Meet Rachel Mullins — the Cat Lady of Port Hedland.

When she’s not teaching her Grade 6 students at St Cecilia’s Catholic Primary School, there is a fair chance Rachel will be caring for the needs of abandoned, sick, or homeless cats in her position as Cat Coordinator with SAFE (Save Animals From Euthanasia) Port Hedland.

Such is Rachel’s devotion to her “second (but unpaid) full-time job” she was nominated and won Hedland Citizen of the Year 2022.

Rachel moved to Port Hedland in 2015 to be a maths teacher at Hedland Senior High School. She stayed until 2018 and then moved to St Cecilia’s.

In one of those quirks of life, Rachel, who had been teaching in Tasmania for 10 years, met her soon-to-be husband, Chris, in Port Hedland; he is also from Tasmania and relocated at about the same time.

The pair plan to be married later this year having postponed their wedding  because of COVID.

Rachel recalls that “after spending 10 years living and teaching in Tasmania, Port Hedland certainly was a massive weather change”.

“After seven years I’m still not used to the summers, or a fan of the humidity. I didn’t do my research too well. I looked up and saw the town had a Harvey Norman, and thought,  ‘can’t be too small’. Gosh, if only I knew I was basing my decision to move to Hedland on our Harvey Norman stores; I was the butt of jokes at work for a bit.”

But forget the summer, the winter months are one of things Rachel likes most about Port Hedland.

“It’s like a balmy Tasmanian summer day with a top of 30, enables me and others to get out and enjoy what the town has to offer,” Rachel said.

A perfect weekend includes enjoying what the Pilbara has to offer.

“The Pilbara is a huge place. When we can, Chris and I  love to go for a drive and see what’s out there. The landscape is magnificent, regardless of how far you have to travel to see it.”

With Chris owning electrical, plumbing and refrigeration business goESCAPE, and Rachel working full-time with two jobs, enjoying the Pilbara enables them to get away from work for a while, although Rachel admits that there is “little down time together”.

SAFE Hedland is something of a passion project for Rachel, even if some of the tasks are gruesome.

“I have always been a mad cat lady,” she said. “I heard about SAFE and was asked if I’d like to foster.”

That initial involvement soon grew to include administration, recruiting and teaching other carers, collecting donations, working with the vets and rangers, and talking to those considering adoption.

Her work even extended to collecting deceased cats from the side of the road and scanning them in the hope of locating the owners.

“This in the Hedland heat, so you can imagine that some were awful,” Rachel said.

“But I think of it as Karma. If any of my cats ever get hit by a car, I hope someone would take the time to report or collect them, take them to vets to be scanned to enable me to say goodbye.”

Rachel never lets an opportunity go by to sign up a potential foster carer.

“I have met so many people due to my involvement with SAFE. I always get to meet the new staff at the high school; the teachers are our largest fostering demographic.

“I’ve managed to sign up almost every staff member at my school. Even if they don’t foster, they get to hear about what it takes, what’s involved with the running and management of SAFE.

“There’s also a fair chance I’ve met most of the small business owners in Port Hedland. We often ask them for donations for our raffles and quiz nights.”

SAFE began in Karratha in 2003. Its work and that of its founder Sue Hedley are the subjects of a six-part series on the Nine Network.

Rachel hopes the series will promote SAFE and highlight the work of volunteers in centres throughout the State, and that SAFE Port Hedland will benefit as a result.

“We are a not-for-profit organisation who rely on the donations and foster care of our community to continue taking in, homing, caring and giving medical treatment to animals,” she said.

“The adoption fees barely cover our medical expenses most times and we battle month to month to cover our vet bills.

“I’m hoping by shining the light on our organisation and our small but dedicated team, the Town of Port Hedland would consider our organisation and what we do in the community and provide some funding or assistance.

“We are the voice for the community animals who need to be rehomed, who have been displaced or are unwanted. We hope to educate and support our community members, foster carers and owners about responsible dog and cat ownership.”

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