The first I heard of HUHA (Helping you help animals) was through my friend Cherie, who has been a vounteer at the Kaitoke-based animal sanctuary for about 9 months. I asked her one day if I could come along and check it out. Cherie was happy to indulge my interest, so picked me up at 9.30 on a sunny Tuesday morning and we headed out to Kaitoke. We stopped along the way at the supermarket to pick up a trolley-full of leftover bread for the animals.
After arriving at HUHA, a gang of roosters rushed to meet us, scrambling for crumbs as we unloaded the bread from the boot of the car. Also keen to say hello was Munchkin the goat, one of Cherie's favourite sanctuary residents. I gave her a polite pat but the sight of her horns made me question if we would ever be close friends. Munchkin followed along behind us as we headed to the emu pen. The emus, Wiremu and Weemu, were very friendly chaps and skillfully plucked bread from my hand without getting my nervous fingers.
Next in line for our attention was Charlie the monkey, a retired circus performer. At 40 years old he's a grandpa by his breed's standards. Walking him up the hill to his outdoor enclosure was slow-going - the old guy had to stop every so often to catch his breath. Once at the enclosure it was feeding time for both Charlie and Laurie, a feisty Capuchin monkey. I was surprised to see Charlie shares his enclosure with two giant rabbits: Jelly and Bean. Cherie insists the two species are friends, but Charlie's boisterous rough-housing with the two rabbits made me think "with friends like that who needs enemies"!
It was time to jump on the quad bike and take a big slab of silverside and some roadkill to the injured hawk enclosure. Whilst the slab of meat looked juicy and delicious, I wasn't sure how excited the hawks would be about the roadkill - a dead hedgehog - it's surely the hawk equivalent of brussel sprouts.
More quad bike riding took us down to the cow paddock where I met Mabel, mini-Mabel, Woollybully, and No-Name. We scattered some hay for them to tuck into and I tenatatively gave Mabel a few pats.
Next Cherie took me groom the ponies and she also introduced me by name to most of the ten or so pigs on the property. The most impressive of all was Piggy-Sue, a ginormous sow-stall survivor. The story of her gallivanting on the grass for the first time after 5 years in a stall was pretty moving, and made me question my consumption of pig meat. If animals like Piggy-Sue have to suffer, bacon just doesn't seem worth it.
By now the midday sun was blazing hot, and we grabbed a shovel each as Cherie had some tree-planting planned for us. I had told Cherie I didn't mind getting my hands dirty, so she held me to that! Soon our planting was done, and so was my day at HUHA.
But we had one last task to do - this time down at the Petone foreshore - the release of a recently-recovered seagull. Cherie opened the box and out jumped our survivor. To check that his flying ability was back, Cherie chased him along the beach a little until he took off, and that was that. He soared out over the ocean until we couldn't see him anymore. "That's my favourite part of the job," said Cherie.