Thursday Island Rescue Mission – Saving Animal Lives

Thursday Island Rescue Mission – Saving Animal Lives

Thursday Island Rescue Mission: Recently, the Animal Welfare League Queensland and Vets Beyond Borders got together with the Thursday Island Animal Support Group. As a team, they completed a successful desexing pilot program on the Island. 

As the champions for animals in need, AWLQ is committed to creating lasting changes for animals in society. In addition to the shelter work, AWLQ provides community-based support programs with a focus on prevention. The Thursday Island Pet Support Program falls into this remit.

The amazing volunteers helping animals and their humans on
Thursday Island


Sonja Einersen is from the Thursday Island Animal Support Group:

On Thursday Island, we don’t get vet visits very often, and there isn’t a resident vet on the island. We used to have a vet that flew in, but recently, she retired. Sometimes a vet from Cairns comes up, but by the time they get up to the island, the cost is prohibitive. So, we have quite a large problem with dogs and cats on the island.

The Thursday Island Animal Support Group started talking to AWLQ about the possibility of a vet service on the island. Could pet owners get some low-cost or free surgery procedures done?

All of us in the support group are volunteers. We were excited when the collaboration went ahead. At the moment, a vet only visits the island 3 times a year due to Covid restrictions. And, it costs $600 to have a dog desexed. This is out of the reach of a lot of people. In fact, we haven’t had any surgical services on the island for quite some time. If animals got sick they would be euthanised or would just die due to a lack of services.


Since our organisation got up and running, we’ve helped quite a number of dogs. From bee or wasp stings right through to being hit by cars or stray dog attacks. We try our best to fix them. We have stapled up a few dogs, and we hold antibiotics that we can give out under the supervision of the vet. But there are a lot of stray dogs on the island. The council does collect these, however if they weren’t able to re-home them, then they are euthanised.

Sometimes people end up with a dog that they don’t really want. And then it ends up having litter after litter. They try to get rid of puppies. So, we end up with lots of stray dogs. The council work with us and give us a lot of dogs that they find or that have been surrendered. A lot of people who come to Thursday Island just for a couple of years, end up rescuing a stray off the street, and end up bringing dogs back to the mainland with them. That’s quite a common story. To stop the cycle, we need large-scale desexing to happen. That’s where Vets Beyond Borders come in. Sylvana, a project manager with AWLQ, is the person that put us all in contact. She talked with Vets Beyond Borders and got them on board.


There’s still a lot to do. We’re hoping if we can continue, we’ll start to get numbers of strays and unwanted animals under control. There are still certain areas on the island with pretty big problems. We also need to educate the local population. There’s a lot of misinformation about having your dogs desexed. People don’t believe in desexing male dogs, and they think that the females should have one litter before they get desexed. But we urgently need to desex the animals here on Thursday Island in significant numbers.

The cat problem is probably worse than the dog problem. We also need to desex the cats. The feral cat population is a huge problem on the island, but we have been rehoming cats and kittens successfully in the last few months as well. They’re a little bit different to dogs, because they’re not as visible. They go off into the bush and look after themselves. This is terrible for the local wildlife.

I think the more we can get out there, the more we will lessen the issue. We just need to put a dent in getting existing animals desexed so it’s not a continued cycle. 

Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. Credit – Feral Arts


Sylvana Wenderhold is a Project Manager for AWLQ: The first time we did the desexing program was in September, and I was the coordinator. AWLQ did all the organizing and then Vets Beyond Borders supplied the team of vets and the vet nurse. I coordinated with the Thursday Island Animal Support Group to get the location and they put out the word. We flew to Thursday Island and set up a clinic in a “shed” and we desexed for four days.

I am a big believer in the desexing programs – I started the National Desexing Network. My current role is rural and regional programs manager. What I’m trying to do is to help areas that don’t currently have any desexing programs. With Thursday Island, the problem is just the sheer number of animals and no veterinary service. Next year we hope to go four or five times to get the population under control. There are just so many puppies born, and we haven’t really even started tapping into the cats.

I’m actually on my way now to the airport to pick up two dogs from Thursday Island! One is a four- month-old puppy, and the other one is a bit older. It was one of only ones that didn’t heartworm – all the other ones had it. It’s very hard for us to rehome them when they have heartworm.

Donating AWLQ helps because obviously it costs us money to go there and set this all up. We pay for all the pharmaceuticals and the flights. We do ask the owners on the island for a donation, which almost all of them give us. They’re all very thankful that we are there helping.

The volunteers working hard on Thursday Island

To find out more about the work of the AWLQ, click here.

Silver Hero Volunteers to Help Animals of the Outback

Silver Hero Volunteers to Help Animals of the Outback

Our Silver hero Leesa volunteers her spare time all across regional Australia to help both humans and animals. Here, she tells us about her volunteering adventures.


On Thursday Island, we did our first pilot program and that was with Vets Beyond Borders and AWLQ, and the Thursday Island Animal Support Group. I volunteered as a vert nurse, helping with health checks, doing an animal management program, desexing dogs, treating dogs for parasite treatment, and also talking to their owners regarding tick treatments, and unwanted pregnancies or unwanted litters.

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I absolutely love volunteer trips, I have been volunteering as a vet nurse with AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities) for 11 years now. Plus, I volunteer in remote communities, Aboriginal communities, everywhere from Western Australia through to the Northern Territory and regional Queensland.

A lot of this is helping in the indigenous communities to do a desexing program. We want to desex more dogs. I know in some of the indigenous communities, they can have 10-15 dogs in a household. So cutting that down is an aim. There are often quite a lot of stray dogs in communities, and they can cause problems as well as having lots of litters, and if there are a lot of male or un-desexed dogs, there can be issues between male dogs having fights over female dogs. There’s a lot of noise, a lot of wounded animals, and a lot of puppies to look after. 

There’s also a problem with parasites – some are zoonotic. So that means that the parasites can transfer from humans to animals, or animals to humans. And so we help treat the dogs. We also do an educational program through schools, and with the community, and elders, just explaining what we do. We explain simple things from washing hands after the kids are playing with the animals, and how to hold your dog properly. What’s good food for cats and dogs, things like that.

silver hero


As a vet nurse, I help set up our surgery area, also help with vet students and vets, making sure that we have all the proper instruments and attire, so that they can do their surgical work. I help the flow-through of patients.

One of the places we visit is Yuendumu, in the NT. AMRRIC is based in Darwin. We meet in Darwin, and then it’s about an 11- or 12-hour trip in the car to go there. There’s a team of us, usually, two vets, a two nurses, if we are lucky! We meet with the rangers or community members, and they help us work out where we’re going to be situated and where we’re going to stay.

I am a general practice vet nurse. So, I have my normal job and I have to either take unpaid leave or holiday leave. But I love the volunteering and I will do is as long as I’m still mobile and I can still get around. I always laugh with the ladies or whoever I’m out on the trips, and I’ll say, I’ll be out with my walking stick. And I love the interaction between people and their animals. I love to be able to help with animal welfare and make life better for animals and for their owners as well. I get to see lots of parts of Australia that you would not necessarily be able to go to because you would need special passes or permits to get into some of these communities. The day I have to stop, I’ll be really, really upset.


The funding for these trips comes from different sources. There are charities like AWLQ who help with the funding for Thursday Island. In other places, the councils fund the trips. We also try to get donations from drug companies for tick and flea treatments, for example. And a lot of the nurses and vets as well will donate some of the stock from their own practices as well.

AWLQ do a great job, and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to be a part of. Due to being involved with the Thursday Island program, I’ve got to know Sylvana from AWLQ, and she’s just wonderful. And the work that she’s done as well in her time is amazing. I would love to do more work for AWLQ. I’m actually leaving tomorrow to go back for another week on Thursday Island, in conjunction with AWLQ! There is a lot of work to be done there. We’re always very, very busy once on the island. We have got an extra couple of team members this time! But we will still be working 13 to 14 hour days.

The AWLQ and the Thursday Island Support Animal Support are taking in unwanted or stray dogs. They are getting them back to health and adopting them out. Not just to the people on Thursday Island or the surrounding islands, but they do often go off to New South Wales and Queensland to loving homes.


We are always looking for volunteers. We need admin people, to help people fill out forms. There are also some statistic duties, where often we will do counts in certain communities just to get an idea of how many houses, how many people, and then how dogs or cats or pigs or horses that are owned as well.

With this type of volunteering, you’re forever learning. There’s always courses. There’s always something new to learn. It definitely brushes the cobwebs off!

Through organisations like AWLQ, Vets Without Borders and others, you’ll find amazing vets, vet nurses and then other volunteers that give up their time for the animals and people who need them. Everyone’s likeminded. They are wonderful people that come and volunteer. Even small things make a difference, like helping to clean some of the cages, to grooming animals, to watching them wake up from their surgeries.

There’s always going to be dogs and cats that need help and love. So as long as I’m around, I will be involved.

Be a silver hero and donate to AWLQ, or to leave a bequest, click here.

To volunteer, click here.

Or pick up the phone and call (07) 5509 9000

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