Although 2020 has been our most successful year to date, it hasn’t been an easy one and 2021 is going to become a make or break year for the charity. Our running costs are going to go through the roof and if we can’t meet them, we will have no option but to close the rescue and dissolve the charity.
I think there can be a general misconception that running a rescue catering solely for rabbits and/or rodents is in some way a ‘hobby’ rescue, and differs from dog and cat rescues; the time, funding and dedication needed to run a rescue catering solely for rabbits and rodents is less compared to dogs or cats. To some degree this may be true, as neutering costs for rabbits are generally lower when compared to dogs. But, in all other areas, catering solely for rabbits and/or rodents doesn’t make the job any easier. In fact, in many respects it makes it harder. Rabbits don’t engender the same passions when compared to dogs especially. An appeal for vet fees for an ill or injured dog will generate at least 5 times the amount in donations when compared to a rabbit. Across the board rabbits receive less donations, less interest in volunteering, less interest in adoption, and less interest in overall welfare. Before you even open a rescue, you've an uphill battle to fight against the general apathy received from the public. You regularly receive comments of 'Just put the rabbits in a pot', but you never hear 'Just send the dogs to a meat market'. Running a rabbit rescue is tough and has its own set of unique and difficult challenges.
For those of you reading this, you are probably as passionate about bunnies and their care and welfare as we are. You want to hold all rabbit rescues to the same high standards commonly afforded to dogs. You expect all of the rabbits to be neutered and vaccinated, to receive veterinary care for illness and injury, to be housed in adequate housing, fed a correct diet, and you expect the rabbits to be provided with a suitable level of day-to-day care. You want homechecks carried out for adopters and a back up for life policy in place. We totally agree with you! Rabbits absolutely deserve all of this and more, but to provide rabbits with this level of rescue care requires adequate annual funding and manpower.
Since opening in 2015, it's been a battle to keep the rescue open and we’ve had serious problems with funding and volunteer recruitment. Last year nearly saw the end of Nibbles with an inability to meet even the most basic care costs. This year it’s been more about the continued low volunteer recruitment and an inability to provide care to the animals and keep the administration side of the rescue running. So I will apologise now for what will become a lengthy blog post, but for those who really want to gain a deep understanding of our funding needs and why we have now reached the stage where our only option is to employ staff, please read on.
Costs of Keeping the Rescue Open
Basic Animal Care Core Costs
Each animal in our care costs on average £6.00 each month. Running at a 43 animal capacity will require a monthly budget of £258.
Making an annual total of £3,096.
Working on us rehoming a minimum of 22 rabbits annually, will require a budget of £1,540. In addition to this a provision for rodent neutering must also be provided and a budget of £700 should be allocated to these costs.
Making an annual total of: £2,240
Working on our 22 adoptable rabbit placements and our 7 sanctuary rabbits, our minimum annual vaccination bill will be: £1,131
Other Annual Costs
These include insurance at £179.04 and Web Hosting at £122.00. Making an annual total of £301.04
To provide an annual supply of daily timothy hay requires an annual budget of £2,080
Non-Routine Veterinary Fees Reserve
Currently the minimum of this reserve is set at £500. This should be increased to £1,000 during 2021, with the minimum monthly contribution to this reserve increasing from £25 to £50. This will require an annual budget of £600 with the addition of £500 allocated to the account, making an annual budget of £1,100 for 2021.
Other Reserve Funds
Maintenance, replacements and repairs: requires an annual budget of £300 (£25 monthly)
Postage and Printing costs: requires an annual budget of £180 (£15 monthly)
Utilities: requires an annual budget of £100 (£10 monthly)
A total annual budget of £580
This brings us to an annual total of: £10,528.40
Adding the salary for a part-time animal care and welfare assistant will require an additional £6,240. Do we really need to employ someone? Yes, and here's why. The animals require care 365 days of the year. Unlike other charitable organisations, Nibbles doesn't have the option to close during periods of volunteer shortages or absence. Someone has to be available to feed, clean and provide a basic health and welfare check for each animal everyday. To provide this requires a minimum weekly commitment of 46 hours. We require a minimum of 9 volunteers able to commit to a weekly shift of at least 4 hours, and I make up the remaining 10 hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. At present we have 5 regular volunteers and 1 volunteer able to help on occasion when work allows. To make matters worse, one of the 5 will be moving away from the area in a few weeks and a second is only able to commit until May. This will leave us with 3 regular volunteers providing 9 hours of animals care each week. Leaving me to make up the remaining 27 hours on top of the scheduled 10 hours. If you've ever been frustrated with our phone always being off, or delayed responses to messages or even no response at all, this is why! It's all down to the time I have to dedicate to caring for the animals on a weekly basis, because we don't have enough volunteers. A minimum of 37 hours a week spent caring for the rescue animals equates to a full time job in itself. Between the rescue animals and my own pets, I spend the bulk of my day on animal care. This leaves a few hours each day available for admin. There is so much that simply doesn't get done, and this has a negative impact on the animals and the charity as a whole. The time to regularly groom rabbits just isn't there, performing a full monthly health check on all our residents isn't there and we are failing to carry out our monthly deep cleans of all our housing. We simply can't continue to run with the current lack of manpower. With a part-time employee we will only require 3-4 volunteers and I will be free to devote more time to vital administration and be on hand to provide extra manpower to complete our monthly deep cleaning, grooming and health checks.
Added to the addition of a part-time staff member, an application was made and approved by the Charity Commission in October to allow me to become a paid employee and draw a small wage starting in January 2021. When I opened Nibbles in January 2015, I was working part-time and setting up my own dog training, behaviour and grooming business. At the time I was incredibly lucky to be in the position to take a step back from my own business and focus on getting the rescue off the ground. I spent nearly 3 years believing that next year would be better and I wouldn’t be required to give so much time to the rescue. In 2018, the required insurance for voluntary help was purchased. My goal had been to recruit enough volunteers to enable me to take a step back from the rescue, and focus on my own business and income. Two years on, and the situation is worse rather than better. I was forced to completely give up my business in 2019, after keeping it limping along for the previous 2 years. We have basically been surviving on my Mum’s small pension and savings. Our savings are now gone and we are struggling to meet our most basic living expenses. The truth is, I can no longer give my time to Nibbles and continue to pay the bills each month. This isn’t the situation I wanted or expected to find myself in. I genuinely have no choice at this stage but to supplement our household income to meet our basic household bills, food and other household necessities. I feel terrible for having reached this point and make the admission that I need an income, and that, if the rescue is to stay open and running, the income needs to be provided by Nibbles. At present Nibbles does not have the funding available to cover a full-time centre manager salary, so we can’t open up this role to outside applicants. But without a full-time centre manager Nibbles can’t continue to operate. On a good week I do a minimum of 40 hours, on a bad week it can be in excess of 90 hours, and averages out at around 55-60 hours a week. Finding paid employment outside of Nibbles has become impossible with the hours I have to commit to the rescue, especially when a lot of my time is currently given over, at very short notice, to animal care when volunteers aren’t able to come in or leave the role.
At present, we can continue to meet our basic household expenses with me receiving a supplementary wage of £200 each month. Most importantly, Nibbles is able to cover the annual salary of £2,400 without it having a negative impact on our work. Long-term this isn’t a solution, but it is an immediate band aid. Over the course of the next few years, our annual funding will need to increase for a full-time annual salary of £19,992 by 2025. This will enable Nibbles to open up the role to outside applicants and should I wish to continue in the role, I will be required to make a formal application to the remaining trustees. In truth, I honestly can’t say whether I would want to continue in the role. It’s been an incredibly difficult and stressful battle to get the rescue this far and by 2025 I will have given 10 years to the charity. Having the option to employ an outside party to take over the day-to-day management of the centre is appealing and will enable me to follow my own personal goals. There will obviously come a time when this is the only option, as I will be too old and creaky to continue.
Creating these two paid positions will provide Nibbles with long term sustainability and prevent Nibbles from being completely reliant on a single individual. Nibbles needs to be able to outlive any and all of its current committee members and volunteers. With this in mind, I will also be leaving our entire property to Nibbles in my will. That way Nibbles will always have a premises to run from and provide onsite living accommodation for future staff members.
Some of you may be wondering why we don't just simply reduce the number of animals to a level which would match our current funding and volunteer availability. Well at times we've been forced to do just that. The role of any charity is to address a need and in the case of Nibbles that's to provide rescue support to unwanted domestic rabbits and rodents within West Wales. We have no shortage of animals, especially rabbits, waiting for space to become available. The sad truth is that we can’t cater for the current numbers we are asked to help, and in many cases we simply can’t offer a placement quickly enough. Reducing numbers isn’t a viable solution, and will only increase the number of animals stranded and facing an uncertain future.
To keep Nibbles open and running during 2021 and for many years to come, we need the funding to do so. The most frustrating and heart breaking part of all of this for me is that we currently have over 2,600 followers on our facebook page. If only half of them signed up to pledge just £2 each month, we’d be meeting our predicted annual running costs for 2025. £2 a month is less than a cup of coffee, and it will literally be making the difference between Nibbles being there for rabbits and rodents when they need our help, or Nibbles not being there at all.
I'm fighting to keep West Wales' ONLY specialist rabbit and rodent rescue open, because I know just how much it's needed. The only other rescue able to cater for these animals locally is Greenacres, but they are an all species rescue, and rabbits and rodents aren't their top priority. Please don't misunderstand me, Greenacres do an amazing job, but their primary focus is dogs, cats and larger animals such as horses. Without Nibbles, rabbits and rodents lose their primary source of rescue support. That's why Nibbles is so important to me. I founded Nibbles because someone had to help these animals, and we've done as much as we can with seriously limited resources. Losing it now leaves the fate of these animals in the hands of free ad trading sites, because that's all West Wales will have left.
If you believe, like we do, that rabbits and rodents deserve dedicated and specialist rescue support, please help us to achieve it by supporting the changes we've been forced to make and sign up to make a small monthly pledge of just £2.00, by clicking the donate tab.
Together we can continue to create a brighter and happier future for these animals.