WHEN staff and volunteers feed the dogs at Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary the sound of the animals yelping carries right the way around the centre, with different enclosures spread over land the size of about four football pitches.
And with about 100 dogs and 170 cats in kennels on the premises in Stadhampton near Thame, feeding them all twice a day and making sure they get enough exercise is a tough task.
There are currently about 300 animals – dogs, cats and rabbits – being cared for by charity staff and now is the time of year when there is an increase in the number of owners deciding they can no longer keep their pets.
All the kennels at Stadhampton are currently full and there is a waiting list, including half a dozen dogs, but staff expect that number to grow to at least 20 in the coming weeks.
In past years the sanctuary has paid for animals to be boarded elsewhere if it cannot take them in but it can no longer afford to do this, and so a waiting list has been created.
Rachel Tatam, from Blackbird Leys, Oxford, has worked at the sanctuary for about seven years, starting out as assistant warden before taking over as warden 18 months ago.
She is concerned about the future of the animals on the site and warned last year they could have to be put down within a year due to a lack of funding.
The 42-year-old, who runs the centre with her partner, assistant warden Aaron Denton, 26, says it costs about £700,000 a year to run the centre and there is only enough money in the bank to cover running costs for about the next 12 months.
She said about £20,000 comes in from donations, but there is a £40,000-a-month shortfall in regular income, which means the centre is eating into its reserve funds.
As a result it is asking 20,000 people to set up a standing order for £2 a month that would guarantee the centre’s future.
In 2009 an appeal in the Oxford Mail saw an open day flooded with supporters, offering cash and help. Around £80,000 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.
Ms Tatam said: “We need people to make small donations on a regular basis and that is what will keep us going long term.”
She doesn’t want to contemplate the closure of the centre and says she and her staff – a team of 23 full and part-time workers – are trying to ensure this does not happen.
Ms Tatam said: “There are no luxuries here. We’ve got a big shed as our staff room and work eight, nine and 10-hour days with most of the staff on minimum wage.
“We are here all year round, including on Christmas Day, and a lot of our time is spent outside in the cold, rain and snow.
“When you think about all the animals that are having to live here it does make you feel sad, but when you find a home for one of them you realise it is a job well done.
“A German Shepherd/Rottweiler called Soldier Boy was with us for about 10 years before we found a home for him and now I get great satisfaction seeing him out walking with his owners.
“People bring us animals for all sorts of reasons, but now is the time of year when people who have been given pets as presents realise they cannot cope.”
There is a justgiving page on the Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary website oascharity.org.uk
AT A GLANCE
- A STAGGERING 18,000 animals have been rehomed since the sanctuary, now a registered charity, opened in 1967.
- In 2011, the total number of animals brought in was 148 dogs, 265 cats and 41 rabbits and staff rehomed 140 dogs, 154 cats, and 42 rabbits.
- In 2012, 167 dogs, 209 cats and 28 rabbits came in and staff rehomed 157 dogs, 202 cats and 28 rabbits.
- Last year, 186 dogs came in, with 243 cats and 25 rabbits.
- But staff managed to rehome 188 dogs, 245 cats and 27 rabbits.
- Vets bills cost £126,300 and food and bedding £73,000.
- It costs an average of £20 a week to care for each animal.
- The charity fundraises through shops in Summertown, Didcot, Witney and Carterton, and from public donations.
- The sanctuary is appealing for anyone to help, either by adopting a pet or by donating regularly at oascharity.org.uk. Anyone able to help can also call the sanctuary on 01865 890239.
IN August 2012, staff paid tribute to one of the sanctuary’s greatest servants.
Maggie Whalley died, aged 57, at Sobell House Hospice in Headington from liver cancer.
Ms Whalley, right, of Champion Way, Littlemore, worked at the sanctuary for 20 years.
She was appointed warden in the 1990s by then-chairman Margaret Gray and was so dedicated she would sleep some nights at the sanctuary as she tried to stay on call 24 hours a day. She never married and considered the animals and staff her family.
The dog lover adopted a Yorkshire Terrier she called Ragamuffin in 2001.
A volunteer of the year
FORMER civil servant, Margaret Herring, from Abingdon, has been volunteering at the centre for the past five years and now turns up two days a week to look after the cats.
“We don’t have time to give them a cuddle, it’s just feeding, cleaning and grooming,” said Mrs Herring, right, who has been praised by sanctuary managers as one of their volunteers of the year.
The 66-year-old, who lives with her husband Richard, has taken in two black cats from the centre, aged five and eight.
She added: “I help to look after about 120 cats which are in two sections – occasionally you get the odd catfight.”
Mrs Herring said volunteering for the centre was very satisfying.
“I started doing just a half a day a week and now I have gone up to two days a week,” she said.
- IN the early days, founding members rescued stray animals and housed them in boarding kennels and catteries.
- In 1967, during a very cold Christmas, the Oxford Mail published a picture of founder member Margaret Gray feeding hay to ponies on Port Meadow.
- The picture was seen by Sybil Morley and she was so moved by what the society was trying to do for the animals she made a gift of £5,000.
- She later offered a further £5,000 to help to buy a base for the sanctuary.
- The South Oxfordshire Hunt put its property on the market at Stadhampton and it became Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary, with volunteers helping to turn the stables and hounds’ quarters into suitable kennels.
- In 1970, the 35 animals were moved from various boarding homes around the county to the sanctuary.
- The sanctuary has suffered funding difficulties in recent years. In 2009, an appeal in the Oxford Mail saw an open day flooded with supporters, offering cash and help, pictured.
- £80,000 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.