Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Spotlight on.... The Society for Abandoned Animals

As part of the preparation for 'Help the Homeless Animals' month, I interviewed Rachel, who is one of the volunteers and a trustee at SAA (The Society for Abandoned Animals), which is located at Mosley Acre Farm, Stretford, Manchester, UK. In addition to the interview which can be found below, myself and my partner also visited the shelter on March 1st, 2014 with a small donation of toys and treats for some of the animals.

The SAA was started by Peggy Henderson, who lived in the Manchester area, back in the 1960's. Back then, there was a housing shortage as many pre-existing houses were no longer fit for use, leaving the occupants needing accommodation until a new house could be built or found. For many of these individuals, it meant that their beloved pets had to be re-homed or fostered as they could not be taken into the temporary accommodation, and so, Peggy stepped into the breach, either by re-homing or fostering many of these animals as possible. As the years went on, new, permanent shelter premises were looked for, which at one time included a move all the way to Buxton, Derbyshire! This location was too far away for the team at the SAA and for the people and pets of Manchester of whom Peggy wanted to help, so a final property search was undertaken, which lead to the permanent location of Mosley Acre Farm in 1994. The shelter was named as 'The Peggy Henderson Animal Sanctuary' although The Society for Abandoned Animals is the official charity name for the shelter.

This blog, offers a little more information on the history of the SAA, 

Peggy herself is sadly no longer with us, having passed away in 2004(?) but her legacy still lives on at the SAA, which is affectionately known as 'Peggy's Place' by many of the locals.

During my visit to the SAA, I was shown isolation units for cats, dogs and rabbits (not inside for health and safety reasons), Peggy's memorial garden where tags for animals can be left in memorandum, the green house where some of the plants sold at SAA fundraisers are grown and kept; a private stable block for horses owned by Unite To Care, which is another animal rescue organisation, they provide the rehabilitation for Walter and a small number of horses kept at Mosley Acre Farm.

The small white 'dimple' on Walter's rear is not a dimple, but in fact the remains of where a large label bearing his subject number from the testing facility was. It is not visible on these images, but there are also patches on Walter where he was shaved and the fur is starting to grow back. He is very wary of humans still but will respond to his name and was willing to approach the fence of his paddock when my guide, Rachel called his name.

I spent some time in the rabbit indoor pens, which is Rachel's specialist area, meeting some of the current residents. Rachel told me of how some of the rabbits under her care came to be there due to people buying them for their children and the novelty wearing off, that a few had been rescued from a meat factory, of which those few needed extra time before they could be re-homed to learn how to be a rabbit; that they had never seen greens or knew they were safe to eat. One particular rabbit, a harlequin coloured female had ended up losing her eye, leaving her partially blind due to problems from before arriving at the SAA and is now a longer term resident.

The pens that the rabbits were kept in were larger than any I have ever seen at a shelter or private residence, leaving the rabbits with the room to move and eat, sleep and play in comfort.  The shelter makes use of Carpet books by using the samples to provide different textures and warmth for the rabbits to sit/lie on and are often looking for donations of these and newspapers especially for use in the rabbit toilet areas. My partner spent time with one occupant, Nick, and then with a pair, called Peaches and Lily, of whom Rachel is hoping to re-home as a pair, but lily is sometimes over-looked due to being white with red (albino) eyes, which can be off putting to some. I had donated a wood and rope toy for the rabbits, so this went in for Peaches and Lily to share. 

SAA also provides at cost, private boarding for rabbits so that their owners do not need to rely on neighbours or inexperienced relatives for their pet rabbit care during holidays etc.

After this, we went into the cat house, where all the cats who are up for re-homing are kept. Again, the cat pens were quite spacious with different levels to them and room for scratching posts and other toys to play with. Rachel and one of the other shelter volunteers had been spending time with two cats in particular prior to the afternoon visit, which were two fluffy black and white females, called Daphne and Velma. They were originally part of a group, all named after Scooby Doo characters by their previous owner, who sadly had not fully socialized them, leaving them shy and nervous of strangers and carers alike. Of the two, Velma is much fluffier than her sister and was starting to trust and play with Rachel, whereas Daphne is more comfortable with playing at a distance, with a laser pointer pen light being her favourite game. These two cats were very attractive, but would need an experienced owner to give them time and patience to grow into wonderful pets.

I then went into the pen of Fudge, a large, black and very affectionate tom, who was purring very loudly in no time at all. Fudge is about 10 years old but in good health with bright eyes and would make a wonderful house cat for somebody who would like a lap cat. Fudge had previously come from a very good home, but his owner had to give up him and his sister, Coco, as they were emigrating and sadly could not take the cats with them. Coco is slimmer and smaller than fudge, still affectionate, but is currently recovering from an allergy that made some of her fur fall out, and so she is in a separate pen for the time being. I also got to meet another female, a tortoiseshell and white, called Sienna. Sienna came in as a stray but was very clean, in good health and highly affectionate cat, she was clearly somebody's pet, but as she had no microchip and nobody had come forward, she is now up for re-homing. Sienna, like fudge, would make a great house cat and lap cat. During my time in her pen she was quite happy to jump onto my partner's lap while we were trying to take photos of her and even let me hold her for short while.

After this, we went to the 'Animal Lounge' which was paid for by 'Shrimad Rajchandra Mission, Dharampur (UK)' in August, 2013. The animal lounge is a large room with a small kitchinette attached, set up like a typical living room, with sofas, a coffee table, bookshelf and display unit, plus a large cage. The cage is used for cage training with the dog residents so that if a new owner needs to use it (when appropriate) they may do so.

At present, the SAA has kennel facilities for three dogs as they believe that a smaller number is easier to manage for care, rehabilitation and the dogs emotional welbeing, as a smaller number means less upset animals getting anxious from being in the kennels, then barking and upsetting other dog residents, which I have seen happen at other shelters in the past. This also leaves the dog carers free for more one on one time with the dogs. Whilst visiting, I also got to meet Chris, who does most of the training and handling and home check visits for the canine residents. At the time of my visit, there were only two dogs under the care of the SAA. Dexter, a large male and handsome staffordshire terrier, who took great delight in climbing onto one of the sofas to sit between Chris and Rachel during my visit. As a 'staffie' owner myself, I know that the reputation of the dogs is greatly undeserved, as it is often bad ownership/care that can lead to a 'bad' dog. Dexter himself has been a resident at the SAA since April 2013, and makes use of the animal lounge so that a home set up does not become unfamiliar to him. I took with me a purple tennis ball for Dexter, who apparently can fit three of them in his mouth! The tennis ball, in typical staffie fashion was destroyed, but enjoyed, by Dexter in under five minutes.

Rachel explained that some of the volunteers at the shelter make use of the animal lounge so that if they are unable to get down to clean out pens/animal areas or are not strong enough to walk the dogs, they can still sit and read with or spend time with some of the animals in the lounge to help get the animals used to human interaction and socialization.

we also spent time in the animal lounge with the other dog in residence, a ten year old tan coloured cross breed named Honey. Chris explained that Honey had not had any socilization prior to arriving at the SAA, so she had been doing cage training with her, using reward training techniques and would often arrange for over-night stays with some of the other volunteers so that Honey could learn how to be a good dog from their (volunteers) older dogs in a home fostering situation.
Honey enjoying a biscuit I took up for her
Before leaving, we went to see the feral cats out-houses, which are like giant garden sheds, with shelter, food and bedding inside for the feral cats to use as they wished when the weather is bad or they want somewhere to go. The SAA does neuter all of their feral/semi-feral cats and sometimes will re-home them on farms as they make good mouse catchers for those who have areas at risk from rodent infestations. Rachel told me that their local brownie group often collects cat food and then when they visit in the summer, the brownies are given sheets with all the feral cats on so they might try to spot and count them all.

Inside one of the feral shelters

Finally, we spent a few moments in Peggy's memorial garden to pay our respects to the woman who started it all, then set off on the drive home.

The shelter relies heavily on donations and costs approximately £400 per day to run, they have a small number of paid staff and a larger volunteer team.Their fundrasing is done mainly through sponsorship and open day events, such as fairs. The next fair to be held is their Spring Fair at the end of this month.

Here is the interview transcript with Rachel who was our tour guide and key source of information on the SAA.

What made you want to become a volunteer at SAA and how did you get involved? 
In December 2002 we adopted a rabbit who at the time was their longest stay animal and I volunteered to help at the next Spring Fair as a way of thanking the SAA for all they had done caring for him during his 8 month stay. After that, I was hooked!
Which sector of the sanctuary do you work in the most? 
I help hands on with the rabbits and with the Fundraising.
After being at SAA for 10 years, you will have seen many changes and many animals come and go. Are there any particular ones that have stuck in your mind?
There have been many animals that I would have loved to have given a home to if I could - probably too many to mention.   I feel so sorry for the animals who are constantly over looked because of their bred/nature/colour and I wish I could home them all.  we have a lovely Staffie cross in at the moment -please visit our website and look for Dexter in our dogs for re-homing section, sadly, because of the bad press his breed receives, no one wants him.  

**Edit - A home visit check for the potential adoption of Dexter was being arranged in early March**
I have heard that a young gelding, named Walter, is being stabled at SAA after being released from a testing facility (facility name unknown) along with another horse. Is this true and is it common to have a small number of animals come to reside at the SAA after legitimate release from test facilities?  
These were signed over to the care of another organisation - Unite to Care - we just provided stabling for them.  The dogs, cats and rabbits we take in are signed over by their owners, or in the case of cats and rabbits sometimes found as strays.

As you're also a trustee of SAA, how does that role differ from your volunteer position?
It's like wearing two hats.  When I'm hands on with the animals, I do the tasks the same as all the other volunteers. But there are times when I wear another hat and have a greater responsibility.
What are the SAA's plans for the future? Do they wish to expand or to purchase another site so that they may have multiple shelters under the SAA name? 
We've no plans to buy another site, but are currently working on cat development plans, with long term plans to increase the number of dog kennels.

And finally, if there is anything you could say to the readers of Project52, what would that be?
There is so much to that - from a rescue point of view, please support rescue not pet shops or breeders.  If you have animals, please ensure they are neutered, this prevents unwanted  pregnancies when there are already many hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in rescue looking for homes.  Also microchip them, we receive lots of reports of well loved animals who have gone missing, sadly without a microchip the chances of them being reunited with their animals are slim.   As some who has animals of their own - insure them as vets bills can easily run to hundreds or even thousands of pounds. 

Thank you to Rachel and the wonderful staff and volunteers at SAA from myself and the readers of Project52 

If you would like to visit, volunteer or support the SAA in any way, please get in touch with them via their website,

The next open day, which is their 'Spring Fair Fundraiser' is on April 27th 2014. Map and directions can be found on their website under the 'contact us' section.  

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