Ahead of Ashbourne Animal Welfare's July fund-raiser, volunteer Wanda Mielczarek, above, highlights the importance of supporting a charity which cares for unwanted animals and now retrains them to become perfect, loving pets.
ASHBOURNE Animal Welfare volunteers cannot guarantee great weather at their annual Summer Spectacular Show but there is one thing we can guarantee – it never stops raining cats and dogs at The Ark, our rescue and rehoming centre.
As we work hard to organise a major July fund-raiser at our kennels and cattery, in Wyaston Road, Ashbourne, we are hoping for a sunny day but cannot help noticing there is a constant stream of cats and dogs coming to our door.
Because, as fast as the charity rehomes its residents, there is a queue waiting to take their place – there are certainly never any vacancies at this B&B!
Although many of the cats and dogs quickly find new homes, these are understandably the ones with easier, gentle temperaments who can quickly be integrated in and become well-loved members of the family.
But, like most animal rescue organisations, we acknowledge some cats and dogs will take a little longer – and some a great deal longer.
Some breeds of dogs, in particular Staffordshire bull terriers, are no longer popular. They get bad press and are often viewed with caution.
But we think Staffies are simply super. In the main, it is the owner who makes the dog and any breed can have a bad owner and get a bad reputation. Staffies are, by nature, loyal, friendly, affectionate dogs and nothing compares to a Staffie smile.
To help improve the chances of some of our longer-stay dogs being adopted, we have ventured into the emotive field of education.
Ashbourne Animal Welfare has its own Ark Academy. This is a school for our doggie residents. Each one is assessed by an animal behaviourist and, if necessary, enrolled into the Ark Academy for lessons to improve behaviour.
The curriculum usually covers basic social skills, such as meeting and greeting people, how to behave around people and other dogs, how to walk nicely on a lead and obey basic commands.
Our animal behaviourist sets the pupils "homework", which they do with the help of our staff and volunteers.
We always ensure lessons are fun and marks vary enormously. Gold stars are quickly awarded to some, while others have to re-sit – no pun intended – but one of the lessons is how to sit their exams!
Graduation day is, of course, when a dog is considered ready for rehoming and all the studying results in finding a loving new home.
We like to think we would get a very good Ofsted report and are proud of some of our students. Here are just a couple of success stories:
DOG PROFILE: JAXX
This handsome Husky came to the rescue centre as a stray.
On arrival, this big, strong chap had very few manners or social skills and was enrolled in the Ark Academy. He was a very true-to-breed type, laid-back but strong-willed and with a stubborn streak.
He was also very energetic with a rather over-enthusiastic approach to walks – setting off as though he were on a sledding expedition to the North Pole!
However, he proved to be a good student and our animal behaviourist, together with our staff, soon transformed him into a well-behaved, calm dog.
This helped with his rehoming and we were thrilled when Jaxx went off to live with a gentleman who had experience of owning this breed. Imagine our delight when we heard how well Jaxx was doing.
He has been trained to pull a dog cart and has been to several shows. John, his owner, tells us that, when Jaxx is carting, he is very fast. We can well believe this! This year Jaxx will be pulling a cowboy cart taking part in parades and shows.
In addition to his dog carting achievements, we are proud to announce that Jaxx has qualified as a Care Concern Dog and can be seen (below) showing off his uniform. He passed all the necessary temperament tests and John tells us Jaxx has done lots of PR at local shows and has met the Lord Mayor of Leeds.
Jaxx's calm temperament and beautiful blue eyes, combined with his cuddly appearance, are also used to advantage, as Jaxx has been working with children who are nervous around dogs.
He is possibly going to be allowed in as the first Care Concern dog to St James Hospital, in Leeds, and his talents extend to working with Alzheimer's sufferers.
It is always a happy time when we find one of our residents a new family and even better when we hear that the rehoming has been so successful.
DOG PROFILE: LEXIE
This young Staffie cross came to The Ark as a stray and was very nervous around people.
She was enrolled into the Ark Academy to gain confidence and teach her to be calm and relaxed around people and other dogs.
The success of this can be seen from the following letter that we received from Angela, her new owner: "One year ago, I met Lexie for the first time.
After being captivated by her photos and story on Ashbourne Animal Welfare's website and talking to Vicky (who works at The Ark and honestly told me of her background and issues), I sat in the Ark Academy and awaited our introduction.
"In trotted Lexie, small in stature, huge in personality – she clearly had fire in her belly.
"But, during that first meeting, it was clear she was smart, loved to learn and had come such a long way in her year at The Ark.
"She had so much love to give, I was smitten. Three weeks later, after numerous meetings so we could get to know each other, Lexie came to live with me.
"And what a year it has been – a steep learning curve for us both. I knew Lexie would require further training and there would likely be some challenges ahead; indeed it has not all been plain sailing and there have been tears as well as smiles.
"But we have worked tirelessly together and, while she is still work in progress and continues to find some situations stressful, Lexie has done unbelievably well and made huge progress.
"She is such an affectionate, characterful and inquisitive girl with a lovely temperament. She is a perfect house dog, has never made a mess or chewed anything that wasn't hers.
"She is obedient, has lovely manners, likes to be involved in everything and charms everyone she meets.
"She continues to enjoy learning new things and has an ever-increasing repertoire of tricks which would captivate anyone. Her progress with other dogs, the toughest challenge, has surpassed anything I dared hope for six months ago.
"When I tell anyone about her past and her story, they always say she is lucky to have ended up here with me; but, really, it's me who's the lucky one.
"So thank you to The Ark for giving Lexie a lifeline when she was unclaimed from the pound, for looking after her so well during her stay with you (Vicky, thanks for investing so much time, love and patience to turn her into a rehomeable dog) and finally for allowing her to adopt me as her forever human."
Now, although everyone at The Ark is passionate about what they do and always optimistic about what can be achieved, we do not live in cloud-cuckoo land and have introduced a cat college for our cats with "cattitude".
Cats simply do not do training. After all, they firmly believe they are "purrfect" and any problems must be the fault of their humans!
However, our feline residents present a wide variety of personalities and, though many are loving and sweet tempered, we get our fair share of feisty ones.
These cats have often not had a good relationship with people. Some have been on the receiving end of unkindness and are distrustful.
We try to show our cats that we humans are, in fact, nice to know. Our volunteers spend lots of quiet time just sitting with them, or playing games, and letting the cats take things at their own speed.
One such one was Annie, who was with us for more than 18 months but kept herself busy by working as our office cat.
These are just a few examples of the work done at The Ark.
If you are interested in adopting a cat or dog, please ring 01335 300494 or visit the charity's website at ashbourneanimalwelfare.org