Mrs Moggie & Co – Rescue & Rehoming
Mrs Moggie & Co – Rescue & Rehoming is a small Community Foster Care Network headed up by Jess Rothacker of Eaglehawk. Like most of us, her passion for animals started when she was “just a kid”. Bendigo born and bred, Jess and her hubby tried a year of lifestyle change – on a large-scale cattle station 150km west of Mt Isa. When they got back and set up house, they adopted two cats and Jess became involved with other local rescues. After taking a break from rescue for a while, Jess inadvertently became involved in rescue again and decided to give some serious thought as to how she could best marry her passion with her lifestyle. Mrs Moggie & Co was the result. But there’s more to Mrs Moggie, as you’ll see, than meets the eye.
The same could be said of Eaglehawk. Originally the home of the Neangar People, it became a significant gold mining centre when a gold nugget was discovered by a stockman in late 1851. (Do you often wonder where Australia would be today without all those stockmen & shepherds discovering nuggets of gold & silver? There’d be no BHP for starters, eh?) By 1852 the township was gazetted and the population grew to 40,000. When the alluvial gold petered out deep shaft mining kept the town buoyant until the late 1890s. The district, like all spent mining districts, withered once the ore body gave out, however, The Rush had left the town with some very respectful mid-Victorian architecture. It’s upon this gracious town plan that Eaglehawk is basing its rejuvenation. Once the last part of Bendigo you passed through on your way to Swan Hill and Kerang, it is developing a charm and character of its own.
Mrs Moggie & Co started, somewhat by chance, when a pair of kittens was discovered on a chook farm. “The owner was going to drown them – I had to do something. At first, I thought I’d just rehome them. Then I found out that, to do this via PetRescue, I had to have a vet onboard. To do this, I needed a name, so, because I initially just wanted to work with cats, Mrs Moggie was born. From there it just made sense to have a social media profile and a website (www.mrsmoggie.com.au). Then there’s all the paperwork”. In a moment of reflection, Jess sighed that it had grown a little bit more than she thought it would. “At this stage we don’t have charity status due to lack of volunteers to form a committee. Businesses like Bush’s have been fabulous, and we’ve just had a vet open up offering highly affordable de-sexing services to rescues and the general public. Snip & Chip Low-Cost Desexing is a fantastic sister clinic to MyVet Strathfieldsaye and provide excellent care at affordable prices. LifeWise have also supported our cause with food”.
Mrs Moggie & Co run a program called The Last Litter Program where owners can surrender an unwanted/unexpected litter and have the mum desexed at no cost to them. The entire litter is desexed, vaccinated and microchipped (along with any other required vetwork) at the cost of the rescue, before being adopted out into a carefully selected home.
In August 2018 they changed from being informally referred to as ‘Mrs Moggie’, to an official business titled Mrs Moggie & Co (to cover all the other animals that come through the door). The rescue has grown from just cats and in their first 12 months of operation they have fostered and rehomed 119 cats & dogs. On top of this was also a rabbit, named Chicory, and a pony, Matilda, all the way from Cobar! Matilda’s story, like so many remote rescues, is a masterclass in cooperation and dedication. “We were contacted by a lady who facilitates the placement of animals from remote pounds with rescue groups. The pony’s owner hadn’t been caring for her and had agreed for this lady to facilitate her placement with a rescue. She was incredibly emaciated, so through social media we got someone to take her in and put enough condition on her to travel. They got her down to Echuca and we picked her up from there. When we got her home she moved into the paddock with my own, very friendly, personal horses. Matilda was – and still is – utterly terrified of everything. She has spent 5 weeks with an incredibly kind local trainer, Gavin Beever from H-Ed Horse Education, who has progressed her to the point where she will allow them to handle her for basic, routine care and vet treatment if required. This has come at a cost, and Matilda will need an incredibly special home to continue this work long-term”.
Not all the rescues are as lucky as Matilda. “Sadly, the health of some animals is beyond recovery. At some point you have to ask yourself ‘What is this animal’s quality of life?’. We had a litter of 3 tiny kittens surrendered, one with head tremors and very poor motor control. We affectionately dubbed her ‘Shakey’ and had high hopes for her, as we all thought it was Cerebellar Hypoplasia, which doesn’t get any worse over time and her quality of life was really good. Sadly, it wasn’t CH as she deteriorated rapidly and in the end we had to make the hard call to end her suffering. The vets still aren’t sure what it was, but it was nothing that any amount of money or medicine could have helped.”
The power and reach of social media have proved useful on many occasions and they find themselves fostering and re-homing animals from regional Victoria and as far interstate as Rockhampton. “It’s really a matter of what we can manage. We try to keep our intake of animals local, but sometimes we’ve got the space, and it’s hard to turn an animal way”.
Jess has a small group of cat foster carers who’ll take on a litter at a time. “I’ve got two great carers who carry the bulk of the load. When the kittens come in we give them eight days quarantine and then they have the run of the house. Foster cats are treated just like any family pet.”
From the first of July the Greater Bendigo Council took over the running of the city’s animal welfare centre from the RSPCA. “They’ve indicated that they’re willing to work with the rescue groups to streamline the way the system works across the community. They’ve been pretty understanding over the years and we’re looking forward to, once they’ve settled in, discussing the possibility of working with them”.
Animals come in via a surrender or through the pounds. At times it becomes problematic. Jess explained that she hears a lot of, “Oh, our cat’s had kittens”, or “I’ve been feeding the feral cats at work. Now I feel responsible. Can you take in 12 feral kittens?” That sort of thing. They take a lot of kittens from the spring breeding activities, known in the rescue world as Kitten Season.
Mrs Moggie & Co run a program called The Last Litter Program where owners can surrender an unwanted/unexpected litter and have the mum desexed at no cost to them. The entire litter is desexed, vaccinated and microchipped (along with any other required vetwork) at the cost of the rescue, before being adopted out into a carefully selected home. However, there are some stipulations; “There’s one thing we’re very firm on. Every kitten or puppy in the litter needs to be surrendered (not given away or otherwise rehomed) so that we can ensure it is de-sexed, vaccinated, microchipped and responsibly rehomed. We’re trying get people to think responsibly. Un-desexed animals only go on and create more unwanted litters and the reality is, we’ve got limited finances, and for that matter, limited space and human resources.”
The costs associated with providing vetwork for an animal vary greatly depending on the species, age and gender. “With surrendered litters, we give them the care that they need and at 8-12 weeks they all go to the vet. Both spaying and neutering are quite a simple operation these days. It’s done with a very minor incision and only leaves a small mark. The team at Snip & Chip do an amazing job.”
Despite not having the resources for charity status, the rescue is run as a not-for-profit, with all funds going directly back into the rescue. To give some idea of what’s involved financially she volunteered that her first full year’s budget was around $43,000. Eighty-five percent of this was spent on animal-related costs, with the rest being tied up in insurance, administration, fundraising, software, etc. She saves on these administrative costs as much as possibly by doing her own bookkeeping and IT work. Most of the recovery comes from adoptions with donations and fund raising contributing around 15%. “Adult cats, especially cats that have to be de-sexed, we home at a loss.”
Having a flush of kittens coming through at the one time can be daunting for cat rescuers. “Even with social media it’s difficult to find a home for adult cats; fluffy kittens, they walk out the door. But adult cats deserve a home as much as kittens. We don’t have a time limit on how long we hold a cat for fostering or adoption, so we can find ourselves with a bottleneck and have to turn surrenders away, which is hard.”
While goodness might well be its own reward, as would be expected, there’s a burnout factor in this sort of work. “There comes a time, to prevent it taking over your life completely, when you need to take a break away from the pressure; to give yourself a chance to freshen up. When too many of the rescue groups take a break at the same time it can place a burden on the system. It also reveals just how much the privately funded rescuers contribute to animal welfare in the region.”
There’s also the issue of moral responsibility. Jess would not be alone in feeling that someone who has allowed a community cat they’ve been feeding to present them with a litter of kittens has a duty to care towards them, or at least make arrangements for their future. However, there’s a reluctance to deliver animals to council pounds which places a huge burden on the rescue community and as Jess explained, the emotional burden of it all is quite stressful.
She estimated the life expectancy for a rescue group in the Greater Bendigo region wasn’t much more than a couple of years on average. “We don’t get any income off it; we’ve got to work, we’ve got family commitments. I’d rather save six animals a year for 10 years than burn out in 12 months.”
“Lots of people say they’d love to help but when they take it on they realise the commitment involved and admit it’s not working out for them. I understand that, but we have to work out some way of educating the community about how to take a responsible approach to animal welfare. People just think that dogs don’t get pregnant at eight months. They just think that the Pound puts every dog down. They just think their dog has an aggressive streak when all the dog really needs is some leadership in its life. We need to get the message across. Things aren’t always as they seem.
“All animals should be chipped”, Jess said. “Chipped, vaccinated and, if not a registered, papered, exemplary breed standard dog, de-sexed. This step would take an enormous pressure off the rescue community. We’ve just sent out a survey for the Bendigo area (Est. pop. 116.045) to try and gather information regarding why these things just aren’t happening. Whether it’s a need for education, or is it money? It will definitely be different in individuals, of course.” The survey has had over 100 responses so far, and is about to be re-circulated to gather more data. You can have your say at: https://mrsmoggieco.typeform.com/to/eZsf9p
The first great outcome of this survey has been the launch of a Cheap as (micro)Chips Day. On September 21st 2019 Mrs Moggie & Co, combined with Snip & Chip, are offering $10 microchips. Bookings are essential and can be done online via www.mrsmoggie.com.au
“All animals should be chipped”, Jess said. “Chipped, vaccinated and, if not a registered, papered, exemplary breed standard dog, de-sexed”.
One of the great things that Mrs Moggie & Co has given Jess is relationships with other passionate animal lovers. Happy Paws Animal Rescue, headed up by Bree Hodge, is another fantastic, Bendigo-based, group with whom Mrs Moggie & Co work. Last year a vet contacted Mrs Moggie & Co, a dog had been hit by a car and the owners had surrendered her to the vet as they couldn’t afford the recovery. Neither could Mrs Moggie & Co, so Jess called Bree and she suggested they work together to get this dog the treatment – and future – she deserves. Bindi turned out to be the most beautiful dog and has gone on to be totally beloved by the vet nurse who cared for her and adopted her. “Rescue is really tough, and you have to surround yourself with people who support you – but also ‘get’ rescue and why you do what you do. I’d be lost without the support of people like Bree and the amazing staff at MyVet Strathfieldsaye and Snip & Chip.”
Cats are notoriously fussy eaters. “My older two had to go on a vet diet due to continued upset stomachs. I didn’t know a lot about nutrition at the time, but I read up about grain-free so I transitioned them onto a popular brand. Years later the people who made the food sold the company and although they said they didn’t change the formula, my litter trays suggested otherwise. I tried some other brands then Bush’s got LifeWise in. Like all cats, they choose when they’ll eat, but they’ve all been transitioned to LifeWise and they’re all thriving, happy and healthy.”
I’m sure we’re not alone in feeling the points Mrs Moggie & Co made about animal welfare are practical, and that her idea of a survey to discover just what the community’s feelings towards and understanding of animal welfare are as innovative. As we drove off from Eaglehawk, past Lake Neangar and Lake Tom Thumb, it wasn’t hard to imagine that the idea could turn out to be a model used to develop a whole of community empathy with animal welfare issues and how they can be best be handled in a compassionate and responsible manner.
“I would like to formally thank LifeWise for their generous support of a small rescue group by providing premium food to foster animals. In addition, each puppy adopted goes into their new home with a bag of premium LifeWise puppy food, which is a great start to a new life. I would also like to thank Bush’s Produce Stores, Snip & Chip, MyVet Strathfieldsaye and Happy Paws Animal Rescue for their continued support”. Sincerely, Jess Rothacker.
Jess can be contacted at Mrs Moggie & Co by phone on 0448 353 865 or email at [email protected]