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Tyrone animal shelter reeling under deluge of discarded pets

By Claire O'Boyle

An animal charity that saved a pregnant dog that went on to have eight pups in Christmas week is under huge pressure.

Grovehill Animal Trust in Sixmilecross, Co Tyrone, has been inundated with calls about unwanted pets since Christmas, and an unexpected £1,000 in costs for abandoned collie Eve and her seven pups is adding to the strain.

"Poor Eve was found by the warden the week before Christmas, just as we were clearing the decks for the usual influx of rejected pets at this time of year," said shelter co-ordinator Richard Robinson.

"Sadly, it looks like she did have an owner who took her collar off when they realised she was pregnant.

"We took her in and one of our volunteers took her home where she had her pups the Monday before Christmas. Of the litter of eight, seven pups survived and they're doing really well now. They're just starting to open their eyes, and Eve is a lovely mum."

According to Richard, the only full-time employee at the shelter, this time of year is always a real struggle for the charity. Other than himself and one part-time co-worker, the charity depends entirely on its 30 volunteers.

Already this week the team has taken in six dogs rejected by their owners after the festive period. They took calls about seven more yesterday alone, and two cats are due to arrive at the shelter today.

"In most cases it's parents giving in to pressure from their kids and quickly realising they can't cope," said Richard. "We also get a lot of men buying animals for their girlfriends that realistically aren't wanted. In so many cases, buying a pet for a Christmas present is just a terrible idea, and although you hear that saying 'a pet's not just for Christmas', every year we see people just aren't listening."

Unbelievably, it's not just new animals which get sent the charity's way.

"I took a call this week from a family who got a new pup for Christmas," said Richard. "They've had a dog for seven years, a dog who was the family pet raised from a pup, but the old dog doesn't get on with the new pup, so they just don't want the old one any more. They say he's a lovely pet, that we'll easily find him a home because he's no trouble, but with this new pup from Christmas, they want rid of him. He's on the waiting list. It's very hard to take those calls sometimes - and frustratingly, it's not uncommon."

Grovehill has a capacity for 20 dogs on site, as well as 12 cats. Staff also oversee and co-ordinate the care of a further 12 dogs and six cats in its foster homes. And as an entirely self-funded organisation, with money raised through street collections, bag packs, and sponsoring animals, increased pressure on resources and unexpected bills can present a big challenge.

"People think of animal shelters like Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, but we are not like that," said Richard.

"Our facilities are very basic and the animals always come first. In a very straightforward case, getting the animals de-fleaed, vaccinated and wormed will cost around £250 for a dog and £80 per cat. We also include neutering and spaying, as well as microchipping.

"If there are problems on top of that, dental or skin issues, tumours or a pregnancy like Eve, then the costs mount.

"We spend between £8-£10,000 every month and sometimes, like now, it's a real struggle to cover our costs. We are really stretched at the moment.

"Our priority is to get animals out of the pound, because once they're in for over five days they will be put to sleep.

"People really do need to take heed of the warning that pets aren't just for Christmas."

To donate to Grovehill Animal Trust, text GHWT17£5 to 70070 or visit www.grovehillanimaltrust.org

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