The Bridge Interviews
Senior Rehoming Manager of the Blue Cross
This month The Bridge travelled to the Burford headquarters of Blue Cross to meet Jenna Martyn, who told us about the work her charity does in looking after and rehoming animals.
If, like us, you have only driven past Blue Cross on the Shilton Road, you may not have realised what a big operation is housed there. The site covers 400 acres and comprises three separate parts: a horse rehoming unit, a small animal rehoming unit (broadly everything from dogs to mice) and the head office for the whole of the charity.
Animals have been a lifelong passion for Jenna. Her grandparents ran a small farm near Cricklade and she grew up among horses, dogs and cats. After leaving school she worked for a time at a veterinary practice and then joined Blue Cross, initially as maternity cover for the receptionist in the horse unit. She then became a riding groom, looking after the horses, exercising them and retraining them where they had behavioural issues. Many of the horses dealt with are abandoned or are unwanted pets. Blue Cross is not involved in the front line of recovering these, which is normally the job of the RSPCA or the police, but once they are identified they are often taken over for rehoming. Some can be directly passed on to a new home but others, perhaps twenty a month, come into the centre to be cared for. On average they are there for around three months, the first month of which is spent in isolation in case they are carrying any diseases.
Jenna has many stories of the animals she has looked after. One incident she remembers concerned a group of ponies found near Heathrow airport. “It was a hard day. Lots of ponies don’t like going into lorries. They were in a shocking condition. There were seven adults, two of them in foal. One of them gave birth to a chestnut foal. I saw him born at the centre. We called him Heath after the airport. I trained him to carry a rider and he had a career as a riding pony.”
After a period of transition Jenna moved to working in the small animals unit. She is now senior rehoming manager responsible for the site at Burford and another at Lewknor, near Watlington. As with the horses, the small animals are either sent directly to a new home or brought to the centre to be looked after. They are rehomed as quickly as possible since the centre is not a natural environment for them. At one time 60 dogs were housed in one building and there was such a cacophony (dogophony?) that the staff had to wear ear defenders. The noise was very stressful, especially for dogs which were ill or had been badly treated. Following a rebuilt project completed last year they are now kept in blocks of four and the emphasis is on providing a calm and settled environment. There is very little barking and the dogs can be kept for a smaller time until a permanent home can be found for them, which in turn means that the unit can process more of them.
Some Blue Cross dogs go back to the centre for retraining if they have behavioural issues. Five behaviourists work at the site, soon to be six. They can’t accept other dogs for retraining but may be able to give advice to owners and direct them to other sources of help. Some horses also come back, typically if they have been ridden by children who are now too big for them, and are found new homes.
Care is taken to prepare the dogs for life in a home, including playing them CDs of vacuum cleaners and dishwashers to accustom them to domestic noise. There is a large open area (paid for by Pedigree) including space for agility training and a garden which again helps them to acclimatise to life in a normal home.
There are also areas for cats, kittens (very photogenic!), a rabbitry (new word for the dictionary?), guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, degus, rats and even mice. Jenna remembers one story: “A pet shop closed down and some mice were left behind in glass tanks. They did what mice do and when builders eventually moved into the building they found 150. We rehomed every one of them”.
Around 130 volunteers around Burford (and c. 5000 nationally) play a big part in the charity’s work. Some act as foster carers for animals in their homes. Blue Cross is always looking for more, especially anyone with experience of animals. Others come to help at the centre to drive, clean, walk dogs, help with training, look after the gardens, do fundraising and in many other ways. They are treated as full members of the team and are on the rota to be there at set times.
And when Jenna gets back to her home in Fairford she can relax…with her own animals. “I have a horse, two dogs and two guinea pigs. One of the dogs and the guinea pigs came from Blue Cross. I would have has a Blue Cross horse but a suitable one was not available when I was looking. I have also fostered a horse. Animals are my passion so it is never a chore to go home and look after my own. There are hard days and difficult decisions but there is so much good that outweighs that. It is wonderful to see the animals going to new homes with amazing families”.
What is the Blue Cross?
Blue Cross was founded in 1897 as Our Dumb Friends League to look after working horses in London. In 1912 it launched the Blue Cross Fund to care for horses during the First Balkan War. Its work greatly expanded during the First World War when it treated more than 50,000 horses at Blue Cross hospitals in France. In the Second World War it cared for more than 350,000 animals, many of them wounded in the Blitz. The name of the fund became better known than the official name of the charity and so it was changed to Blue Cross. Today it runs 14 rehoming centres and four animal hospitals around the country. In addition to rehoming, behavioural therapy and clinical care, Blue Cross also has an education team which goes out to schools and youth groups where they give talks on responsible pet ownership and a separate team provides support for those suffering from pet bereavement. You can find out more information about all the charity’s services at www.bluecross.org.uk. It cares for 40,000 animals per year but has a target of increasing this to 70,000 by 2020.
Ways you can help Blue Cross
Become a foster carer for animals Join the team at the Burford centre as a volunteer Donate items to the centre – old towels and blankets (not duvets please) are always welcome as are pet foods and treats and collars and leads. Give money Donate unwanted clothing or other items to the Blue Cross charity shop at 28b High Street, Witney