The beginning of a new year can often be a time for reflection and new beginnings. As revealed in my previous Blog pets can be a huge help to us poor human beings, but there are times when they also need our help. I was recently reminded of the old saying “a dog is for life not just for Christmas” when I interviewed Sheila Poole a very dedicated animal rescue volunteer.

On an icy cold December morning, on the run up to Christmas, I paid a visit to Sheila who is Chairperson and Dog Coordinator for PARRT (or Peoples Animal Rescue & Re-homing Team).

The organisation is a volunteer led organisation that assists in rehoming unwanted animals. Their main aim is to help small animals in need and they’ve been operating in the Newcastle, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear areas since 1998 (although they can actually re-home animals anywhere between Scotland and Essex.) PARRT operate a non-destruct policy, whereby they do not put any animal to sleep, unless it is strongly recommended by a vet. The rescue has a charity shop based in Amble that helps it make ends meet, but generally they survive through the support of volunteers and north east communities, and from donations and fundraising events.

Sheila’s duties are generally home and community based, but are many and varied. She used to work in the charity’s Amble shop but had to reduce that due to her other rescue commitments. She regularly collects the contents of ‘Dog Food Bins’ (charity bins placed within supermarkets where members of the public can donate pet food) and Sheila also explained that, as Dog Coordinator she deals with any dogs that require re-homing. Indeed, the night before our meeting she took a phone call regarding a dog that needed re-homing, but because the charity does not have their own kennels Sheila completed a risk assessment over the phone and had to arrange for the person to keep the animal at their home address until an appropriate home could be found. The charity can go from a few potential foster carers or adopters, and up to 150 on their register at any given time. However, more volunteers are constantly needed and always welcome. PARRT arranges for dogs to be re-homed, and as such Sheila’s role includes completing assessments, arranging Home Visits, encouraging adoptees to volunteer, taking photos, coordinating ‘Meet and Greets’ and post adoption ‘follow up visits’. (Although they have a very similar process for cats, unlike dogs, the rescue do have their own facilities to house cats in 5 special cat chalets.)

However, going on to emotionally describe the plight of a previous rescued canine with complex behaviour issues Sheila stressed that some dogs do receive emergency or temporary accommodation too. Indeed, the charity refused to give up on one particular dog and despite having to place him in private kennels for over 2 years, he was eventually and successfully adopted by an Essex couple.

Sheila comes from a background of care work, working previously as an auxiliary nurse, but she has always loved animals. When she began volunteering for PARRT she assumed that she would perhaps be doing a couple of home checks per week, however it turned out to be “rather ‘full on’ some days”, which she says is one of the things she loves most about her role. Indeed, her first really memorable moment was trying to catch feral cats using ‘humane traps’. She went on to explain that wild cats, can not only be quite scary, they can also hurt!

Despite the initial commotion and excitement, Sheila said she was made very welcome and found it relatively easy to ‘fit in’ and was given a lot of support and direction from the then ex-chairperson. She also feels that she now knows more about dogs, cats and human nature! Apparently Sheila has experienced some rather “wily people” and has developed a nose for when “people are pulling the wool over my eyes”. Sheila also benefits from monthly Team Meetings where wearing both hats at once (Chairperson and Finance Officer), she and the team discuss cases, problems are shared, plans are arranged and finances discussed. The main problem as Sheila sees it, is that there is always a need for more money. The organisational costs include day to day bills of heat and light, supporting dogs in their homes, building and maintaining cat chalets (they are currently building a new one), the cost of neutering and vaccinating the animals and travel expenses. She would love to win the lottery and help more but she says the charity has so far had a very positive impact and helped “well over 10,000 animals”

Sheila feels that THE most positive thing about volunteering for her has been observing the pleasure both animals and humans gain from one another “finding THAT perfect home for an unwanted pet, somewhere they can happily spend the rest of their life”.

If the New Year and Sheila’s story has inspired, you to seek new challenges and help our four legged friends then why not visit Northumberland CVA's Volunteer Connect to start exploring the volunteering opportunities available in Northumberland.

http://www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/volunteers

If you are currently a volunteer and would like to share your own experiences, please leave a comment below or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll get in touch with you for a chat.