Fostering animals for the SPCA conjures an image of tending to a box of tiny kittens or bottle-feeding a motherless puppy.
It doesn't immediately make you think of a herd of unruly horses.
Unless you're Tracey, Dave or Tanesha Thompson.
The farming family from Takapau has just won the Fantastic Foster Family Award at the national SPCA Purina Volunteer of the Year Award for their work with horses that have come under the SPCA's care.
During New Zealand's National Volunteer Week (June 21-27) the SPCA has celebrated its more than 5000 volunteers.
With more than 10 volunteers to every staff member, SPCA's thousands of volunteers have been described by SPCA chief executive Andrea Midgen as "the lifeblood of our organisation".
They were needed more than ever this year as the country went into lockdown.
"2020 has challenged SPCA in ways we never imagined. But we have been blown away by the commitment of our volunteers, even in the most difficult of times," Andrea says.
"While SPCA volunteers weren't allowed to go to their local centres during the lockdown for their shifts, many stepped up and fostered animals at their homes."
During alert levels 4 and 3, 2527 SPCA animals were fostered across the country.
"Research shows that animal-welfare outcomes are better when animals are in fostercare rather than animal shelters, so those who put their hand up to care for an animal during lockdown can now be celebrated," Andrea says.
For local SPCA inspector Renee Hickey, who was initially nervous around horses, the Thompson family has been a saving grace.
"Tracey, Dave and Tanesha have volunteered their skills and experience to help with equine rescue through the inspectorate. This family has helped the SPCA to transport, treat and rehome 27 horses since they started with us. They have collected horses from Dannevirke to Omahu and lots of places in between.
"We use their truck or float and they never complain or ask for anything in return and they give these horses the best care that we could ask for. They also help by finding amazing homes for the horses that are rehomed."
Looking after horses, especially SPCA horses, is hard work. It is time-consuming medicating, grooming, feeding and socialising the animals. They also take up a lot of room.
"Tracey and her family have a stable, grooming area, yards and paddocks for our rescues to enjoy. They do all this because they absolutely love horses," Renee says.
"I know if I need their help they will be on site as soon as they possibly can and that is an amazing feeling for an SPCA inspector. These guys have made a huge difference in how efficiently we are able to do our job. Watching them work with unhandled, malnourished, scared or sick animals is unbelievable. The way they communicate with these big animals and gain their trust, it really is a sight to be seen."
Tracey Thompson says she was overwhelmed to even be nominated, let alone win.
"We just do it because we enjoy it and it's so rewarding to change their lives, to see these poor skinny little things blossom. They are such obliging creatures. As soon as they realise we are a source of food they become friends ... they don't blame humans for their situation.
"The minute I see them I become emotionally involved. They become part of our - large - herd. It's hard to let them go but also good to see them go to loving families."
This year's drought was a challenge, with a shortage of feed, but the SPCA managed to source enough hay to keep the rescues fed.
"Covid also had a hand in it, as the planned Kaimanawa muster was cancelled so there was room for the extra rescues," Tracey says.
There are currently still 10 rescue horses in their care, with some still looking for excellent homes.
The Thompsons receive a year's supply of Purina One petfood which will be a treat for their dogs, and a Nestlé food hamper to the value of $300.
To learn more about volunteering at SPCA, visit www.spca.nz/how-you-can-help/volunteer