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Animal sanctuary faces cash crisis
TOMORROW, cyclists are being asked to pedal 10 miles to support an animal sanctuary which has spent 45 years – and used up many of its nine lives – re-homing 18,000 animals. Debbie Waite reports on the inspiring work of the Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary.
FORTY-FIVE years ago, Margaret Gray’s devotion for unwanted animals sparked an act of generosity that would become a phenomenon.
In 1967, during a very cold Christmas, the Oxford Mail published a picture of Miss Gray – who had founded the Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary with 10 shillings – feeding hay to the ponies on Port Meadow.
That picture was seen by a Miss Sybil Morley who asked to meet Miss Gray and was so moved by what the society was trying to do for animals that she made a gift of £1,000.
Later she offered a further £5,000, hoping it would buy a place where the society could have its own sanctuary.
In a stroke of luck, South Oxfordshire Hunt had put on the market its property at Stadhampton and Miss Morley’s gift enabled the society to buy it.
Volunteers helped to turn the stables and hounds’ quarters into suitable kennels and, finally, in July 1970, 35 animals were moved from various boarding establishments, where Miss Gray had been paying for them to stay around the county, to become the first inhabitants of the present sanctuary.
Since then, an estimated 18,000 dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs have been taken in and re-homed.
Some stay a short while before being adopted by a new owner.Others, like greyhounds Dexter and Zippy, and Striker the one-eyed cat, have become much-loved veterans, still looking for that perfect home.
For some, including two goats, six sheep, a horse and a little Shetland pony, the sanctuary will be home for the rest of their days.
As more and more strays and unwanted pets have been brought in – or even abandoned at the entrance to the sanctuary –more kennelling has had to be created, in an increasingly difficult financial climate.
In 2009, the sanctuary faced closure when a funding crisis left it with just a week’s worth of food and no money to pay the staff.
An appeal in the Oxford Mail saw an open day flooded with supporters, offering cash and help. Eighty thousand pounds was raised in donations and the sanctuary was sustained for a full year after Vivian Kirk, a long-standing supporter of the charity, bequeathed his Jericho home.
The dog had not had its day after all.
But as manager Ron Heath explained, every new day brings new challenges.
“It’s a labour of love and we run on a shoestring,” said Mr Heath.
“It costs us between £5 and £6 a day to care for a dog, with its food and medical needs. We receive £45 when a dog is adopted, but obviously that only pays for eight or nine days of care, so we rely so much on the generosity of individuals who give us food, the people who donate and leave us legacies, our fundraisers and also the companies who send their staff to come and help.”
The sanctuary has 23 full and part-time staff but would not be able to operate without its volunteers, who include 300 dog walkers.
Mr Heath said: “The staff here are on a minimum wage. They could go and push trolleys at the supermarket and earn more, but they love animals so they stay.
“Likewise, our volunteers give up their time to come and help out and our dog walkers give up their evenings and weekends to come and take the dogs out.
“We just could not operate without them.”
Mr Heath, 65, from Oxford, added: “It’s tough but we make a real difference. This year we are very pleased to say we have re-homed 100 per cent of the number of dogs we had brought in. And every animal which is re-homed means we can accept another from our waiting list, which is great news.”
The list of animals waiting to come into the sanctuary has never been higher.
Mr Heath said: “Times are tough for everyone and while most giving up their pets give reasons like relationship break-ups, because the animals are too boisterous, or there are new babies in the house, there are undoubtedly those who can no longer afford their pets and sadly a lot who just don’t want them any more.
“When some people realise we have a waiting list to accept pets, they sometimes just leave them here, tied to the gate, or in a basket at the entrance.”
The sanctuary does not put down healthy animals and that means there is a constant need for new animal accommodation – which further stretches the budget.
Mr Heath said: “Currently we are caring for 110 dogs and 170 cats, which is an all-time high.
“This year we hope to make some big changes and are planning to improve our dog residence so that it provides a more modern and warmer kennel facility.
“These new dog kennels are not a privilege – they are a necessity for the health of our dogs. At present, some are living in the old horse stables.
“Our Urgent Need appeal aims to raise £450,000 to rebuild the dog kennel area but again, this is going to require all the support we can get.
“We’re just hoping people get behind us and continue to support our work.”
HOW YOU CAN DONATE You can donate to OAS online, through an OAS charity shop, leave a gift in your will, or have a collection box at home or work.
For more details and information, phone 01865 890239, visit www.oxfordshireanimalsanctuary.org.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org You can also donate via text. Simply text "OASC45 and the amount you want to give" to 70070. Eg Text ‘OASC45 £5’ to 70070.
ADOPTING AT OAS Sue Broadway has just adopted her third dog from OAS.
Mrs Broadway, 48, from Yarnton, said: “I had my first dog, a crossbreed from OAS, as a teenager from Margaret Gray and ended up leaving it with my parents when I left home. The second dog I adopted was a greyhound cross, four-and-a-half years ago. We named him Monty and he was a wonderful dog, but sadly he died of cancer six weeks ago. It was only nine days after he died that we went back to OAS and the assistant warden Aaron Denton remembered us and told us he had just the dog for us.
“It was funny because we had already spotted Lupin on the website and it was him Aaron showed us. I am really grateful to OAS. They have given me three wonderful pets.”
TOMORROW'S CYCLING EVENT
THE Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary 10-mile charity cycle ride at 11am tomorrow starts and finishes at the sanctuary, passing through Little Milton and Cuddesdon.
The one-hour route is designed to challenge the novice rider, to break a sweat for seasoned cyclists and to be a doddle for avid sports fans.
It is the brainchild of one of the sanctuary’s long-term volunteers, Donae Levrill. Mrs Levrill, a 40-year-old PA from Didcot, said: “We are hoping people will see the ride as a great way to get out, cycle together and really know they are doing something special to help animals.”
Registration costs £7 and can be done on the day. Refreshments are included. For more information, call Donae on 07932 377656.