Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary has been given a new year boost after revealing its founder left a £300,000 donation in her will which will fund a major refurbishment. 

The county’s largest independent rescue centre, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, plans to spend the bequest on building 20 new dog kennels and refurbishing 17 others.

But it wants to go a step further and has also launched a £150,000 fundraising drive, to use with the bumper donation, to build a new training hall where aggressive dogs can get used to frightening household noises like vacuum cleaners.

If the works all go ahead, the team will be able to spend more time than ever working on dogs’ behaviour which would ultimately help them find more ‘forever homes’.

All of it has been made possible by the legacy of founder Margaret Gray, who died earlier this year.
Sanctuary manager Iain Atkin said: “It’s going to make such an enormous difference – this would be game-changing.

“If it all comes to fruition it’s going to be so big.”
Currently the centre has 57 kennels, some of which date back to its founding in 1967 and are incredibly outdated.

Mr Atkin explained a major problem is the fact that outdoor yard areas for individual dogs’ kennels are immediately adjacent to neighbouring dogs’ indoor sections.

When dogs stuck inside see their neighbours playing outside, it makes them frustrated which then makes the animals outside more stressed.

Under the new plans, the sanctuary would demolish all 30 of its 1950s kennels and build 20 new, state-of-the-arts ones, giving a total of 47.
The new kennels have been designed by a national dog behaviour expert

Peter Napier who normally works for the Dogs’ Trust.

The old kennels are also badly designed for cleaning, so the new ones will also save staff hours of work, freeing them up to spend time with the dogs, not their kennels.

Mr Atkin said: “This simple bit of understanding is going to go a long way.

“We want our staff to spend less time cleaning so they can spend more time playing.”

The sanctuary team have spent the past two years planning its biggest-ever single revamp, but wondering at the same time how on earth they could raise the money.

Staff and volunteers already have to raise up to £500,000 each year just to run the centre, so funding the revamp was going to need an entire extra year’s income.

Then on March 6, sanctuary founder Margaret Gray passed away, aged 100.

In 1967, Miss Gray was one of eight animal lovers who put 80 shillings into a kitty to care for abandoned animals.

The same year, animal lover Sybil Morley, offered £10,000 to help buy an animal sanctuary and Miss Gray used the cash to buy the property at Stadhampton.

Now she has made a bequest which is every bit as generous.

Mr Atkin said: “It was absolutely unbelievable – it’s such a significant amount and without that all of this wouldn’t have been possible.”

“We already refurbished the accommodation for our cats, rabbits and livestock and ten kennels in the past few years, so once we have these dog kennels sorted we’ll have no more buildings left to do and we can focus on behavioural sessions.

“For them it’s going to be a massive improvement.”
The training hall would be another step-change again.

Mr Atkin explained: “Currently, when some of our dogs go to homes, they’re just not used to the sound of vacuum cleaners or washing machines.

“It’s not uncommon for someone to ring us up a few days later and say ‘why didn’t you tell us he was going to do this?’

“We have had to take dogs back.

“With this training hall we could put them in this environment with a sofa and the TV on and we can understand how that dog will behave in a real home.”

The sanctuary has now asked South Oxfordshire District Council for planning permission to build everything, but while it is still getting estimates for the various works Mr Atkin said he was not even sure if

Miss Gray’s generous donation would cover the dog kennels.

For that reason, he and his team are launching a new marketing campaign, writing to some 130 Oxfordshire businesses asking them to consider sponsoring an animal.

He said: “It is ambitious – we’ve put in planning applications for everything we want, then whatever we can do we will.

“It’s really all about improving welfare and relieving stress for our dogs because calm dogs are rehomable dogs.

“We need to be working on behaviour seven days a week.

“These new facilities will help us rehome more and more dogs, or at the very least give the dogs more activity every life – give them as pet-like an existence as possible.”

The sanctuary currently employs 16 full-time and part-time staff and has dozens of volunteer carers and fundraisers.

Right now it is home to 53 dogs, 62 cats, 14 rabbits, a horse, a pony and five goats.