If Londoners were what they’re purported to be I wouldn’t be writing this post, for a nation famed as animal lovers, we abandon a surprising number of them, in fact 12,000 a year end up at London’s Battersea Dogs & Cat Home. The charity, and that is what it is, this year celebrates its 150th anniversary and Royal Mail to mark the occasion have commissioned a set of eight first-class stamps each of which has a story to tell.
TIA – The nine-year-old terrier was adopted by a family in Berkshire when she was five months old and has since encouraged a string of foster dogs waiting for new homes.
Opened in 1860 as The Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs by Mary Tealby in Holloway, the Home is become England’s oldest animal shelter. In 1871 it moved out of its temporary home to Battersea where it has remained ever since. By 1911 two motor vans and six horse-drawn vans were needed to collect the strays from London’s police stations. Since its early days the Royal Family have taken an interest in the Home’s work and soon after her coronation the Queen became their patron.
CASEY – The loveable lurcher needed a new home when his owner was too ill to care for him, but he quickly charmed his “foster”’ carer who has since adopted him.
The Home has had its fair share of ‘celebrity’ dogs; one hundred sledge dogs were housed at the Hackbridge site in preparation for Ernest Shackleton’s second Antarctic Expedition I don’t think any returned to England. Airedale Jack, a Battersea dog trained at the War Dog School, died in France on the front line after delivering a vital plea for reinforcements. His batallion was saved and Jack received a posthumous Victoria Cross.
LEONARD – The terrier was discovered as an underweight and timid stray in Essex but after two weeks of tender loving care he bounded off to a new home in Maidenhead, Berkshire. When his owner first saw Leonard at the Battersea home he was cowering at the back of his kennel with his huge ears held back.
Battersea has always played its part in the war effort. During the first world war in 1917 Battersea provided a temporary home for soldiers’ pets whilst they were away on active service, an astounding 27,253 dogs were received, one wonders how many were still waiting for their owners to collect them after the Great War. After the Great War in 1920 presumably to make up for their lost ones the only time in its history the demand for dogs outstripped the Home’s supply of strays.
PIXIE – The mastiff arrived at the home as a tiny stray puppy and was fostered to adjust to the home environment. The foster carer fell in love with Pixie and gave her a permanent home in East Sussex.
I have recently been reading Rescue Me by Melissa Wareham, a memoir of her 15 years working for the Home. Coming from a privileged upbringing and always wanting to work with animals, she didn’t have the academic qualifications for any veterinary career, so started as a kennel maid. She went on the become their rehoming manager and the TV face of the organisation. When the BBC arrived to start filming a documentary series and Red the Lurcher’s night-time antics became world famous when he was caught on camera regularly escaping his kennel and liberating his canine chums for midnight feasting.
BORIS – The bulldog with the woeful expression was a stray when he arrived at the home in 2007 with a very bad skin condition. Now fully recovered he lives with adoptive owners in London.
And finally, it’s not true that any dog not ‘homed’ within a week is destroyed, happily that fate is reserved for those that are seriously ill or clearly dangerous. With the Home Secretary opening the debate on the increasing number of attack dog on the street described as flick knives that crap on the pavement, clearly the work for Battersea Dog Home is far from over. If you would like to contribute to their work follow this link.
HERBIE – The seven-year-old mongrel arrived at the home as a puppy in 2002 but was soon adopted and now has a new canine pal in Tafka, to whom he is teaching some flyball tricks – a kind of relay running game for dogs.
TAFKA – This playful seven-year-old border collie arrived at Battersea in 2008 when his owner died. Now living with a new owner in Berkshire, Tafka may soon be representing Battersea in the doggy game of flyball, as well as in the rescue agility team. Tafka and Herbie live together.