Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Charity caring for animals in need of a home

SPARE a thought this Christmas for dogs like Archie.

SPARE a thought this Christmas for dogs like Archie.

The one-year-old lurcher has been patiently waiting for a new home for more than six months.

Sadly, he’s not alone at the Blue Cross’s rehoming centre in Lewknor but the charity does everything it can to make life for him and the other dogs, cats and smaller animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs as comfortable as possible.

Claire, a two-year-old cat, is another of the centre’s longest-serving residents at about 100 days. She arrived after being found as a stray and is now staying with a foster carer until she is found a home.

The centre, which marked its 10th anniversary this year, is in greater demand now than ever and is always full — it has room for up to 50 cats and 25 dogs. Last year it helped 573 pets and this year that figure has leapt to 620.

Animal welfare assistant Emily Holmes, 25, says the centre’s primary role is to rehabilitate and rehome the animals, which come mainly from Oxfordshire but can come from other animal charities as far as Wales and Ireland.

“We have kennels here for strays with nowhere to go or that belong to people who are desperate for help,” says Miss Holmes.

“When an animal comes in, no matter how long it takes, we make sure it’s happy before we place them in a new home.

“It’s the best thing when an animal is on their way to a new home and you have played a part in that. It’s knowing that you’re making a difference.”

In the case of strays the charity will assess the animal and see if it’s a suitable candidate for its Home Direct scheme or if needs to come into the centre. Those that are admitted are allowed to settle into their environment and get to know the staff as well as being given a health check. They then meet other animals at the centre.

Miss Holmes says: “Unfortunately six to 18 months old is quite a common age for dogs to come into kennels. When a dog goes through adolescence it can become slightly more difficult and training goes out of the window.”

Staff compile a portfolio about the animal with, for example, what games it likes, if it has had any training and what home would suit it, enabling a right match to be found.

“We’re very much about matching the dog to the person and the person to the dog,” says Miss Holmes.

The animals are advertised on the Blue Cross website and people who express an interest are asked a series questions to find out their suitability as an owner.

The charity tries to minimise the amount of time an animal spends at the centre with the Home Direct scheme.

This is for dogs, cats, rabbits and other small pets whose owners can no longer keep them but don’t need to find them a new home straight away, so they stay where they are until a new owner is found for them.

All pets go through an assessment and matching process. When an owner contacts the centre, the staff will ask them why the animal needs to be rehomed and to see if it’s suitable for Home Direct.

Theresa Lovegrove, the scheme’s co-ordinator, will then visit the home to assess the animal and speak to the owner.

Miss Holmes says: “We get as much information as possible to help us find them the right new home. Theresa comes back and advertises them on our website and then we start getting interest from people who are looking for animals.

“When we have found a suitable match we get both parties into the centre and do a meet and greet. The new owners usually take them home on the same day.”

She says that Home Direct benefits the animals, explaining: “Animals really struggle in kennels — it’s not a natural environment for either cats or dogs and it’s really stressful for both. Dogs will be really vocal and cats may hide and shut down.

“It’s a massive benefit if they don’t have to go into a kennel. That’s why we try to do it in the same day. It’s also better for the animal to stay with an owner for as long as possible.

“We can help so many more pets and take in strays as the home dogs will be in the homes until they are resettled.”

This year was also the first time Blue Cross has started to rehome smaller animals with a foster scheme.

By having volunteer short-term foster carers for pets, the charity can  improve the welfare of the animals in its care. 

The carers look after the animals in their homes while they are recuperating from operations or illness, or because they are kittens or puppies.

This, too, minimises the amount of time an animal spends in a kennel or cattery. Lewknor has a handful of foster carers and needs more. It also has about 80 volunteers who visit the centre to walk the dogs, get to know the animals and see how they react in the environment outside.

But the charity does much more than just rehoming animals as it helps with behavioural issues thanks to animal behaviour co-ordinator Jane Baldry.

Medical issues are dealt with by a vet from the charity’s Victoria Hospital in London who visits Lewknor every Tuesday to check the animals and provide any treatments needed.

The charity does have a euthanasia policy but never puts animals to sleep when a new home can’t be found for them.

It will only consider taking this course of action if an animal is medically unwell enough to re-home or it is unsafe to do so.

The Blue Cross behaviour experts in Burford will always work with an animal to try to resolve their issues.

The centre continues to rehome animals throughout the festive period.

Miss Holmes says: “If someone is looking for a cat then please do come to us because we have got so many.

“If they can’t have a dog because they work all the time then volunteering is a great way to help. This charity wouldn’t run without volunteers.”

Some volunteers visit once a week and others two or three times.

One of them is Richard Steward, from Binfield Health, who has been volunteering at Lewknor for more than a year and visits two days a week.

He says: “I like the thought of doing something useful and saving the permanent staff some time. They are doing a very vital job, I think.

“It’s a very important charity and if you listen to some of the stories there seems to be so much going on.

“When you see a dog being rehomed and actually walking to the car you get a great kick.”

Sheila Barry, from Aylesbury, has been a volunteer for nine years and helps out one day a week.

She says: “I like helping animals that are not as fortunate as mine — making a difference and just giving them a better quality of life.

“I think the centre is great — the living conditions of the animals are really good and the staff are really helpful.”

If you would like to help, call 0300 777 1500 or visit www.bluecross.org.uk/oxfordshire-lewknor-rehoming-centre

If you live within 45 minutes of the centre and are interested in becoming a volunteer, please email jolene.gibbs@bluecross.org.uk 

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