If there was a place where all our furry friends, from the dogs with the waggiest tails to the cats with the twitchiest whiskers and the rabbits with the cuttest fluff tails could be safe from harm, abandonment and abuse. A place where everyone smiles and strokes their fur, bathes and cleans them, gives them food and shelter and protects them from harm?
What if I told you that there was a place like that?
It was a bright sunny Saturday when me and my partner made the two mile walk from our home in Chesterfield to the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire branch of the RSPCA.
My involvement with the RSPCA came about when it was suggested to me that I got some PR experience from working with a charity. It made sense to me to contact the RSPCA as I’ve always loved animals and always wanted to volunteer and help out with an animal charity. Unfortunately due to working full time and having university on top of it I just don’t have the time to volunteer in a manual way such as dog walking. I got in touch with my local branch of the RSPCA and met with Julie the Supporter Engagement manager in mid May of this year. Julie was really supportive of my involvement and we began tossing ideas around on the spot about how I could get creative and help the centre. Julie took me on a tour of the centre and explained that they are a self-funded shelter meaning they get no financial support from the main RSPCA and instead have to do all of their own fundraising, a fact which I would guess is little known!
I decided I needed to get my exams out of the way first to make sure I could devote my time and effort to helping without the distractions of university work putting me off, so it was for this reason that after my final exam I made the journey back to the shelter to do a second tour with a vision to write a post.
The shelter is always in need of fundraising, from sponsoring a kennel or buying things on the ‘wish list’ such as cat beds or paddling pools for dogs and of course, adoption is always at the forefront of any animal shelter’s mind. Right now though there’s an even more important fundraising mission: to rebuild the shelter itself.
Built in the 1950s and opened in the 1960s the shelter has seen better days. As we walk down the dust track which leads to the main entrance we pass a small enclosure littered with toys and homemade agility equipment where the dogs can be taken to play. A small row of portakabins used by volunteers stands to one side packed to the rafters with the kind donations from Thorntons. Julie quips that it’s ironic that chocolate is so dangerous to dogs yet it is chocolate donations which keep the monetary donations coming in as they can be sold, raffled or used as prizes in competitions.
The main entrance is at the front of the building and stocked with pet food, bedding, collars, leads, toys and all manner of animal paraphernalia for sale. Turning right at reception we pass the office which also serves as a bedroom for the member of staff sleeping on site, the small room where dogs can be isolated if they have just come in/had an operation etc. A tiny puppy with a leg condition which means he can’t bend his front legs is nestled in a blanket in the corner of the office. In the kitchen I am astonished by the board which hosts all the different dietary requirements of each animal. It’s not as simple as opening a tin of cat food or pouring a few biscuits into a dog bowl, each animal has different needs from the type of food they can eat to medication they might be on.
As we enter the main dog enclosure we are greeted by a smiling member of staff who is cleaning out the corridor, she’s not alone though, a cheerful yip and accompanying smile greet us from behind the fence. That’s Jack the 9 year old West Highland Terrier. Only arriving a few nights before Jack has already been reserved which I’m really pleased to hear. Dogs of his age are not used to being in the confines of a shelter and finding them a forever home to live out their final years is of utmost importance. Behind Jack, Sky a white Staffordshire Bull Terrier brings up a chorus of yowls at the sight of us which is quickly joined by the rest of the crew in their enclosure. The amount of Bull breed dogs not just at the RSPCA but any animal shelter is incredibly sad. Growing up at home we had English and Staffordshire bull Terriers and it’s so frustrating to see how people reject them because of the media circus which surrounds them and brands them vicious. For me I’ve never known a softer, kinder, loving and loveable pet than a bull breed. I often think it’s all down to the aesthetics people want a little cute pedigree terrier which looks good like Jack or the delightfully floppy eared Sooty who are both currently reserved instead of something they perceive as Brutish and violent. They couldn’t be further from the truth.
Rocky a 4 year old bull mastiff cross is another example of this, a gentle giant he is the largest of all the residents at the centre but as we pass his enclosure he barely makes a sound just wags his tail hopefully and moons at us with his big dark eyes. There are Akita’s, Husky’s, Jack Russell crosses, German Shepherds, spaniels, tiny terriers and beautiful bull breeds. All of them searching with hope in their eyes that we might be the ones who finally take them home.
The dog enclosures meet the regulations set for animal shelters but they are no longer fit for purpose. The cages where they sleep are dark and hidden behind a corridor of cracked linoleum, the bars on the front are not really considered animal friendly and the runs are separate from the ‘rooms’ which means each time they want to go out or come in a member of staff or a volunteer has to manually take them out of the cage and walk them round to the enclosure. The vision for the RSPCA Chesterfield and North Derbyshire is to build new enclosures where the dogs can access the runs by themselves, where there are no old metal bars on the enclosure and where the animals can be comfortable. But without the much needed fundraising money this may remain a vision alone. When new regulations come in and the shelter is no longer fit for purpose there may be no option but to close the shelter down, what that means for the animals involved does not bear thinking about.
As we walk along the side of the cats enclosures we are set with the regal stare of several cats haughtily perched on the inside of their enclosure looking out. I tell Ged what Julie told me on my first visit, about cats which are black or black and white being rejected at the shelter due again to what is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I’m pleased to discover that the cat who had just had her kittens on my last visit is doing well and her kittens are now on the website as well ready for adoption.
Round the back is the rabbit and Guinea pig enclosure which is the only part of the shelter to have been upgraded so far, there’s a huge difference here with the glass fronted enclosures allowing the rabbits who are nestled in their boxes of straw to look out, upvc walls and doors offer better insulation and the whole image is one of ease for cleaning and tidying, letting in sunlight and keeping the animals happy and healthy.
So what is this post really about now that our tour is complete? It’s about money I hear you say, I see your interest waning now we’re past the pictures of cute pets. ‘Charity starts at home’ I often hear and I couldn’t agree more. However… On average I get around 3,000 views a month on this blog. It every visitor followed the link to the just giving page and gave £1 that would be £3,000 closer to target to rebuild the animal shelter. If everyone gave just 50p it would be £1500 closer to raising the money. If everyone came back and kept giving 50p per month that would be a massive £18,000 towards the rebuild appeal and for a £1 per month from all 3,000 visitors that would be £36,000!!! That’s
almost as much as has been raised in the 4 years of fundraising already complete.
It might not be in your area, it may be that there’s something much closer to your home or even to your heart. But please spare a thought today for these animals who through no fault of their own have been abandoned. Think about the life they could have in a new built shelter, where they can be comfortable, where for some of them they will be living out their remaining days. Spare a thought not just for the animals but for the dedicated team of staff and volunteers who want to make their shelter a better home for them.
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Thank you in advance!