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.



Once paralysis occurs the animal is likely to die unless it is treated quickly with tick antiserum transfused by a vet.

Every year the paralysis tick will cause illness in over 100,000 companion animals on the east coast of Australia. Paralysis ticks are external parasites that suck the blood from their host animal. Their salivary glands produce a toxin that affects the nervous system of the host. Not only is the paralysis tick one of the most common, it’s also one of the most dangerous. Once paralysis occurs the animal is likely to die unless it is treated quickly with tick antiserum transfused by a vet. It still takes 48 hours for the toxin to be removed so your pet can continue to deteriorate during this time. Full recovery can take weeks


Ticks need humidity and mild weather to develop and can’t survive in cold climates. They are most commonly found along the east coast of Australia during the warmer months but can be found inland in suitable habitats and in northern parts of the country all year round.


Ticks vary in size between 1mm and 10mm long, depending on their age. They look like tiny spiders with a white, egg-shaped body. This body becomes larger and darker as it fills with blood.

Close up view of a tick


The best way to protect your pet is to check them daily in conjunction with a tick prevention treatment. Begin with their head and remember that you’re more likely to feel the tick than see it, so make sure you use your hands. Check inside your pet’s ears, nose, and mouth, under their chin and around their throat. Move down the front legs and check in between their toes. Feel along their body making sure to check their belly, and then check down their back legs and in between their toes. Inspect your pet’s genital region as ticks can sometimes be found there and finish with their tail.

It’s a good idea to use a tick treatment that will either repel ticks or kill them if they attach. Spot on treatments, tablets and collars are available and it’s best to consult your vet about which is most suitable for your pet. Read the instructions very carefully as some treatments are for dogs only and can be very dangerous to cats and can even kill them. Some can also react with other medications your pet may be on.


If your pet has come into contact with a paralysis tick, they will experience paralysis in a variety of forms. A typical case will start with vomiting, a change in “voice” and progress to weakness in the hind limbs that will then progress to total paralysis of the whole body (gastrointestinal, ability to swallow and finally paralysis of respiration).


  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or dry retching
  • Excessive salivation
  • Coughing
  • Noisy panting
Ticks attach to your pets through their suckers and can be very difficult to remove without the help of the vet


Paralysis ticks can lead to an animal needing to be ventilated and sadly many victims of these ticks do not recover. If your pet is showing any signs of tick paralysis, you should take him/her to a veterinarian for treatment promptly

If you suspect that your dog or cat has tick paralysis you can reduce the risk of complications by withholding food and water before you can see a veterinarian. This is especially important if the dog or cat is regurgitating. ■

There is a deadly new strain of tick disease, which first appeared in Western Australia last year. The brown dog tick is infected with the bacteria Ehrlichia canis (E. canis) and when it bites, the tick infects a dog with the disease ehrlichiosis which causes serious health issues, even death, among dogs. If  you are transporting a dog between states it is vital you have your dog’s health checked. If you suspect a dog in Queensland is infected with E. canis you must report it to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 or report in their site.

Want to read about how pets can really be of help for your health? Check this article out.

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