Spending hundreds of pounds on a puppy, only to hand it over to an animal rescue center days later, seems unlikely in the midst of a cost of living crisis, but it is a mind-boggling reality.
The North Clwyd Animal Rescue (NCAR) team have seen no letup in the need for their services, whether taking in animals or those interested in adopting pets .
Nicky Owen is head of fundraising at NCAR, and she’s seen many changes at the site, which her parents founded in 1978, and are still active on the site today.
The 36-year-old said: “It’s emotional but rewarding work. Some days are good and some are just awful.
“It’s gratifying when an animal arrives in a terrible way but leaves us for a loving home or we see the animals come back to visit us at one of our open houses.”
Nicky Owen, NCAR’s fundraising manager.
Nicky, who has three dogs and a cat of her own, is puzzled by the current situation of people buying and then giving up animals, adding: “How do they have the money to do this?
“In many cases it’s pedigree puppies, we get French bulldogs, huskies, poodles, you name it, we get it.
“But we’d rather they come to us looking for the right home, than being sold on Facebook or God knows where.”
The center has barely recovered from the ‘pupdemic’ – created during covid, when people on furlough or working from home took in puppies.
Many have been left with the harsh reality of owning a dog once they have had to return to work, and the center has seen a huge boost.
The pandemic has also resulted in many cats not being neutered, which has led to an increase in the number of kittens. Nicky adds that all animals that enter the centre, which has a no-destruction policy, are sterilized.
The Trelogan-based site, near Holywell, currently has around 200 animals in their care, looking for their forever homes – around 70-80 dogs, 100 cats/kittens, 20-30 rabbits and a few guinea pigs.
And while repatriation is their goal, it’s something the team takes very seriously. Nicky explains that often they associate an animal with people, rather than potential adopters when choosing one. Making sure every animal goes to the right home is a priority.
NCAR founder Anne Owen outside the site’s veterinary clinic.
Nicky’s mum, Anne Owen, started the charity after a very skinny, pregnant dog appeared in the garden one day. After a visit to the RSPCA, where unfortunately the puppies did not survive, Anne then brought the dog, now called Lady, home.
Things then took off for the animal lover. She said: “They asked me to join the Wrexham RSPCA committee. Then I heard about dogs being abandoned in stray pounds in Flintshire, said we could find kennels where they could go and that I would save them but it could not be offered.
“So I started it myself. We were picking up dogs from pounds and taking them to kennels in Carmel and training them there.
“We then started looking for new premises, which was helped by the money left by a gentleman who had had a cat from us.
“And helping us from the start has been the Jean Sainsbury Animal Welfare Trust.
“We were left with a place in Trefnant, where we started rescuing horses, ponies and donkeys, all things equine.”
Anne is clearly deeply committed. She said: “It’s my life, it’s everything to me. It’s nice to know that our animals are going to good homes.
“But it’s been with the help of so many people that it’s grown, it’s not just me.”
NCAR IT and Reception staff member Andy Horton outside the welcoming cafe Doris’s Bunker at the charity’s Trelogan site.
One of those who play a vital role in the center is Andy Horton.
The 46-year-old has been with the team since 2009 and works mostly in the kennels but also helps with IT, reception “and whatever else is needed”.
He said: ‘We provide stray dog on-call cover for Denbighshire Council, and I’m on staff looking after that.
Andy knows what commitment a dog is. He has a collie he got from NCAR and adds, “He was nine months old when we got him, he’s 14 now. It’s long.
“We’re getting a lot of small, high value dogs right now, and dogs from people who haven’t thought about life after covid, people who just don’t think beyond the cute phase.”
How do the staff prevent themselves from getting too attached to the animals?
Andy said: “There’s always one or two you like best, but it’s about seeing them leave us. You have to toughen up.”
Kennel hand and behaviorist, Steve Owen, with Minnie in an exercise area where dogs can play safely off leash.
Getting to know the animals is a big part of the rehabilitation and repatriation process. Steve Owen, dog handler and kennel attendant, plays a very active role.
He has been with NCAR for about 10 years and works primarily with dogs. He learns the behavior of dogs that often come to them with no known background, such as stray dogs.
Steve, 34, said: “We have a range of races, temperaments, ages, diverse backgrounds. We discover them by being with them.
“We have nervous dogs that could use a little more attention, and just need someone to sit down with them to let them know that everything is fine.
“Some have behavioral issues – fear of aggression, aggressive food – some are nervous around other dogs, so we’re working on all of that.”
It is this work with the dogs that allows NCAR to adapt them to their ideal home, with a thorough evaluation of each animal’s behavior.
Steve adds: “It’s never a 9am to 5pm job, you finish when you’re done, you never know what you’re going to face but it’s rewarding to see them go home.”
NCAR’s long-haired, nine-year-old Tilly loves to get restless if she’s not sleeping, and she’s a favorite of community content writer Claire Pierce.
It’s not all dogs, of course, with the center housing over 100 cats and kittens.
Cattery manager Sarah Goodwin, who is also a veterinary nurse, often in on-site surgery, and who has worked at NCAR for about five years, takes care of them.
As she walks me through the cattery (and I resist the urge to adopt them all), she explains a bit more about the rehoming process.
Sarah, who has 15 cats at home, said: “Cats are such individuals, some are shy and need quiet homes. Some are more outgoing and would be happier with families.
“You also have to take into account their caution on the road, which they have been used to.
“When they first arrive they are usually very nervous, so we let them settle in. Then we get to know them.
“The same staff work with them every day, get to know their personalities. They are also neutered, vaccinated, flailed and dewormed.
“We want the right homes for them, and when we do, it’s fantastic.”
Sarah, who is also taking in one of the centre’s puppies, echoes the essential role of neutering. She said: “All the time people weren’t having their cats neutered, so kitten season is a nightmare right now.
“People’s cats will have kittens, they will be donated, they won’t be spayed and it’s a vicious circle. We’re being asked to take kittens all the time.”
Repatriation officer and former NCAR volunteer Louise Smith-Jones.
Ensuring animals go to the right home is a great philosophy at NCAR, and repatriation officer Louise Smith-Jones plays an important role in making sure that happens.
She said: “As a result of covid we went to the online adoption application process which was much better.
“The adoption process includes a home check, and we can make sure people know what they’re getting into. When they come into the office, I let them talk, and you learn a lot more about their home life. .”
Louise, 53, whose husband is also a volunteer at the centre, started as a volunteer herself about 10 years ago, adds: “It’s about matching the right dog with the right home.”
The dedicated team of staff and volunteers help keep the center running, seven days a week. And they are needed. Between walking the dog (most exercise twice a day), laundry (it’s a huge ongoing process), cleaning, veterinary care, feeding, behavioral work, adoption, there is always something to do.
A family of NCAR volunteers with one of the dogs to be walked.
They are also looking for more volunteers, however much time they can dedicate, after seeing their numbers drop due to the pandemic.
They also welcome all donations of blankets, pet bedding, and pet food. For full details please visit ncar.org.uk
If you want to support the association without adopting, you can visit their café, Doris’s Bunker, open from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They also accept donations at the center between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
You can also help by raising funds, sponsoring a kennel, or supporting one of the area NCAR charity stores.