'We never put a healthy dog down... if it can't find a home, then it will stay here with us'
Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary provides a loving home for pets, whether short or long-term. Linda Stewart finds out more about its popular Dog Days Out programme and exciting future
Animal shelters can have a bit of a clinical image. People usually picture cages, runs and concrete, but the Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary has a novel approach to the stress of kennel life, offering a home-from-home relaxation room, complete with television, sofa, coffee table and rugs, where dogs can get used to a living room environment and prepare for re-homing.
The centre also offers enrichment activities such as use of pools, Kong toys filled with treats, slow feeders and lots of walks during the day.
One of the most innovative things it offers is the Dog Days Out programme, aimed in particular at its long-term dogs, some of which may never get a forever home.
"For these dogs, we arrange Dog Days Out where they are taken to dog parks so they can run free. Dogs should enjoy the socialisation aspects of life that they cannot get at the sanctuary," manager Janet Hume explains.
The sanctuary, based at Antrim's Greystone Road, is an independent charity that was set up in 1996 and concentrates on animal re-homing, education and relieving the suffering of unwanted pets.
The charity operates a strict 'no kill' policy and last year found forever homes for some 327 dogs and 269 cats, all of them saved from possible destruction.
Prior to re-homing, and on the successful completion of a home check, all animals are vaccinated, neutered and micro-chipped.
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Measures are also put in place to ensure that all animals can be returned to the safe haven of the sanctuary if they encounter any difficulties in their new home.
The centre currently cares for 40 dogs and around 30 cats, but of those 40 dogs, 10 are in long-term care and some will live at the centre for the rest of their lives, unable to be re-homed because of behavioural issues.
"Around six will never be re-homed and the other four can be re-homed," Janet says.
"That's because we never put a healthy dog down. If a dog can't find its forever home, it spends the rest of its time here.
"We want the dogs to have the best time they can possibly have."
The Dog Days Out take place four times a month.
"We go to a privately owned dog park where there is access to a large run area - there are grass and clay areas," Janet says.
"They're used to walking up and down the Greystone Road, so it's something different that they don't normally see.
"When they arrive, they just run and run - they're so excited to be there. It's so rewarding to see them enjoying their time away."
Not only do the dogs get to have some fun, but they also become acclimatised to travelling in the van.
"The van is usually associated with going to the vets, so this is a way to buy into that positive reinforcement," Janet explains.
However, if all goes to plan, soon the dogs won't even have to leave the sanctuary to have a day of fun.
The centre has just bought a piece of land worth £20,000 to the rear of the premises where bosses hope to build a new dog exercise area.
Volunteers are now in the process of raising another £200,000 to transform the land into a new facility where the dogs can have fun.
"We're going to break it up into different areas - a fenced-in agility area, some small pools, a sand area and there will be walkways around the perimeter," Janet says.
"It will be doubling our footprint, but it won't increase our capacity. We're hoping to build a puppy unit in it as well so that we have somewhere independent for our puppies.
"This is giving our dogs the opportunity to use it every single day in life."
One of the long-term dogs that will benefit is Alfie, who was brought in by the animal welfare officer in February 2015, having spent six months in poor conditions, and remained in kennels for a further 12 months.
"All of this had a negative impact on his start to life and the impact is such that he is unlikely to find his forever home," Janet says.
Another long-term resident who enjoys his days out is staffie-lurcher cross Diesel, who has spent much of his life in kennels and is a favourite with staff and volunteers and could be re-homed under the right circumstances.
"Long-term we believe he can be re-homed if he goes to the right person - someone who can deal with his issues and is prepared to put the time and effort in," Janet says.
The sanctuary is hoping to have the new exercise area up and running for the dogs by July next year.
"This is extremely exciting," Janet says.
"It's the final thing for us. Once we have it finished, everything the dogs and cats need will be here on site."
To find out more about what Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary is doing, visit midantrim.org or chat to staff on the Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary stand at the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo sponsored by We Are Vertigo.
Don't miss out, get your tickets to the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo here now! Tickets also available at the door.