The charity Four Paws Animal Rescue (South Wales) was founded by Kirsty Thomas in 2004 and officially registered in 2006. During her training as a vet nurse Kirsty noticed that many healthy animals were being needlessly euthanized in local pounds. Initially she tried to find homes for these animals with friends and family, but soon realised there were too many animals in need. She gave up her training to dedicate herself full-time to saving animals. Four Paws mainly rescues and re-homes dogs and due to the recession the number of dogs in need is steadily growing. I talked to Adoption Co-ordinator Seran Davies about the charity’s rescue work.
How many animals have been re-homed since the start of the charity?
Our current number stands at 1950. The majority have been re-homed and others have been transferred to other rescue charities when we have run out of space. The number signifies all those who have come into Four Paws’ care. We are due to reach our 2000th dog and we are hoping to have a surprise celebration for the family who will be adopting the 2000th dog.
How many active members have you got?
At present we have 30 active foster carers, 4 trustees and approximately 30 fundraising volunteers. No one at Four Paws receives a wage; we are all volunteering our time and skills.
Like any good animal charity Four Paws has a strict vetting policy and the requirements can be found on their website here Can you explain why you have such strict criteria?
Some people may see our procedures as being quite strict, however our main concern is always the welfare of the animal and the prospective owners. Many of the animals that come to us have been unwanted, neglected and sometimes abused. It is our duty to make sure they are treated with love and kindness in their next home.
When do you turn people down?
The main reason we may turn an application down is when we have lots of applications for the same dog. It is inevitable some people will be disappointed, but we try to match the most suitable home to the dog so it is never a personal reflection of the applicant.
We also may turn people down if their current animals are not vaccinated or neutered. We also have a policy where we do not home with children under the age of five.
The hardest reason we may have to turn people down is, if they are planning on leaving a dog for longer than four hours. We know that this is a difficulty for many people but it is important to note that many rescue dogs have abandonment issues and for some dogs over four hours is too long to be away from their human companions. We never home a puppy where they will be left for more than 3 hours as we feel they need input into behaviour and training whilst they are small.
You mainly re-home dogs and have currently one cat in care. Why is that?
The reason Four Paws Animal Rescue focuses mainly on dogs is that they are more at risk of needlessly being killed at the pound. We have taken in many animals over the years including cats, birds and even a ferret! As a charity we find homing cats very difficult and as a consequence we have a limited number of spaces to be able to help them. We have recognised that there are many cats out there that need help and as a result we have recently been helping spay female cats to help the unwanted kitten problem.
What other animal charities do you work with to re-home and help for example cats in need?
We work with many other charities to help our animals, and for cats we often refer people who need help to Cats Protection, the RSPCA and Catwell.
What kind of dogs are the most difficult to re-home?
Brindled male Staffys! Any bull breed is hard to home but if it is a brindle colour they have been known to stay with us for up to a year. We also have difficulty finding foster homes for bull breeds due to their stereotypes, despite the fact that they are possibly the most loving breed.
And what kind of dogs are the easiest to find homes for?
Any pedigree dogs that come to us such as Cavaliers, Spaniels, Yorkies etc. The smaller the dog the easier it is to re-home. We also have a great deal of interest when we have puppies, unless they are bull breed pups of course!
You have private fosterers as well as kennels – is that correct?
We do not have a rescue centre but a network of foster carers who dedicate their time and love to their foster dogs whilst helping them find a forever home. When we can not find a foster home for a dog we rent a kennel from a local boarding kennel. This is very expensive for us but necessary when a dog needs quarantining or has behavioural issues they need help with.
The recession has a negative effect on pet ownership. How much has the amount of animals in care increased since 2008?
The rates of dogs being handed into the pound has risen exponentially since 2008! We tripled our re-homing rates in the first year of the recession. We also have a hand-in list where people apply to hand their dogs in to us. Traditionally there have always been around 30 dogs waiting to come to us, however since the recession we have had a static number of 120 on our waiting list. It is devastating to see how many people have lost their jobs, homes and the financial means to continue looking after their furry companions.
What is the most common reason people have brought in a dog to re-home?
The main reason people hand their dogs in to us is that they can not cope with behavioural issues such as separation anxiety, toilet training or aggression. Some of these are quite simple to deal with and others not so. Therefore it always reminds us that training and socialising a dog at a young age is vital in making it a happy and healthy animal. Another common reason is the arrival of a new family member and we often see people handing dogs in as they are unable to cope with a new baby and a dog or they are worried how the dog would react to a new baby.
Readers will be interested to know how they can help animals in need. What does Four Paws mostly need, not only in terms of donations, but practical help?
Four Paws Animal Rescue is always looking for people who would like to foster. We look for people who spend quite a lot of time at home, enjoy walking and can help a rescue dog adjust to family life.
We know that not many people can foster so there is plenty of other things to do. We are always looking for people to help us run stalls at events, hold a tin outside pets at home or run your own fundraising event!
Whatever you decide to do, please feel free to come and be part of our online community where you will find lots of dog lovers, friends and practical animal owning advice.
What has been the biggest challenge for the charity?
The biggest challenge for our charity was rescuing the two Springer spaniels Bertie and Wooster. They were dumped in the pound to be put to sleep, but rescued by Four Paws. After a short period in a foster home they were re-homed. After two weeks in their new home we received a phone call to say that Bertie was going to be put down by the vet due to a spinal injury. On further inspection it turned out that Wooster had run head first into his brother crushing his spine. The family had not taken out pet insurance and as a result could not afford treatment and so agreed to have him euthanized. FPAR retrieved both, Bertie and Wooster, and spent several thousand pounds on life saving surgery for Bertie. Bertie is now living permanently with his foster carer who adopted him. Wooster has his very own home where he swims in a lake every day. It was a challenge emotionally and financially for a very small charity, but we knew that it was our duty to do the very best for our animals.
And what has been the biggest success?
Our foster carers are our biggest success! Without them FPAR couldn’t save the dogs that we have. We have a lot to thank them for. One other success is that Kirsty Thomas, the founder of the charity, won the Dogs Trust Award for “A Dog’s Best Friend”. It was wonderful to see her rewarded for all her hard work.
What are your future plans for the charity?
One day we hope to have our own rescue centre. It is a long way off but we hope to realise it one day.
When’s the next big charity event?
10th December 2011 – Christmas Event at Buttrills Community Centre, North Walk, Barry, CF62 8BX
Thank you very much for the interview Seran.