Gemma’s story… from volunteer to Animal Companionship Practitioner with Our Special Friends

It is Veterinary Nurse appreciation month so we thought it would be nice to feature a volunteer story from Gemma, our Animal Companionship Practitioner and veterinary nurse.


I first became aware of Our Special Friends (OSF) at an event in 2018 that I attended with my dad and his dog.  We stopped to have a chat with Belinda (Bin) and I quickly realised that hers was a very exciting Charity that filled numerous gaps between social and animal care.

I was working as a self-employed locum Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) at the time which meant I had a little flexibility in my working week, so I asked about Volunteering.  Although I already knew that I’d like to work for OSF, there were no vacancies at the time.

My RVN skills were put to good use in the first case I helped with, cleaning ears and applying eye drops to a lovely little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called SETH, before taking him for a walk.  I did this several times a week on my way to or from working at the Cambridge Cat Clinic, so I got both my dog and cat fix on those days!  Another case I helped with was visiting an elderly Border Terrier called DAISY, to help her also-elderly owner plan for their futures.  Advanced Care Planning, i.e. “what will happen to my pet should something happen to me” is something that gets overlooked by some animal owners, and is one of the many vital services that OSF helps provide.  Thanks to OSF I also learnt how to conduct a Client Assessment, and I did a couple of days in the office too which was then based at Bin’s house.  My main memory of this is Bil (office Admin) being so welcoming and putting me on the tea rota even though I was only there very occasionally!

“I’m very proud to be part of Our Special Friends, making a difference.”

Being a locum RVN was good in the main, but challenging, having to adapt to different places and their varying standards and ways of working, and in the end I longed for more routine and stability, so I took up employment at Haverhill Vets4Pets.  

Although there are many great things about being a Veterinary Nurse, it is pretty physically and emotionally demanding, and I’d long wanted a change, so I was absolutely thrilled when I was offered the newly created role of Animal Companionship Practitioner at OSF.  As it turns out, this role can also be very emotionally demanding, but at least I get to sit down ha ha!  

The pandemic had such an impact on the Veterinary industry and completely changed the way we worked.  The concurrent boom in people getting pets, often rather spontaneously, coupled with redundancies and widespread lack of income was the straw that broke this camel’s back, and I wanted desperately to make a move to the side of people and animal care that was able to provide some sort of help in these circumstances.  

Working for Our Special Friends is amazing. I get the variety that I loved in Vet Nursing, as you never know exactly what the day is going to hold, but we also get to help people whose lives are often extremely difficult.  The common theme is the Client’s love for their animals, and whether we’re helping them stay together by providing dog walking or Veterinary care, or if we’re matching them with a Volunteer who visits with their dog (or cat on occasion!) we are all striving to improve the lives of both the people and their animals together.  

“I have also been blown away by the enthusiasm and dedication of the Volunteers, a fantastic bunch of people who really do go above and beyond what is initially asked of them.”

It has all taken a bit of a mind-shift on my part after nearly 30 years of being animal centric, and there has been an awful lot to learn about the complexities of social care – but who knows I may get there by the time I retire!?  What I’m certain of is that it’s never boring, it’s sometimes very sad but frequently extremely rewarding, and I’m very proud to be part of Our Special Friends, making a difference.


To find out more about British Veterinary Nursing please visit bvna.org.uk/.