Check out our new post on professionalizing the Animal Rights sector and rescue in particular:
Why do we have PAID staff rather than rely entirely on volunteers?
Where do I even start? Without staff, none of our work would be possible.
Here’s some of the top reasons for why we believe professionalizing animal rights to create a legitimate development sector is the only way forward:
1. We eat. Humans eat. We sweat a lot, do a lot of work, and we then need to eat. We do not have time for other jobs as this is a FULL TIME job trying to manage the animals, the facility, and the administration of the organization takes all day every day. We are a nonprofit and like every other nonprofit, we have overheads. This is one of them.
2. Vietnam is NOT Switzerland. We do not have a big group of functional long term volunteers to help us within the community, much less a hyperfunctional society within which to care for the animals with proper vets, funding, and generally a society around us that is not hostile to our work. Vietnam is a different ball game. We have no laws to protect animals here, much less us as foreigners. This is not a part time job.
3. We have NO vets we can rely on, so every case is a much longer process without having any vets anywhere nearby to help us to diagnose or treat our animals. Playing Google vet is a nightmare and that’s all we are left with here. It takes SKILLS to know how to handle this and that is not free.
4. Fundraising is a full-time profession in any other organization. Media too. Communications, marketing, and media requires staff who can write well, research, manipulate images and video. It is not unskilled labor. Nothing about this work is UNSKILLED. 5. Handling the constant exposure to suffering, the generally frustrating non-functional nature of Vietnam when trying to get anything done, and kicking on in pretty shitty conditions is not something you get people to do for long and MOST people cannot handle this day to day. Paying people who are functional and reliable for the long term is the only way to keep people on and our programs running consistently.
6. People who work with animals are not trust fund babies. We do not all have the luxury of a big savings account. This is mostly because if we are good at this job, it’s because we have been doing this long term for the absolute shite pay that we are able to get because donors think we are unskilled labor and should do this for free. None of us get a chance to build up savings to live off of so we can work for free. Getting decent people to do this difficult work is hard, and it’s much harder if we cannot pay them for their time so they can take care of themselves.
7. Working with animals and actually being good at it is NOT unskilled labor. It takes training, experience, and a hell of a lot of case management to figure this out. It’s no different from a chef, an accountant, or a fundraiser. It takes skills and there is no damn reason why that should not be paid for accordingly.
8. The animals do not feed themselves. They do not fundraise for their food by themselves. They do not medicate themselves. They do not clean after themselves. They do not fund homes on their own. They do not pay rent on their own. When you say all the money should go to the animals, consider that the people who take care of all these tasks are working their asses off to make this happen. When you pay salaries to experienced, long term, reliable staff, you are giving all the money to the animals.
9. NO ONE IN THE RIGHT MIND WOULD EVER WORK WITH ANIMALS FOR THE MONEY. Do I need to repeat that? NO ONE would EVER consider this a career in order to get ahead in life. It is a financial black hole that personally has me 6 figures in debt while making less than $7000 a year with a Master’s degree. We all do it for the mission. We do it for the love of the animals both onsite and off. We do it because we have the skills and the drive and the resilience. No one chooses to be traumatized daily and live below the poverty line unless the truly believe in the work we do.
10. The longer people stay in the field of rescue, the more valuable they are. How long can YOU work for free? We need to stop having a revolving door of workers when we need the ones who accumulate and are able to use the knowledge they get from each new case. When I started this, even after working with animals my whole adult life and dealing with some of the best equine vets in the US and volunteering at rescues, I was useless in terms of the cases we dealt with here. After 7 years, I have a lot better idea about how to solve things here and in other contexts. I will be learning this for the rest of my life. It is not something you pick up in a month long stint. A month long volunteer will be capable of assisting with day to day running and cuddling animals, not much more in that short time. If we want to do good work and make progress, we need years and year of knowledge and we need to do our best to KEEP people in rescue, not send them in and out without bothering to get the experience necessary to do this well.
The biggest hold up to justifying paid salaries to those working in a charity capacity is that we do not have a measurable economic impact. Rescue does not make money. It is not a business. The benefit from our work is on an individual basis for living beings who do not contribute to human society. We rely on donors to fund the work we do and to fund the people doing the work that we do. This is what most nonprofits do. Is this a financially sustainable model? F*** NO! But this is where we are at the moment while we build a team to pull us out of this financial hell to move forward in a way that progresses animal rights rather than stalls it.
We now have 4 full time paid employees. Mai, our Vietnamese admin/accountant, keeps everything running. She’s a powerhouse of creativity and can make anything we need to happen work out. There is no organization without her. If she quits, I drown myself in the sea. She is the center of it all. Marie, our new shelter manager, has come to us with over 4 years experience managing 1500 dogs in Sri Lanka including disabled dogs, volunteer and staff management, veterinary outreach for sterilization and vaccination, and a constant flow of intakes. It was insane and she knows very well why sheltering does not solve the problem. Bringing Marie in from Norway is the fire under out asses to get this veterinary clinic up and running pronto because she knows better than anyone on the planet why mass sterilization is the end all be all of the solution to animal suffering while hoarding is not. Sue, our new assistant manager, comes to us from the human side of the same type of work. She spent over a decade in social work in the UK before coming to Vietnam and brings with her a drive and fresh energy that we all need coupled with her years of experience in a similar capacity.
I have been the director here for six and half years full time. For the first 3 years I did not take a salary because I was living off my Master’s degree student loans and was afraid no one would support me in taking any money for my work, but when I finished my degree, I had no income at all and started taking $500 a month. This is varied between $200 and $750 depending on the month and whether we were actually getting any money at all. I have gone many, many days without eating when we had nothing at all to pay me. I have had stomach ulcers and heart problems from this, got a herniated disk in my back and still had to work. No health insurance included here. I have a Bachelor’s degree in international relations from American University in Washington, DC with a concentration in international politics and Russian and Eurasian studies. I have a Master’s in Emergency and Disaster Management in which I focused on animals in disasters and complex emergencies. I have lived in 9 countries (7 and half years in Vietnam), traveled in over 60 now.
When in the US, I had my own horse for 18 years, and have had animals of all species for my whole life, at one point 27 living in my bedroom in high school. I have managed top end stables in Virginia and rode horses for a living while also working for a polo school and going to university full time. I have experience with some of the top equine vets in the country who managed our horses throughout my 7 years in northern Virginia and my standards of welfare and veterinary care have not wavered since. I am damn well qualified to make a ton more than I do here. I should not in any way have to ever justify a salary this for the work I have done as the founder and director of an organization that has opened the only nonprofit vet clinic, mobile sterilization clinic, and vegan education program in the history of the country. If you think you can get someone with the experience, education and skills I have for free, guess again. From the daughter of a Vietnam war vet and former CIA here, a man who was paid to kill Vietnamese people, I am confident that I have done my part to try to make up for his sins.
Spartans in the field
All of these amazing women I have hired are helping the organization get the hell out of this financial nightmare we cannot seem to escape in order for us to get that vet clinic that the region can no longer live without. I know full well that it takes an army of amazing people to make this work at all, even in the most basic sense, and it will take an army with no less fierceness than the Spartans to make this work. I have been on my own in this mission most of the 6 and half years in terms of getting the major expansions with some people popping in and out, leaving as things got tough. Being on my own created a burnout I would not wish on my worst enemy. I cannot imagine hating anyone on the planet enough to give them my job and the horror I have seen and been through to keep this running for so long against all odds. I will never do this alone again. This is why I have this team now and we will all together fight to get the finances stable, the funds to open that clinic, and for all of us to stay sane and mission focused.
If you think Soi Dog, Animals Asia, HSI and all those big guys do a lot, ask yourself why. Ask yourself who is behind each program. Who are the humans making this happen? Ask yourself if they are volunteers. If you think any organization that really gets shit done is doing it on free labor, you are living in a fantasy world. They employ qualified, experienced, educated professionals working full time to make their work happen. If you think we can get anything done without the same, wake up. We can’t and we won’t. Our staff salaries cover only food here in Vietnam. That’s peanuts. We do not even cover visas or health insurance (which I require). Our salaries are simply embarrassing for me to offer. Our staff which work double to triple the hours of an inexperienced English teacher and make less than a third of their salaries while also being dead exhausted at the end of the day and dealing with endless disasters and seeing plenty more suffering than you can get in a class room with any number of unruly children. They deserve 4 times what we can pay, and even then I end up having to fight with people to justify paying them even that tiny pittance we offer.
Where do we go from here?
If you support rescue, and not rescuers, you need to rethink your interest in the field. We need your support. We need to professionalize the entire sector and we will not do it on free, transient labor. Support your local rescuer. Pay them like a human being who works their fingers to the bone making these before and after pictures you love so much possible. The animals deserve it. We deserve it.
Right now, we need to pay our salaries. That’s not negotiable. We put in a ton of hours and we all need to eat. For just under $2000, we pay these 4 ass kicking women to help these animals. That is the bargain of the century when you put it into context of what we have done and the massive project for veterinary capacity building we have ahead of us. If you want to help animals in Vietnam, help us help them.
To donate today:
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Norwegian donations:Vipps: 97750737(Reference: VAAR)
Vietnamese Account name: Tran Tuyet Mai Account No.: 0400 4638 4034
Bank name: Sacombank- chi nhánh Đà Nẵng.Thank You 💜🌱