FOR 50 years, volunteers at Chichester and District Dog Rescue Society have been helping to rescue and rehome strays.
Now, in the charity’s anniversary year, they are looking forward to the official opening of their new headquarters and helping dogs for years to come.
The society was founded by Mary Geering, now Mary Hunt, in 1963 when the animal charity she worked with stopped taking strays from the police and the dogs faced being destroyed after the statutory seven days.
“A week later, I had a police sergeant turning up on my doorstep asking if I could take the strays in as an individual because they couldn’t bear to see them put down,” said Mary.
“I would never have thought of it. There wouldn’t be a charity if it wasn’t for him.”
And so the Stray Dog Rescue Service, as it was then called, was founded.
Run and funded entirely by Mary, who still acts as honorary secretary, the service was soon operating a 24-hour service for the police and the public.
With publicity growing, Mary was soon receiving donations of money and offers of homes for the dogs.
Police stations in Bognor Regis, Midhurst and Petworth asked Mary to collect their strays and the service grew.
As soon as the donations started to arrive, Mary got together with other local people who cared about dogs, formed a trust and the Chichester and District Dog and Rescue Society was born.
The society was granted official charity status in April, 1968.
It’s aim was to: “Prevent cruelty to animals and to rescue, care for and place in good homes stray and unwanted dogs from Chichester and the surrounding areas.”
After setting up kennels and private foster homes, the society started a recovery and trapping service for dogs that had been difficult to catch or were long-term strays that had been living wild for months.
Mary did most of the field work herself, training her own recovery dogs.
She said the recovery work is as important and successful now as it was in the 1960s, with new volunteers being trained to carry it out.
Describing it as ‘the most rewarding thing any dog-handler can achieve’, Mary said: “When you go into this sort of thing you don’t expect any kudos or any sort of praise.
“The thing that gives me happiness is when you save an animal that has literally been at the point of death. That is a happiness you can’t even imagine, it is incredible.”
In 1978, Mary moved to Rowlands Castle and the society added new areas to its coverage – Havant, Cowplain and Hayling Island.
The animal ambulance was created and a radio pager service was made available to the police 24 hours a day.
When council dog wardens were appointed, the number of strays picked up by the society dropped and volunteers began taking in more unwanted dogs.
At any one time, the society has up to 24 dogs in kennels and around 30 in foster homes, although a lot of the dogs in foster homes will remain there for the rest of their lives.
“One of the chief concerns at the moment is finding homes for elderly dogs whose owners have died or gone into care homes,” said Mary. “We have a lot of them at the moment unfortunately.”
It can be difficult to find homes for elderly dogs, however, the society pays for veterinary care for all dogs aged ten and over even once they are rehomed.
The society also helps wildlife and birds by providing a collection service, covering the cost of life-saving first aid and emergency treatment and then passing them on to the appropriate charity.
It also now operates a welfare scheme where veterinary surgeons can ask for help paying for life-saving treatment if the owner is unable to pay.
Society chairman Andrew Morley said the welfare scheme had seen increasing demand recently as people struggled to cope with unexpected veterinary bills.
Andrew has been working with the society for a couple of years now.
Having rehomed dogs from Mary in the past, he was going through a difficult time personally when he and his wife were invited to volunteer.
“I went on a dog hunt and the dog had been out for months,” said Andrew. “There was just something when I slipped the lead over that dog’s head that this was the right thing to do.”
Since that moment, Andrew has become more and more involved in the charity, taking on most of the recovery jobs from Mary.
“I just love working with the animals,” he said.
Describing the anniversary year as ‘very exciting’, he said he was particularly looking forward to the official opening of the charity’s headquarters in Durrants Road, Rowlands Castle.
“It is nice that we have got this property as a headquarters,” he said. “When people adopt dogs they are not on their own, they have somewhere to come, somewhere to contact.”
Chichester and District Dog Rescue Society needs caring homes for its dogs, goods to sell in its charity shops and legacies and donations to help fund its work.
Anyone who thinks they can help, or who needs the help of the society, can call 02392 412454.