Words of advice from the founder and director of Irish Seal Sanctuary, Brendan Price:
The three words “Irish Seal Sanctuary ” describe everything we are and you are entering a space, where your life is no longer governed by day and night, but by moon and tide and the demands of the “orphans of the sea”.
You will be welcomed all around the coast and throughout Ireland for the work you undertake and while you give your all, you will receive much in return and magically find, even when the “pot appears empty, there is still enough to go around.” There is no competition here to be the best at anything, but you are expected always to give of your best! Sharing and caring with the least of creatures, is the name of the game! There are many ways to contribute!
At ISS, seals and grey seals in majority have “graced” our lives for over a quarter of a century and you will get to work with the world’s first protected species. You become their ambassador and spokesperson. Few people get to work so closely with such a wild creature!
Rehabilitation is both “art and science” and at the cutting edge of both, a marriage of age old husbandry practices with contemporary advances in welfare, veterinary medicine and conservation. It is at the front line of all and new discoveries become everyday possibilities, if you are not afraid to explore and come to this experience with open mind. You and those you work with become planetary healers and teachers, seal by seal !
People will query and question you many times over, as you work in full public glare, and remember for many your answer will be their first insight to this journey, they too may make one day. To savour your journey fully, you will share it with many!
In the Service of these animals, there will be periods you work to exhaustion and depend on your colleagues to ensure your rest and sanity, as they will depend on you. This is the “buddy system” that is in operation around animals and pools. There will also be leisurely periods, where you too enjoy sanctuary and the esteem and friendship of the many you will help.
Your managers will be the first people you meet and they already have travelled a long way down this road as volunteers. You must mind and support them, as they guide you on your journey of discovery. Theirs is a particularly demanding and responsible task and with your fellow travellers, they become the most important people in your life for this period. You are all backed up by a board of directors, volunteer coordinator, panel of experts and specialists in variety of disciplines.
Managers on duty are rarely wrong and operate a “no blame, no excuse” policy, allowing you every opportunity to review and correct in debriefing sessions. Trust them on and around the animals. This is the “silence rule”, enabling the handler to give full attention to the animal and assistant handler.
If you progress to Handling,you will initially and rigidly be following Protocols (Never to be Forgotten!) for the Safety of All. Restraint,Towel Training and the Control Position (Straddling your Seal;Ankles in;Knees;Hips;Shoulders;Elbows and Hands(contolling Seals Head,1st on ,last off),all Aligned and Locked) will come to you as naturally as riding a bike or a horse.
As your Body and Senses become attuned to the Animal you become a Monitor for it’s Temperature;Respiratory Rate;Heartbeat;Smells;Heartbeat;Stress Levels;irregularities etc. Your Observations can detect ” Problems before they become Problems ” and Calibrate yourself regularly to Ground Truth your observations with Thermometer;Stethoscope;Scales etc.
As your Confidence grows,you can Improvise on Restraining and Handling Positions and “Let the Seal , Teach You”, till you are actually ” Dancing with Seals “, Every Move in Unison! Each Seal is unique and different and the Relationship between Handler and Seal equally so,Facilitating Responses Beyond Mere Measure
Just as for Joe Public, for Handlers,every Seal Encounter should be regarded as First. Remember ” the Seals did not read the Protocol”.
You will achieve near perfect encounters,when 2 = 1, but remain always Aware the Bad Day ;off form for either of you. It can happen anytime and generally, when defences are low.
Poor performing,unco-operative,resistant seals,wasting food require personal re-asssessment,2nd opinion etc. Some Seals are like ” Shoes “and different handlers fit different seals.Do not expect to read every seal correctly and do call for Help.
Humility and Modesty are your greatest strengths in this work,kneeling on the earth as you do many times a day.!!
You will train and attend to detail ,like an Olympian and aspire to Perfection in Repetition,constant Feed-Back and De-Briefings. As an Animal Handler you will soon be Free-Flying.
If a Seal can fight or successfully resist you,it can wait till the next session. It will unlikely die for want of attention and the Protocol can be adjusted accordingly. Retreat and Consult. Right is better than Might,if you can find correct Key.
Even in cases of Animal Death, ” No Blame, No Excuse “, is in operation,whereby you Grieve,Analyse,De-Brief, Record and Move on,to next one Waiting!!
The Animal Handler,who has never lost an Animal or made a Mistake ,does not exist!
There is No Failure other than Failure to Learn!! There is No Crime other than Abandoning your Post and Duty of Care.
Share your Experiences and remember over Animals and around Pools the Buddy System is always in operation and key to your Success and Survival.
As you Learn you are also expected to Mentor. Even Trainees are expected to Double Check locks and gates even for their Managers and be always Observant!
Physician Heal Thyself….Beware the ” Tyranny ” of Nursing…remember we are not neccessarily vets,nurses,,wizards or indeed Higher Power. Ours is not the Gift of Life or Death but to assist. We may also bring veterinary expertise to assist.
No drug is wholly selective or without side-effect and no substitute for re-hydration and good nutrition.
We facilitate the Natural Healing Power of the Seal,by attention to good Husbandry and Environmental quality,especially water management.
Cluster your operations to Minimise handling and respect Sleep and Activity patterns, which contribute to Natural Healing and Rehabilitation.
Early a.m. observations on Sleeping Animals are as important as on active animals. Never be afraid to venture an observation,spot something new or Excel!!
When directing a Rescue, organising a Release, remember, just as on site, the Cardinal Rule is to “Create a Safe Space…. an Area of Calm and Moment in Time ” from which to make your next move, quietly and safely. This is especially important in difficult terrain on dark nights and proper restraint and transportation are the first steps to the animal’s Recovery.
Releases also begin at point of Rescue,involving All Stakeholders from Outset,through Recovery and Rehab,back to BeachHead,Freedom Corridor and Point of Release.
Back on site ,in Kennels,Towel Training is key to Calming and Settling animals to accept the Stressful Handling,Tubing,Medicating,Force Feeding Regime to follow.
Perfect your Body Lock,Head Control and Triple Lock and Release for Intubation (if tube wrongly placed,Pinch,Drop Head,Draw down and Spill)
Cuppa Tae…..Happy Handlers make Happy Seals…
…..After all is done cleaned and Recorded,after a Rescuer relaxes,after a long journey and any other excuse to relax,Put on the Kettle and pour the ” Cupan Tae “,remembering the ” 1st Duty of Care ” to mind yourself and those about you.
This is not a substitute for Induction,Training or Operations Manual but an ” Aide Memoire ” ,that may assist you on long dark nights or alone with yet another Seal. It is a collection of Sound-Bites,Words of Wisdom and Cliches from experienced handlers over many years and may assist you build your experience on theirs!
You will never again look at the ” Full Moon,with a Rising Tide and the Wind behind it ” and not think of Grey Seals.
When you have mastered your protocols, impressed your managers and are dancing with seals, you will have reached a point in time and your life, where All Things Rhyme…………..
Founder and Director
These operations manuals are in use by ISS staff and volunteers.