A day on the road with the animal ambulance in Utrecht

Sitting still for a moment to eat a sandwich during lunch, for example, is not possible during Tuesday’s shift at Animal Ambulance Utrecht. The phone rings almost continuously with one message after another; A goose in the garden, rabbits running away, a dead cat in the window, a pregnant pigeon that no longer flies, a turtle in the ditch, a dead dog along the canal, a snake in the garden and also numerous reports of birds flying against it that flew out the window, the cat caught it, or it fell from the tree . “It always goes like this,” says Hettie van Oostenbrugge, who has worked in the animal ambulance in Utrecht for about 3.5 years. “This is crazy and I love it, this is truly my dream job.”

Before Hettie can begin to process all the reports, another dog is waiting quietly in the room next to Van Everdingenlaan’s office. “We picked up this dog last night. He ran away and alerted passersby who found him. We took him with us and he spent the night with us. She really is his sweetheart. Although the dog has a chip, it can be read that it is registered in Spain. It is likely that it was a street dog brought to Holland “.

And it turned out to be true. After some detective work, the owner was found on the doorstep Tuesday morning to pick up the dog again. He is able to tell that the dog actually came from Spain and then went to a woman who got sick after a while. Since the animal has been in contact with quite a few other people, it sometimes gets very anxious and this was evident when the man let him out on Monday evening. Hearing a bang, he shot off the belt and ran. He has now been reunited with his owner.

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In addition to Utrecht, the animal ambulance also operates in the municipalities of De Bilt, Zeist and Bunnik. The first shift lasts from 09:00 to 16:00 and after that there is another shift from 16:00 to 23:00. This is how it goes 7 days a week. There is always one car on the road that has to process all the notifications. “In the summer months, we are called a lot more often than in the winter. On a busy day, I sometimes have to answer the phone 150 times, while I have time for about 20 to 25 trips a day. So I often have to say ‘no’,” Hetty says. Due to the large working area and the number of birds, the animal ambulance cannot reach all the birds of the city.These are, for example, pigeons, crows, big breasts and robins.

“But sometimes we have an exception,” Hetty says. People who call because such a bird has flown into the window, for example, or because there is a young man in the garden who cannot fly, always get advice. Hetty explains, for example, that many young birds learn to fly from the ground and that this can sometimes take a few days. And when the city bird is injured, people can bring it themselves to Stichting Vogelopvang Utrecht in Rotsoord. Because of the crowding, this shelter is now also open for a few hours in the evening. “Unfortunately, not everyone is satisfied with this. Then they blame us for not coming to catch the bird. Many people are in dire need, while I think they can do something themselves.”


Meanwhile, the phone rings again and it turns out that this is an emergency. A dog was attacked by another dog, causing a piece of skin to hang. In a hurry, things fill up and the car leaves from Twendorp to De Bilt, where the accident occurred. At the entrance to the park, a woman with her dog is waiting for an animal ambulance. Both the owner and the animal seem shocked, no wonder in the light of the wound on the dog’s side. A piece of skin hangs and the animal tries to pull off the loose skin and lick the wound clean. This should be prevented because the vet will take it back. The woman and the dog climb to the back of the animal ambulance and are taken to the nearest vet.

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Before Hetty picked up the next report, she switched cars. The animal ambulance in Utrecht has two vehicles, one larger, which is of course ideal for transporting large animals and the other smaller ones. “The little one drives better,” Hetty says. “The car a bit like the smell of a dead animal, sorry about that. I cleaned it just right, but I can’t get the smell out. Now it’s still intense, but soon it won’t smell anymore.” Hettie on his way to Prins Hendriklaan in Utrecht. There will be a goose trapped in the backyard.

“We accept reports of waterfowl, such as geese, swans, ducks and gulls. This has to do with the spread of diseases.” It looks like a little Egyptian goose is sitting in the garden. Somehow the animal was able to fly into the garden, but could not get out. Hetty surrounds the young goose, picks it up and puts the bird in a box. He thanks the occupant for the effort and Hetty moves on to the next report.

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Along the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, near Johann Wagenarkad, a passerby is said to have seen a dead dog. Since Hettie can’t go there directly, this passerby shared a location via WhatsApp. Upon reaching the canal, the baby goose is released first. “You can actually abandon such a bird anywhere with little greenery and water. The animal knows how to find its own way,” Hetty says. Meanwhile, the search for the dead dog began and the animal was not found long afterwards. It turned out to be just a cat supposedly buried and dug up by another animal.Judging by the state of the decomposition and the many worms on the dead body, it seems the cat has been there for a while.

Hetty: “We have to take this with us. This isn’t the most fun job.” Hetty takes a pair of gloves from the car, then picks up that animal and puts it in a trash bag. “This will make the car smell nice again. Many people don’t understand that you have to bury an animal deeply, otherwise this will happen. It is also forbidden to bury pets in public places. I hope the cat has a chip so we can track the owner.”

With the dead cat in the back, we next marked the course for Krumhout Barracks. The seagull flew into the glass and could not continue flying. We have to pick her up and drop her off at the bird sanctuary.

On the way, Hettie tells of Sjef a male Utrecht who died at the end of 2020 after strangers inserted heavy fireworks onto the animal. “I had a hard time with this for a while. He was still alive when I picked up the cat. It’s always hard to see seriously injured animals, but this has been the case. It was very annoying to see how he was doing and I find it incomprehensible that People can do that.” Someone working at Krumhout Barracks has already put a seagull in a box. Hetty checks on the animal for a while and then takes it to the bird sanctuary.

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In the meantime, a number of reports have already been canceled. For example, a cat that came to an end between the hinged window was captured by the owner and a homing pigeon that no longer flew, it turned out that he needed to rest for a while, and then the animal shivered again. Rabbits are not pulled because catching these animals is very difficult and therefore takes a lot of time. Hetty advised the reporter to arrest them himself. Turtles can be kept in the trench.

“They don’t really belong here, but as long as they are in the water they cannot be caught. If they are on the side which is a completely different story, they can be caught and taken to the turtle sanctuary.” Nothing was done with the report on the snake in the garden when it turned out to be a herbaceous snake. These only occur in the Netherlands. I understand it might be scary, but it’s not our duty to hunt such an animal for that reason.” What Hetty takes out for him is a fish chick in Voordorp. A boy walking with his dog finds the chick and alerts animal control. Hetty picks up the animal and it has also been taken to a sanctuary the birds.


Then there is time to take the dead cat to the animal shelter office and see if the animal is equipped with a microchip. Along the way, Hetty tells us they’re always looking for volunteers, but few people are fit. “You don’t have to have a veterinary degree or something. I don’t. You must of course have an affinity with animals, have good communication skills and be stress-resistant. In the past, it has been proven that most people don’t last long in this business.”

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In the office, it turned out that the dead cat had a chip through which the owner’s data could be tracked. Hetty called the man and told him his cat had been found. The man was shocked, apologized and admitted that he might not have been one of the smartest to bury his pet in this way. Since the animal ambulance had taken his cat and made sure that the dead body was destroyed in a proper manner, he would get a 50 euro bill.

Finally, Hettie has to go to the vet in Terwijde to pick up a cat. The animal was taken to the vet by a passerby shortly before due to its poor condition. The cat had a chip on which to inform the owner. Hettie takes the cat to the animal shelter in Koningsweg, where the owner can pick up the animal. This is the latest report on the noon shift of the animal ambulance. Thereafter, a colleague handles all reports between 4pm and 11pm. Anyway, the day is over for Hetty. “I hope you have a good idea of ​​what we’re doing.”

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