I’M sitting down with Jessie Chester at her dining room table when a visibly pregnant dog waddles up to the back door.
The dog, a six year old mixed breed named Haze, stares at the black cat next to us and whimpers. “Leave it, Haze,” Jessie says, calmly.
Jessie explains that when she first took Haze in, the dog was intent on eating her cat, Teddy.
“So we’re doing training at the moment. Before, she was essentially surviving in a paddock, catching her own food. She doesn’t see the difference between prey and a cat, but she’s doing really well.”
Joining us in the house is another dog – Coco – a nine-month-old heading cross that has already been abandoned and passed around multiple times, which has left her with anxiety.
These are just two animals that Jessie has rescued recently, but she says she has been fostering, caring for, or rescuing animals most of her life. Last year, though, she decided she wanted to do more.
“I’ve lived in Whakatane for about six years now, and I’ve been noticing an issue for a while,” Jessie says. “There’s a lot of roaming dogs, a lot of pregnant animals, a lot of dumped animals. These dogs are coming from bad areas, and people just don’t have the education on it, they don’t have the funding, so a lot of these animals are getting dumped and killed.”
Around seven months ago, Jessie began helping Ali Sanford of Harmony + Hope Animal Rescue. Realising the huge need that is here in Whakatane, Jessie set up her own rescue – under the same name – in January.
Now, Jessie focuses on Whakatane and the Eastern Bay, while Ali tackles Rotorua and Tauranga. The two continue to work together and offer assistance on certain cases as needed. As word continues to spread, the refuge has grown steadily.
“At the moment I’m not getting inundated with rescues, but it is getting to be more frequent,” she says. “So I’m realistic. I won’t take on more than I can handle, because then what’s the point? I won’t be able to provide the right type of care for the animals I already have.”
Currently, she has several animals being fostered out: two adult dogs, one dog that has just had six puppies, a cat with six kittens, and a three-month-old puppy.
The process for taking in animals and finding foster homes is time-consuming and comprehensive. Jessie will be contacted by someone about an animal and she will assess whether she can take it in and if it will be a good fit for foster care.
Once someone has taken them in, she will continue to help them by advertising on Facebook, TradeMe or Friends With Tales, a rescue and rehoming website. Jessie also makes sure the animal receives all of its veterinary needs.
“I get [the animals] all sorted before they go to their new homes,” she says. “You know, desexing, vaccinating, microchipping, fleaing, worming. I provide food, vet care, anything you need. All I need is a safe place for them to live until they find their home.”
When someone has shown an interest, Jessie will make sure they are legitimate candidates for adoption. “If they’re local, I’ll do a property check,” Jessie says. “So for a dog or puppy, they’ll obviously have to have a secured area. If they’re out of town – I’ve rehomed puppies to the South Island before – I get them to either video call me or send verified photos of their property. And I’ll do background checks. So I’m very careful about where I send them; I don’t just send them anywhere.”
As a busy mum of two children and co-owner of Bee Kind NZ, Jessie says community support is necessary when rehoming these animals.
“It’s not just me doing this, it has to be a community effort,” she says. “It would be great if everyone could help, because it’s the only way I can do this, really. I need help from all of the other animal lovers who want to do something, but don’t exactly know what to do.”
Those interested in helping can find her on Facebook at Harmony + Hope Animal Rescue Whakatane/EBOP. In the pinned post is a Give-A-Little page link that is currently accepting donations. Aside from cash donations, Jessie is also on the lookout for bedding, food and, of course, foster homes.
To find out more about these options, Jessie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her mobile at 0211301032.
Jessie continues to be grateful as volunteers have stepped forward to take on other roles, such as dog walkers and animal transporters.
“Veterinary Health Centre on Landing Road has also been a huge help to me,” she says.
“They’re very supportive of what I’m doing and they’re helping me out as much as they can.”
Looking forward, Jessie is excited about the work that can be done and the lives of countless animals that can be saved.
“It’s very hard work, especially when some come in and have been abused and it just breaks your heart,” she says. “It’s also hard having them as part of your family and then watching them go. But it’s an amazing feeling when you get photos from their new home and they’re just loving it and they’re just so happy.”
“I think that’s what keeps me going,” she says. “This is my passion. It’s 100 percent my passion.”