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Giving Dorset – sign of a happy dog

Waggy Tails has just turned eighteen and completed the fit out of its new animal rescue centre. Michael Handy went for a sniff around

A few weeks before the completion of the new Waggy Tails animal rescue centre (ARC), kitchen units are being assembled. The walls of the dog accommodation are being rendered before the special, hard-wearing floor covering gets laid; there is bustle all around what was an ordinary house on the borders of Canford Magna. The ARC is to be known as ‘Helen’s House’ in memory of Helen Lathwell, who worked as a volunteer at Waggy Tails’ Walkford shop, where she welcomed everyone with a smile.
The completion of the ARC will make the work of the canine rescue charity, which was founded eighteen years ago by Shelagh Meredith and others, much easier. As well as extended accommodation for emergency canine admissions and dogs awaiting fostering or permanent placements, Helen’s House has accommodation for two people, in order that there is human cover for the dogs at all times of day and night.


Charlie eyes a not-yet-proffered biscuit as he sits perfectly on command

Waggy Tails may not be a familiar name throughout the whole of the county, but the East Dorset-based charity is a sizeable operation: ten full-time staff, seven part-time staff and 180 volunteers man the office/warehouse, the two shops and now the animal rescue centre. All of this runs on voluntary donations, corporate sponsorship and sheer hard work.
Around 250 dogs were rehomed last year by Waggy Tails, and the number this year is very likely to be higher, as purse strings tighten at home and more dogs are simply abandoned or handed in. Not all will pass through Helen’s House; the dogs who come here are either emergency cases or have special issues which make it harder to find suitable fostering or adoptive homes.
It is easy to think of dog rescue as simply an animal welfare problem, but in many cases the true situation is more complicated than that. In the case where a person living in isolation has only a pet as a companion, should that person need to go into hospital, the issue of how the pet is looked after is a crucial one. If the dog is taken away, or worse put down owing to a lack of space at the pound where a dog is taken, the impact on the human patient on their release from hospital is huge and incredibly detrimental to their future health and happiness.


Not much to look at now, but this is about to be tranformed into a hygenic and cosy kennel

Animal welfare alone, however, is hard to ignore cases like Jacob, who on his arrival was red-raw all over – a case of mange from which he had suffered for all five months of his life – when he arrived at Waggy Tails. He is now three times that age, having spent two thirds of his life as a dog awaiting adoption. He is one of a number of Staffordshire bull terrier crosses who, simply owing to their breed, are routinely ignored by those looking to re-home a dog.
Charlie, an unusual-looking Staffie-Shar Pei cross, is a very bouncy boy who seems to have springs in his heels. Like the other dogs at the ARC, he has a set exercise regime – his natural athleticism will be a great boon when the centre manages to get new agility equipment for a course in the field adjoining the centre – and keeping  the dogs mentally as well as physically stimulated is a key part of their preparation for adoption or fostering. Charlie came to the centre with a Bull Mastiff cross named Daisy and seven other dogs. Daisy was due to be put down at a council dog pound on Christmas Eve 2010.


Some of the Waggy Tails team, with friends

It is increasingly difficult to rehome dogs – societal changes meaning both partners in a relationship being out at work all day exclude many couples from fostering or adopting owing to the charity’s ‘no more than four hours alone’ requirement. It’s also not cheap to feed a dog and keep it medically cared for; Waggy Tails spends around £6000 a month on vets’ bills, and that is far from what the vets would charge were they not the kind that recognise the importance of assisting an animal charity.
Before dogs can be found a permanent home, they may be put out to foster with a suitable family (someone at home, no children under six years old, experience with dogs and able to provide an stimulating and loving environment), whose food and veterinary expenses will be covered by the charity. Those who adopt will take on the financial responsibility for the animal, unless it has serious pre-existing medical conditions, when Waggy Tails will enter into a permanent fostering contract.
As well as suitable foster families, Waggy Tails is looking for volunteer dog walkers who can commit to a regular schedule, as well as home-checkers – those individuals who go out to the homes of prospective fostering and adoption families to check that all is in order for a rescue dog to live there. Naturally, in these tough times, the generosity of individuals and corporate support is what keeps it all going. Some pet shops have Waggy Tails food bins for customers to put in unneeded pet food and the charity is always grateful for donations to its two shops, sales from which help to finance the work it does.


Helen's House Animal Rescue Centre, as seen from the adjacent exercise field

With the charity receiving six or seven rescue calls a day, there is much work to be done, and plenty more volunteers needed in order to help this to happen. Helen’s House is a vital addition to the charity’s resources, but it too has a financial burden associated with it, although the permanent staff and volunteers are committed to making it work. Daisy, who has been lying on the office sofa for the last hour ignoring the sounds of drills and hammering, seems nonplussed by it all. She stretches, deigns to come and say hello in return for a biscuit, then lies down: safe, secure and happy.

For more information
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer dog walker or foster family, or in rehoming a dog, making out a legacy or making a contribution to Helen’s House ARC, visit or call Waggy Tails on 01202 875000.

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