Christmas at RSPCA Exeter: We go behind the scenes

PUBLISHED: 11:50 03 December 2019

Kerry, one of Little Valley’s dedicated dog team, with Loki, investigating the Santa Paws presents in reception

Kerry, one of Little Valley’s dedicated dog team, with Loki, investigating the Santa Paws presents in reception

Archant

It’s Christmas at Exeter’s RSPCA shelter and SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE goes behind the scenes to see what treats are in store

Relaxing in his hammock, Cooper is the picture of contentment, oblivious of his neighbour, René Artois, who attends vigorously to his exercise regime. Round the corner Priscilla comes to meet me. Delightful and engaging, if I didn't already have one just like her I'd reserve her there and then.

These three beings are, respectively, a rat, a degu and a cat, all residents of the RSPCA's South, East and West Devon branch, known locally as Little Valley Animal Shelter. It is one of the RSPCA's longest-established animal shelters in the country.

I return to reception to meet Loki, a lurcher-cross who is far more interested in the pile of Christmas presents from Santa Paws than he is in me. It is an enticingly large pile of bags and boxes, each filled and donated by shelter supporters. The label 'large dog' on one bag has clearly caught Loki's eye.

Kerry, one of Little Valley�s dedicated dog team, with Loki, investigating the Santa Paws presents in reception

Kerry, one of Little Valley�s dedicated dog team, with Loki, investigating the Santa Paws presents in reception

Founded in 1842, the shelter was originally situated in the heart of Exeter. Over the decades, city centre housing developments forced it to relocate and in 1991 it moved to its rural home just west of the city, taking the name Little Valley Animal Shelter.

During those 177 years things have changed so much for animals, yet there is still much work ahead for the RSPCA. People are far more aware of the needs of animals, the wealth of knowledge gained is huge, but there is still much to do for the next generation in terms of education.

Everything the charity does is science- or evidence-based. A recent RSPCA report revealed that nearly a quarter of children aged 10-18 have witnessed animal cruelty and neglect on social media; through that evidence new challenges for young people were identified.

Priscilla emerges from her pen to play with an assortment of toys and enrichment items, including a long featherPriscilla emerges from her pen to play with an assortment of toys and enrichment items, including a long feather

Teaching children to care for and respect animals from an early age can bring about positive change for children and animals, and help create a kinder world.

Little Valley's work to support the local community - animal and human - is informed by this, and their knowledge enables them to be a trusted voice. The charity's aim is to educate people, to bring society back to supporting the 'P' in RSPCA - prevention of cruelty.

Although affiliated to the national RSPCA, the shelter is entirely self-funded, needing £1 million each year to do its rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming work. During a year it shelters around 1,000 animals in facilities that include kennels, catteries and small animal units.

Historic image of Exeter�s RSPCA team when the shelter was sited in the city (photo owned by Little Valley)Historic image of Exeter�s RSPCA team when the shelter was sited in the city (photo owned by Little Valley)

It is entirely reliant on the generosity of the community it serves; its network of six shops contributes around £300,000 annually. Over 30 full- and part-time staff keep the shelter going.

Jo Evans, shelter manager since 2014, lives nearby. She and the team are on duty over Christmas, when the shelter closes to the public for ten days. It can be a challenge to rehome animals over the holiday season as it is a busy and disrupted time in most households - not ideal conditions in which to settle a new and disorientated pet.

And animals should never be regarded as 'Christmas presents' - they are a lifetime's commitment. The team will work with prospective adopters to find the right time to make that transition from shelter to home around the holiday period.

Sister angora lionhead rabbits, Princess and Snowy, waiting for a home togetherSister angora lionhead rabbits, Princess and Snowy, waiting for a home together

But although closed to the public the day-to-day work goes on - with a few embellishments.

"Without the public it's a quiet time," Jo tells me, "when we can spend even more quality time with the animals. We make it as festive as possible for them with the Santa Paws presents.

Each parcel is full of things that people would like to give to a dog, cat or smaller animal, which means that on Christmas Day or Boxing Day we have something special to give out to everyone and they all have a bit of fun!"

Santa Paws present is filled with treats for cats, dogs or small animals � this is  one that will be gifted to one of the catsSanta Paws present is filled with treats for cats, dogs or small animals � this is one that will be gifted to one of the cats

It conjures a heart-warming image: the dedication and kindness of Jo and the team is unstinting.

"I'd love to encourage more people to rescue animals," Jo continues. "There are so many abandoned animals who need a home."

If you are considering buying a puppy read the tips for finding a responsible breeder and entering into a 'puppy contract', details of which can be found on the RSPCA website.

Jo Evans, shelter manager, chats with PriscillaJo Evans, shelter manager, chats with Priscilla

"But our preference is always adoption, to provide an animal in care with the loving home they deserve," says Jo.

By the time you read this I sincerely hope that Loki, Priscilla, Cooper and René Artois will all have found their forever homes. But so many others will still be waiting. Over to you...

rspca-littlevalley.org.uk

The degu, Rene Artois, has lots of interesting things in his cage � he was making good use of his wheel during my visitThe degu, Rene Artois, has lots of interesting things in his cage � he was making good use of his wheel during my visit

SHELTER RESIDENTS

Little Valley's 21 acres can accommodate a huge range of creatures; it's most unusual arrival ever was a racoon dog. During the course of 2018 the shelter's kennel facilities were undergoing a massive rebuilding programme but they still managed to care for:

- 218 cats

- 157 dogs

- 64 rabbits

- 61 aviary birds

- 41 rodents

- 41 fish

- 38 exotics (unusual species who have complex needs, like bearded dragons)

- 28 guinea pigs

- 17 ferrets

- 6 poultry

- Occasional farm animals

- Wildlife (which is transferred to West Hatch, Taunton, one of the RSPCA's four wildlife units)

(latest statistics available at time of writing)

There are many ways you can help Little Valley: Make a donation, support their shops, fill a Santa Paws parcel

Volunteer in one of many roles, including: helping at the shelter (cleaning/feeding/walking /sitting with animals/helping in reception); helping in the shops; home-checking to ensure new homes are suitable.

Foster: some animals fare badly in a shelter, despite the kindness lavished on them. Fosterers take these pets into their home temporarily, until a permanent home is found.

The role suits people for whom the time is not right to have a permanent pet. The animal remains under RSPCA ownership; food, bedding, vet care etc is provided

Adopt: so many deserving animals need to be loved and wanted - find room in your heart and home for them

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