier this year, Kaye expressed that the most important part of her role is making sure the dogs feel loved. The dogs in our care come to us through no fault of their own, and Kaye explained that if it were one of her dogs, she would want them to be loved and looked after by people who really care.

Kaye says the most rewarding part of volunteering is seeing the journey the dogs take, from when they first arrive, all the way through to being adopted: “We make their time here as enjoyable as possible, and always try to make them comfortable and happy. You know you’ve made a difference when they come over and rest their head on your lap, or when you see them rolling on their backs in the grass. At the end of the day though, we want to see them go home – as much as we love spending time and getting cuddles with them!”

It is well known that fostered animals recover and develop much more successfully when they are in a home environment compared to that of a shelter. Kaye has opened up her own home and worked hard to rehabilitate and care for Tessa for over a year.

Tessa has a skin condition which requires regular medicated baths and daily paw washes. This condition can be contagious to other animals and small children so Kaye actively ensures she does not come into contact with them.

Upon surrender to Lort Smith, Tessa was fearful of men and would growl and bark at those she wasn’t familiar with. Kaye listened to and followed the professional advice of shelter staff and went above and beyond with Tessa’s behaviour, muzzle and obedience training. As a result, Tessa is now much more confident and comfortable around men.

An Animal Welfare Officer nominated Kaye for the Lort Smith Hero of the Month Award, beautifully explaining the changes seen in Tessa since being in foster care:

“Kaye has proved to be a massive asset to Lort Smith. Not only is she very driven in her role as kennels and laundry volunteer, but she has proven to be one of our best dog foster carers. Kaye took Tessa into foster care who has difficult behaviour and medical needs. She has worked absolute wonders.

I was literally in shock by Tessa’s behaviour on her first meeting with potential adopters. Tessa did not let out a warning growl, bark or pull on the lead at stimuli she previously deemed as threatening. She was relaxed, comfortable and very happy. There were several men and dogs in close proximity and she did not react. Tessa approached the male that came in for the meeting, took treats, let him have a few pats and leaned into his legs with her body.

We are in awe of you Kaye, absolutely brilliant work! You have been a massive part of Tessa’s road to recovery and giving her a second chance at a new and wonderful life. You have shown her care, love and given her a stable foster home to learn and flourish in. We cannot thank you enough for all that you have done for Tessa.” – Kate.

Kaye has used her experience fostering Tessa and being involved in the foster care mentor/mentee pilot to benefit future volunteers. She provided valuable insight on her experience as a mentee in the program and useful ideas which has helped us shape the program, including training requirements and the role of a mentor.

Tessa represents just one of the hundreds of dogs Kaye has helped by volunteering in our shelter. As a volunteer supporting the Adoption Centre Kaye is regularly taking on additional shifts to support new volunteers. She is always a friendly and welcoming and happy to share her skills and knowledge with others. As a foster carer, Kaye increases the physical capacity Lort Smith has to take on more animals needing rehoming. For each day Tessa hasn’t been in our shelter, it has allowed another dog to receive treatment and rehabilitation. With Kaye providing Tessa her medicated baths, exercise and enrichment, it reduces the pressure on our Animal Welfare Officers enabling them to focus their attention on other animals in need.

Kaye’s involvement with our Volunteer Advisory Committee improves processes which impact volunteer engagement and volunteer roles, this contributes to the organisation’s mission of improving the health and happiness of animals and the people who care for them. Kaye has been a wonderful asset to the VAC, always providing useful ideas and feedback which helps us to improve the ways in which we engage volunteers. Recently Kaye and the VAC have been vital in consulting with our volunteers about our second site opening in Campbellfield later this year. She has also contributed to the creation of a volunteer roadmap, which sets goals for both volunteers and staff, and has planned and delivered volunteer trivia night and co-hosted a volunteer social gathering.

At Lort Smith we believe in and promote the benefits of the human–animal bond which goes beyond companionship. This bond refers to the strong positive interaction that exists between humans and animals – the special cohesive relationship that enhances human quality of life and has the power to heal. The therapeutic benefits of the human–animal bond are well documented, and can include emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual benefits.

Not everyone has access to the healing power of the human-animal bond, particularly patients and residents in aged-care, hospitals, justice settings and other facilities that support people experiencing hardship. When Kaye began volunteering with us in 2013, it was as a pet therapy volunteer, taking Meg, her specially assessed terrier, to provide comfort and relief to people experiencing loneliness, grief and a variety of health issues at a residential aged care facility in Melbourne.

Kaye and Meg also supported facility staff, who often work in a challenging environment, as well as the visiting loved ones of residents. Kaye and Meg were a welcome addition to the routine of the residents, and has received wonderful feedback from the facility about their visits:

“Kaye comes to the facility with such enthusiasm, always having that warm smile. She approaches each resident with respect and compassion. With her encouragement and reassurance, residents are able to engage and interact with Meg.” – Eleanor, Lifestyle Coordinator at Gregory Lodge.

In 2017, Meg developed a severe illness, and Kaye and her partner made the difficult decision to put her to sleep. Kaye took some time away from volunteering, but in her grief, Kaye reached out to the facility she was visiting and decided she would visit one last time to share a cake and celebrate Meg’s life – she always said that Meg liked a bit of cake.

Despite Meg’s passing, Kaye wanted to stay involved with the Lort Smith Pet Therapy Program, and was very keen to assist the new volunteer who would visit the same aged care facility. Kaye’s work was critical in developing the pet therapy mentor role, from the initial planning stages all the way through to its implementation now as a standard part of our program. Her resilience and willingness to assist in a trying time is a testament to how much Kaye truly cares about her volunteer work.

Kaye is a wonderful collaborator, and her empathy and willingness to lead sets her apart. She is one of 12 members on our Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC), representing the views of both kennels and foster care volunteers. The VAC is a team of self-nominated volunteers from across the organisation tasked with providing a volunteer voice and unique perspective on the workings of our volunteer program. They work to raise awareness of the importance of volunteering, both within Lort Smith and externally, promote feedback and advise on issues, and promote best-practice principles regarding volunteer development and management.

Kaye particularly works to support members through information sharing and mentoring, and brings her range of skills, experience and knowledge to the table. She is always willing to train new volunteers, offer her time if we need an extra volunteer on a shift, or if we have a media opportunity featuring volunteers.

Within the volunteer team, we have the utmost respect for Kaye. She is a remarkable woman who has been through considerable challenges both personally and in her volunteer work, but one who rises above it all and continually demonstrates her commitment to our organisation. If her name comes up in conversation with staff outside our team, it’s almost certain they will mention how generous she is to our organisation. The team in our kennels have reached out multiple times to comment on her willingness to listen to their professional advice for Tessa, and even on Tessa’s vet file there are mentions of Kaye and how lovely she is.

Kaye is a true hero in the eyes of Lort Smith. She has gone above and beyond in her time with us and we feel incredibly lucky to have her as part of our team. Her dedication to our work, values and mission is evident in the way she goes about her duties without a fuss. She is an asset to our team and it is a pleasure to nominate her for Volunteer of the Year.

The winners will be revealed at a virtual Rescue Awards Ceremony in November 2021. You can watch the event live via the Rescue Awards Facebook page at @rescueawards.