Battersea Dogs Home isn't only in Battersea – they also have centres out in the country where you could find the ideal walking companion or even a working dog. Katy Birchall paid a visit, with photographs by Andrew Sydenham.
‘Charlie makes me laugh every single day; I’ve never met a dog with so much personality,’ says TV presenter and former tennis star Sue Barker says of her Battersea-rescue cocker spaniel.
‘He loves a tennis ball – I’d be disappointed if he didn’t.’
A major supporter of the charity, Miss Barker didn’t go looking for a dog from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home; rather, Battersea chose her.
‘Two years ago, I received an email from the celebrity liaison manager Jane Warden about an upcoming event and I mentioned that I’d lost my beloved rottweiler. I was heartbroken,’ she remembers.
‘Five minutes later, a picture of a little spaniel that had just arrived at the Old Windsor centre landed in my inbox. It was love at first sight.’
Founded in 1860 by Mary Tealby – after she tried and failed to save a dog left to starve on the street – the charity started out as the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs in a stableyard in Holloway, with the promise that no dog ‘in any condition be, on any pretence whatever, refused admittance’. More than 150 years later, Battersea continues to give second chances to thousands of animals every year.
There is one challenge in particular, however, that the charity faces today: finding countryside homes for its dogs. ‘When you think of Battersea, it’s easy just to think of London,’ notes Kaye Mughal, centre manager of Battersea Old Windsor.
‘However, a lot of the dogs here are country breeds looking for country owners.’
Tucked down a lane in Berkshire, the Old Windsor site is one of three, along with Brands Hatch in Kent and the flagship London centre. With woodland and fields on its doorstep, the location offers inhabitants a peaceful residence away from the bustle of city life.
‘When a dog is transferred here from London, we often see a remarkable difference,’ enthuses Mrs Mughal, who has 30 years at Battersea under her belt. ‘A quieter, countryside environment is hugely beneficial and the dogs really come out of their shells.’
Walking through the kennels at Old Windsor is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking experience as wet noses poke out curiously. It’s impossible to breeze past Petra, the gentle weimaraner with beautiful blue-grey eyes, or to avoid cocker spaniel Louis, who will bring you his favourite toy – as long as you give it straight back. You can’t ignore labrador Bertie, tail thumping contentedly on the side of his basket, or fail to be charmed by Eddie and Serena, the lurchers that will rest their heads in your hands and gaze up at you adoringly.
Loyal to the founder’s promise, the staff and volunteers here go to incredible lengths for each and every dog. There are extensive medical examinations and any necessary operations on arrival, before the dogs are thoroughly assessed. Should there be any behavioural issues, the team will work hard to find a solution. Staff members here have spent long afternoons sitting on hard, cold kennel floors soothing nervous dogs and often foster those that are unsettled in kennels.
‘We’re always looking for countryside owners because they understand these breeds,’ Mrs Mughal explains, tickling the chin of a bouncy beagle puppy. ‘They know the terrier instinct, the lurcher’s impulse to chase, the spaniel energy. We see so many beautiful working dogs here needing owners who are aware of their natural instincts and love them.’
Charlie’s endless spaniel energy is certainly welcomed by Miss Barker, who loves taking him for long walks in the Cotswolds. ‘He’s in heaven with all the hedgerows and footpaths we have here. Thanks to him, I’m a lot healthier. He’s really put a spring in my step.’
If they spot working potential in a dog, the rehoming staff at Battersea do everything they can to ensure it doesn’t go to waste. ‘I encourage people to think of Battersea when they’re after a gundog, rather than getting a puppy,’ says Sarah Parker, who received a recent phonecall from the Old Windsor centre asking if she’d be interested in McTavish, a four-month-old sprocker.
After one week at his new Hampshire home, ‘Mac’ has already started basic training and follows Mrs Parker’s labrador-rottweiler cross, Tilly, everywhere. As soon as he’s ready, Mac will be following in her footsteps in gundog training, too. ‘Tilly isn’t your typical gundog, but she took to training beautifully and loves to pick up. She’s very instinctive and is really good at flushing. It’s lovely to see her face light up when she’s working,’ enthuses Mrs Parker. ‘I’m very proud to say that my working dogs are rescues.’
Rug designer Luke Irwin is also very proud of his Battersea rescue dog, Rabbit, albeit for different reasons. ‘Rabbit’s eccentricity and adventures have brought him a measure of fame and notoriety, namely by winning Country Life’s Britain’s naughtiest dog competition,’ he laughs. This accolade was bestowed on Rabbit after Mr Irwin’s five-year-old daughter, Violet, recounted an incident when the terrier snuck into an Amazon delivery van without the driver’s knowledge and travelled the country, having a marvellous time tearing parcels to shreds.
Nestled in the Wiltshire countryside, Rabbit’s home is now shared by another Battersea dog, Elmo. ‘We’re so lucky that we live in the country and can give these dogs such an incredible life of freedom, space and walks,’ Mr Irwin enthuses. ‘I think it’s incumbent on anyone who lives in the country to consider Battersea.’
Despite Rabbit’s naughty streak, Mr Irwin wouldn’t have him any other way: ‘He’s brought so much to our family, I can’t imagine life without him.’
Battersea certainly seems to be in the business of happy endings – it’s hard to believe that anyone might visit one of their centres and not find the perfect canine companion.
Battersea’s centres in and out of London
Battersea Old Windsor (01784 494443; www.battersea.org.uk)
Battersea Brands Hatch (01474 874994; www.battersea.org.uk)
Battersea London (020–7627 9218; www.battersea.org.uk)
Paws for thought
If you would like to welcome one of these dogs into your family, contact Battersea Old Windsor on 01784 494443 or email email@example.com
Luna is a three-year-old lurcher. Active and affectionate, she’s looking for a home with a garden and other dogs to play with. She likes toys and long walks, and needs a quiet home with continued training.
Bailey is a four-year-old beagle. This cheerful chap can be vocal, so would be suited to a quiet location with no other dogs and lots of diverse walks to keep him entertained. He likes food and stealing things left lying around, and needs experienced beagle owners and lots of exercise.
Smokey is an eight-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier. A friendly boy who loves people and playing in the garden, he would prefer to be the only dog. He likes tennis balls and curling up on the sofa, and needs an adult-only household and companionship in the day.
Kath is a four-year-old greyhound. She can be shy, so would prefer to be the only dog and seeks a relaxed pace of life, with lots of grassy areas for walks due to a history of corns. She likes cuddles and gentle strolls, and needs patience and understanding.
Milo is a seven-month-old English springer spaniel. Energetic and bright, he is the perfect pup for owners with older children and spaniel experience. He likes toys, food and attention, and needs an active family with no cats.
Bracken is a one-year-old saluki. Enthusiastic and sociable, he needs active owners who will channel his energy and help to develop his manners. He likes playtime and other dogs, and needs a calm canine role model.
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