Volunteering for an organisation in a building that’s supposedly haunted. How cool is that? For the first three months while living in Wellington, I volunteered for the SPCA, which was based in Newtown. During my time there, I heard that they were going to be moving to a new building on top of Mt. Victoria. The designs for the new building were up on the wall in Newtown and there was a lot of talk about the imminent move. I was fascinated to hear though, that this new building was supposed to be haunted. “Wouldn’t it be great to volunteer in a place like that?” I thought. The new building was the old, but recently renovated Fever Hospital, which had been sitting idle for nearly the last ten years.
Wellington SPCA is the leading SPCA in New Zealand and the second largest of the forty seven SPCA’s New Zealand-wide. Their mission is to promote the humane treatment of and the prevention of cruelty to animals. They are a non-profit organisation and receive no direct government funding. So they rely heavily on the generosity of people and various trusts to fund their animal care services.
So what do they do actually? They have an inspectorate team that responds to animal emergencies and investigations. With the help of this team, they prosecute those who neglect or abuse animals. Their volunteer animal rescue unit provides a specialised response service for animals in restricted and high angled areas. With regards to adoption for stray or lost animals, they look for suitable homes for them, where they will be treated as part of the family. As part of that adoption service, all animals who arrive at the SPCA are vet checked, all cats, rabbits and dogs are de-sexed and micro-chipped prior to being re-homed.
One of the most valuable services they offer, I think, is animal therapy: for people who benefit from the companionship of animals. Wellington SPCA visits members of the community such as people in retirement homes, hospitals, hospices, disabled and troubled young people who are at serious risk of becoming regular offenders later on. Their education programme inspires students to be responsible pet owners. They give presentations and workshops in schools and tours of the SPCA centre to students, encouraging empathy towards animals and fostering long term improvement in student’s relationships with animals.
As I mentioned earlier, Wellington SPCA is the leading SPCA in the country. They needed to expand their services, especially in education, but the building in Newtown restricted them from doing this. They were granted permission to lease the Fever Hospital in 2005 and in 2012 started the REHOME SPCA project to relocate their main operational centre to the new building. This building is listed as a Category II heritage building. It was built as a hospital for infectious diseases in 1919 and was later referred to as the Chest Hospital. Between 1987 and 1998 it was the home of the Wellington Polytechnic Conservatorium of Music.
The 23rd December 2013 was the first day of operation in the new Fever Hospital. I was excited to be one of the first groups of people to officially volunteer there. The stories about ghostly spirits who haunt the corridors and rooms of the building really interested me and I was sort of hoping that I might see or hear something. Since the SPCA moved in there, apparently there have been reports of sightings of children playing in the main hallway, an elderly man sitting in the reception area and another sighting in the corridor of the Community Wing. It gave me goose bumps to think about it, even more so because of the fact that I was volunteering in the building. I love hearing about these kinds of things though, whether they’re true or not. It was a bit manic on that first day but the buzz about the place was infectious and for me it was great to be a part of it. I really enjoyed my time working at the Wellington SPCA. I learned a lot about handling animals and got to work with some great people.