THE only animal rescue service open daily between Coffs Harbour and the Queensland border has a wish-list.
Lismore's Animal Rights and Rescue Group needs a large injection of capital, an increase in smaller donations, more donated pet food, more foster-carers for rescued pets and a community that understands the importance of having pets de-sexed.
"We need to de-sex ourselves out of this crisis," ARRG founder Barbara Steffensen told The Echo.
"Our donations are down by 50%, but the demand for pet rescues has gone up by 30%.
"When people are struggling financially, keeping a pet may be more than they can manage.
"Maybe their rental lease has run out and they can't find a place they can have animals.
"They may be going in to hospital or even jail.
"We've had people here who are homeless, their house has been repossessed and they're living in their car.
"They have to give up their pets."
AARG is a service Barbara has built up over the past 18 years, 15 of them assisted by secretary Suzanne Lavis.
As well as domestic pets, she has received a wounded fox cub, a couple of dingoes, and a rooster called Henry brought in by the police.
She has also been involved with rescuing horses from neglect and abuse.
Barbara is fiercely "non-kill" - she will not have animals euthanised. In fact, she gets regular end-of-week phone calls from the animal pounds at Lismore, Kyogle and Casino, giving her lists of animals that will be "put to sleep" within days if they can't be re-homed.
She has always managed to find at least short-term care for these otherwise doomed pets, but the momentum is getting stronger now and she fears for the future.
"At the same time as the demand for our service is increasing, our outgoings are escalating. Our monthly vets' bills are between $6000 and $10, 000," she explained.
"We need $100,000 to survive for 12 months."
Unlike native animal welfare groups, ARRG receives no government funding at all. Barbara's tireless work is unpaid.
"We are often referred to as punching above our weight," she said.
"The Northern Rivers has double the growth of other parts of NSW.
"Its welfare services are stretched to the limit in an area very dependent on welfare.
"Population growth means more animals, and more demand on animal welfare services.
"As the only group of our kind, our limited resources leave us struggling to cope."
As well as financial and in-kind donations, Barbara would love to enrol more animal foster-carers.
The group doesn't house all the pets it takes in at its shelter on Three Chain Rd, South Lismore.
"I don't believe in having long straight rows of cages filled with animals," Barbara said.
"Instead, we find foster-families willing to take nearly all our animals in.
"While the animals are with foster-families, we try to find "perfect matches" for them with families who want to adopt a pet.
"The adoption interview is quite rigorous, impressing on the prospective family the importance of committing to keep and care for their pet for its lifetime.
"We've rescued and re-homed over 15,000 animals since 1995. We de-sex, vaccinate and microchip them before they go to approved homes."
Barbara said that while ARRG has supporters Australia-wide, all the money raised goes to the animals and when it's spent, there's no funding to fall back on.
"We have no safety net," she said.
"And for the pets we rescue, we are the last resort."
How to help
- You can help save Animal Rights and Rescue Group.
- All donations over $2 are tax-deductible.
- Send donations to PO Box 987, Lismore 2480
- or go to: animalrights.org.au
- Dog and cat food donation bins are at Coles and Woolworths.
- Pet products also welcome: flea control, heartworm tablets etc.
- Volunteer to help at the Centre.