On the morning I’m visiting the Dogs Trust rehoming centre just outside Leeds, there’s another arrival, a tiny two-day-old French bulldog puppy no bigger than a can of pop. Blind in both eyes, she was found in a park and taken to the local dog warden, who has brought her to the centre. Staff suspect she’d been dumped by a commercial dog breeder after they realised she was a “defective product” and couldn’t be sold for thousands of pounds, as her siblings will have been.
Emma Cooper, assistant manager of the centre, who lives on site, says that although this is by no means the first such case they have seen, they remain non-judgmental. “We try not to judge people,” she says. “If we start judging people, they won’t bring dogs to us, and if they don’t, we can’t help them. We just want to do our best for the dogs.”
For outsiders, it might be surprising to see the empathy that the staff afford to some of the former owners of dogs that end up in their care. Living at the centre, Cooper has experienced her share of “bundle on the doorstep” moments. One Valentine’s Day, she found a box at the door; she assumed it was a donation, but inside was a puppy with a broken leg.
“A couple of months ago, somebody buzzed the intercom and said: ‘There’s a dog here that needs your help’,” she continues. “I thought that was strange, so I walked up to the entrance and found they’d tied it to the gate and driven off. You have to think, although it’s not right to do that, it’s better than the alternative of dumping her somewhere where she was never going to be found or could have been run over.”
Thankfully, Dogs Trust’s policy is never to put a healthy dog down, and that means each and every one is given a chance.
By the morning’s end, Pamela Walker, a retired ICU nurse and dog foster carer, arrives to pick up Cassandra, the little Frenchie, who staff invited me to name. Walker has been working with the Leeds rehoming centre as a foster carer for the past 12 years.
“I tend to take puppies, and because of my nursing background, I’ve always been happy to take any dog that’s poorly or had operations,” she explains. “If there’s one they don’t think will survive, I’m happy to take it. Many won’t take those dogs, but with me it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t happen very often; I’ve had a couple and I knew what I was getting into. I can always say those dogs have had a lovely time, they were in a home and cared for, they had meals, they were able to curl up by the fire and have some comfort, have as nice a little life as they could have for as long as they could. I think that’s a good thing that’s worth doing. There are other carers who take the very elderly dogs. They know they’re not going to live that long, but they get to enjoy their last months.”
Fostering has become an increasingly important part of Dogs Trust’s work, especially since lockdowns have restricted the amount of staff and volunteers who can work on site. Besides, the benefits of living in a proper home are manifold. Older dogs and those wary of other canines are less stressed, those with medical conditions can be observed and cared for more closely, anxious dogs can learn to live with the comings and goings of life at home; people coming to the door, traffic outside, the sounds of washing machines and kettles; all of which helps them settle in more easily when they do find lifelong homes.