Shelter Staff Salaries are NOT a luxury

We need to talk about staff and why organizations like ours are not capable of running without having full time, year-round, salaried staff, NOT volunteers coming and going.

To clarify for those who do not work with animals, these jobs cannot be classified as unskilled labor just because they do not require a degree.  Anyone who works professionally with animals can tell you that.  Now lets take our staff out of their home country, put them in a country where nothing works, they don’t speak the language, and there are no vets to help them, much less a car to drive, funds to pay for things, or society around them that supports the mission.  Tell me now this is unskilled.  I wouldn’t take anyone without international travel experience for any job here. They must drive a motorbike at the very least as well, something MOST candidates cannot do. Consider also how one gains this experience we need. To be able to effectively run a rescue shelter in our situation, we require YEARS of hands on experience in a low resource country, and this takes huge sacrifice financially and professionally because more than likely they are coming from another field and have given up their salaried life track to pursue something they truly care about. If you have never done this, you have no clue what this takes. It is not the fun and games it sounds like on a Facebook meme telling you to “live your passion” or some other horseshit written by trustfund babies getting high on beaches in Goa. This is always a sacrifice, even if it comes with permanent tan lines and the well-deserved but very occasional hangover.

This isn’t a cute job, in spite of the moronic crap you find on media from the big rescues who make you think we roll in kittens all day long on beaches with cocktails.  This is damn hard work requiring intensive physical labor and emotional strain due to the nonstop contact with preventable animal suffering for which we are helpless to stop all around us because we are constantly fighting for the most basic resources to function.  I swear, if one more person tells me I am doing a dream job I am going to go postal. I wouldn’t give this job to my worst enemy. Having to sell it to potential staff is no longer even possible because who in their right mind would work this hard for so little money and with so much responsibility and financial hell on their plate.

The salaries we offer are absolute rubbish and as a director, it is embarrassing to pay people who work so hard such a pittance for their sacrifice and expect them to stay on for years doing it.  If you think you could live on 320 pounds a month anywhere in the world while doing a job which ultimately is soul destroying and physically brutal, awesome,  you are better person than all of us here, but more than likely you are just kidding yourself.  We are not working in this field because we are trustfund babies and if your business or organization relied on sources only independently wealthy volunteers for human resource recruitment, you’d be just as screwed as we are.  We require that all staff have savings or a side income to pay for visas, health insurance, and anything over the pittance we can offer so that they can try to enjoy life in Vietnam rather than live on noodles and keep their head to the grindstone.  Trust me when I say that this eliminates a HUGE chunk of potentially amazing candidates from the pool of potential staff. You could never run your business like this, so how the hell should I be expected to do any better here? The revolving door of staff is no accident. No one can sustain this for long. This is a hiccup in their life adventures, not a career and we NEED career animal professionals, not fly by night backpacking “animal heroes”. Don’t get me started on backpackers who love puppies and “want to help”….

For some reason, supporters expect us to sacrifice any semblance of a normal life, normal relationships (have YOU ever tried to get laid in an animal shelter?), financial progress or stability of any kind, and do it for pennies or for free with no breaks or health care because we are doing something good in the world rather than being some soul sucking stock broker who technically has the buying power to do much more good than we could ever hope to.  This is the most backwards, moronic idea that the rescue industry has ever created, even more so than the entire premise it is built on that we can keep patching the hole in the Titanic with chewing gum by taking in endless cases with no resources while burning out everyone who works in the field.  This is ultimately a job like any other even if it is built on passion for the mission, and all of us who work in rescue still have to eat, pay bills, have health care (only paid for now by my parents), have TIME OFF AND HOLIDAYS for our very valuable health and sanity, and gather savings and retirement funds if we want to continue to stay in the field and use our experience to make the industry stronger. 

When I recently wrote a donor appeal for overhead costs and put “salaries” at the front of the list of things we need.  I wrote it on all our funding pages, posts, and emails.  Not a penny came in.  Nothing.  I mention the people who make the entire organization run, and suddenly the crickets chirp and no one thinks this is a vital cost.  When the animals are starving, people chime in.  When the humans who wake up at 5am to feed them every day are starving, no one bats an eye.  This is ultimately the entire reason I want absolutely nothing to do with the entire industry of rescue anymore.  I would like to get out and stay out and have not a word of contact with any humans in the industry for the rest of my life if I could.   It is infuriating when people send us adorable emoticons of hearts and grateful hands telling us we are so inspirational but then can’t give two shits about these same people when we need to pay them to be here.  Like most nonprofits, we have to pay hard working professionals working in a field which has no easily measurable economic benefit, and as a result, we are constantly being accused of wasting money on staff when good things are expected to only be done by volunteers.

Shelter Staff Sue gives our paralysed Jackpot all the snuggles he needs, but she also has to clean up after him all day and manage his

This needs to be said again and again: there is NO organization, no rescue, no animals at all without the humans who have dedicated their time and energy to keeping this running.  This isn’t Orwell’s Animal Farm.  It requires HUMAN INTERVENTION.  If you are a rescue who can run on volunteers only, good for you. You are NOT in Vietnam and you are likely doing a fraction of what you could be if had dedicated professional staff, not to mention the fact that you are going to burn the fuck out in a heartbeat, guaranteed. You can only burn the candle at both ends for so long.   If you are director with outside financial support, some investment dividends to live on, then that’s great.  I am not that girl.  I have debt coming out of my eyeballs because in order to do this job, I gave up nearly a decade of earnings potential as someone with a Master’s and a started and quit PhD ( I can’t run a shelter, clinic, and doctorate simultaneously without a bad cocaine habit) while adding student loans because I felt that eventually I would be able to replace myself and work in another job while stepping back to the board of the organization so that I could make enough money to support myself.  Sadly, I have been unable to replace myself and unable to get outside work that would fit into me being the head of operations in Hoi An, and now I am so far beyond financially screwed, it is hard to see how to ever fix this.  If I ever get a proper paying job, it will all go to paying off a bottomless pit of debt from this organization and paying the staff I will need in Hoi An because heaven forbid that cost be covered by donations which are so clearly not forthcoming.  This is all on me and I know what a huge responsibility this is.  I would never in a million years have started all this if I thought this is where it would lead me and how little we could get done in Vietnam as a result.

The profession of begging for funds is as pathetic and unfun of a job as I can imagine.  It’s neither what I was trained to do, nor something I am good at or want to spend my life doing, but this is the nonprofit life. When I meet professional fundraisers in real life, I often am torn between kidnapping them and smacking them in the face for willingly being in a field which I find to be the source of all of my frustration in life. I often dream of being a garbage collector instead of running an animal shelter.  The stress relief would be an absolute dream. At least then I wouldn’t have to constantly justify taking a tiny salary for the work I do.

The point of this post is to remind all our supporters and those who work in the rescue world professionally to pay some attention to those humans that are the only cogs in this wheel that really matter.  This is an intense job not at all like any you’d see in a country with a very different set of resources and a much lower caseload.  Stop expecting us to do it all while not being able to eat. I want more than anything to just pay our staff salaries and I don’t want to have to fight for that.  I should not have to be explaining this to donors.  Nothing matters if the people who are the heart of this organization are being forced to starve for our work.  We owe them so much more.