For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a ‘rescuer’. As a child I would rescue ladybirds in puddles, worms from the footpath, hornets in pools, birds who had fallen out of their nests and even flies caught in spider webs (which didn’t make me popular with the spiders).

For sixteen years I lived in Manhattan, where non-human life was hard to come by most of the time, except for the city rats who’d be mistaken for large cats in the night light, or the ever present cockroach, an inevitable roommate in most New York apartments-difficult to spot in the daytime but unmistakable by their slightly disturbing scurrying sounds as they moved across the floor boards in the dark. To most people these were creatures filled with disease and general ickiness, but for me, they represented, and still do, an equal being on this borrowed planet of ours, each with their own purpose and reasons for being here.

When I moved back to Australia I decided to join the local wildlife rescue organisation and began rescuing birds, possums and the occasional echidna. There is heartbreak involved in being a wildlife volunteer, because in over 50% of the cases, they don’t make it. And despite being told by one vet (when I had to have a bird who had no chance, euthanised) to toughen up, I still shed a tear each time I am witness to the end of a mortal existence. Yet although always painful, there is great privilege in being present at their passing.

What I discovered in being part of an organisation like this is that for many of the volunteers, it is the animals who rescue them. This is something that a lot of companion animal ‘owners’ can identify with, but for many of these wildlife rescuers and carers, these animals are truly their lifeline. Often, these people are loners, have difficulty with this species called human and suffer with knowledge of the cruelty inflicted by many human beings upon those who do not have a voice. Rescuing animals gives them a reason to keep going.

While I love helping out fellow animals in need (furry, feathered or other) I am still fixated on helping out the little guy. From worm to ladybird, fly to cicada, I spend half my time outside making sure I tread carefully and to be considerate of those who live closer to the ground. In fact, just the other day I was walking through a busy street and saw a very large cockroach rolled over on its back, struggling to right itself. It was nothing for me to push it gently back onto its legs and help guide it to a safer spot off the footpath.

At home, in the warmer months, if one of us hasn’t wiped down the kitchen counter properly, I’ll wake up to find a troop of ants milling about, checking out what bread crumbs or tasty morsels have been missed by the sponge. So, usually before anyone else in the house gets up, I’ll spend a fair amount of time, constructing vinegar barriers to help guide this motley crew back towards where I think their home base might be. There is always one straggler but with a little ingenuity, I can safely move them from one side of the vinegar dividing line toward the go home zone. Sometimes I’ll even catch my husband, who, before we met would have automatically reached for the Baygon or Mortein, speaking quietly to said ants, asking them to move along with surprising success.

So while I don’t really feel as though all these creatures have ‘rescued’ me, they have certainly taught me a thing or two-not just about making spider webs and pollinating plants, but about observation, the value of ingenuity and team work, resilience and determination. They have shown me the magic of this beautiful planet, made me believe in the sentience of all beings and gifted me the desire to support their own rights to exist. Wonderfully, by rescuing them, I have helped other people see the value in caring about our mother earth companions and that might be the biggest gift of all.

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