Ideas & Observations
Behind the leader: Chris Bray, Newcastle Cat and Dog Shelter
August 2, 2023
Tell me about the Newcastle Dog and Cat Shelter and what you do?
Newcastle Dog & Cat Shelter was established back in 1896 by William Lisle Blenkinsopp Coulson who was very concerned with the welfare of animals in Newcastle city centre and wanted to offer them refuge.
Fast forward one hundred and twenty-seven years, and the shelter continues on this animal welfare mission, with expansion to two sites some years previously. Claremont Road (Arrivals and Benton North Farm (rehoming). Today we rehome and reunite close to 1,000 dogs and cats each year and trade from two charity shops in Wallsend and Four Lane Ends.
The shelter mission is to ‘save lives across the North East’.
The pandemic highlighted the vital importance of the work we do, as well as the importance of animals in our lives. Our own wellbeing is enhanced by a dog walk, the stroke of our pet cats and the time spent as a family with a dog, in the middle, grabbing the attention from everyone. We also understand the comfort and companionship offered by our pets, even though they are completely unaware of the emotional support they bestow onto us when we need it most.
Yet we also understand that sometimes things don’t work out and that is where the shelter comes in. We scoop up and care for the unwanted or abandoned dogs and cats. We feed them, care for them, keep them safe and warm and then our expert team find amazing fur-ever homes as quickly as is practically possible. In a process that has been refined over the years and with even more improvements about to happen, it will continue to evolve like the shelter.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment our single most important priority for the shelter is raising funds.
Times are tough, for charities across the board, especially small, local ones like the shelter.
To help us grow sustainable income we launched a lottery played via a mobile phone in the summer of 2022.
For £2 a week (if you are over 18 and live in the UK) you can play and be in with the chance for winning £10,000 in a weekly draw.
The initial take up has been great and we are hoping many more opt to support the shelter with this form of regular giving and as a result help keep us going.
We have also launched a campaign to help with the vet costs needed to support and care for the 1,000 animals we rehome each year. In a typical month this can cost £10,000 to cover vaccinations, medical needs including dental work, as well as neutering and on occasion some non-routine operations, sometimes overnight stays are needed before the animals is ready to return to shelter to recover. All of the animals’ medical needs must be met before they are in a position to be placed on our website to be matched with a fur-ever home somewhere in the North East.
The shelter website is also about to have an overhaul to simplify the rehoming process and make it easier to match pet with the right home in a more streamlined and efficient way.
How are the current economic issues in the North East affecting the charity?
There has been real impact, it has been really tough and very challenging, and at times upsetting. We see it in everything we do. More animals, especially dogs, are being abandoned and/or are gifted in, as people struggle to cover basic food, veterinary and insurance costs as a result of the cost of living crisis.
Demand for our services has grown significantly, many animals arrive needing our help and support. Some are in need significant and urgent veterinary care before they are fit and healthy again and in a position to be rehomed.
On the flip side, supporters have less money in their pocket to donate. It really is a case of the perfect storm. As a relatively small organisation (we employ 30 staff), we don’t have resources to spend lots of money fundraising, or running advertising campaigns that bigger national charities with deep pockets and reserves are able to do.
There doesn’t seem any let up either in the short term. We will keep working hard and keep sharing our stories and asking for help. Articles like this one, make a big difference and can generate generous offers of help and support.
After all, ‘shy bairns get nowt’ and whilst there isn’t much for people to give, we are always blown away by the generosity and kindness of our local community who will support our calls for help, be it monetary, bedding, pet food, or toys, all of which we are grateful recipients of and we never take for granted.
If you could tell people one story about the shelter, what would it be?
We give hope to all the animals in our care.
Many arrive frightened, sad, scared, injured and unloved.
Whilst they cannot talk, we know they are grateful for the work we do. A lurcher called Simon arrived in the shelter in a quite upsetting condition. He was very underweight and needed most of his teeth removed as they were beyond fixing. After a period of recuperation and love at the shelter, Simon found an amazing fur-ever home with a local teacher and train driver as his new Mum and Dad. He recently celebrated his 10th birthday with the proudest photo you will ever see and is now living his best life with love, kindness and lots of walks and runs. A real shelter success story amongst the many that exist every day.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
For everyone be kind to animals, always.
The pandemic proved, what was already quite well known, that walking a dog improves health and wellbeing. Getting out in all weathers with a lead, some poo bags and a nearby field are the ingredients to moments of relaxation and an opportunity to reset.
People did it in their millions, with over 2 million more dogs being born in the UK during covid times.
Having time for a pet, be it cat, dog, budgie, or goldfish, helps people live healthier and happier lives. Wherever possible we would advocate having a pet in your life and having time in their company without the need for a screen or a phone anywhere near.
What is a common misconception about working in an animal shelter and/or in the charity sector?
Many people that haven’t visited think we are a sad place. That truly isn’t the case. The shelter is so full of hope for every single animal in our care. We are a short-term place of shelter before a dog or cat reaches their new home.
During an animals stay with us they are loved, well fed, cared for, and kept warm by staff and volunteers who are totally dedicated to what they do.
Whilst it can be tough sometimes working in the charity sector, everyone involved knows how much impact we make on the animals who arrive at our door and are rehomed.
How can business leaders support the work you’re doing?
There are so many ways!
Firstly, please come and visit the shelter at Benton North Farm about 5-minute drive from the racecourse. We are open to the public on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays from 1-4PM, but can organise visits at other times to with some notice. If you are coming, wear wellies! The site is big and with the farm animals and the fields that surround the site, it is always good to arrive prepared!
Consider selecting the shelter as your charity of the year. This can take many forms including fundraising for specific equipment or items – £500 for a solar panel to go on the roof to help keep the energy bills down, or £259.09 to keep a kennel warm for a year.
On such a big site there are plenty of corporate volunteering days to help with site maintenance, cleaning, tidying, painting, pruning, and labouring.
Always rewarded with a four-legged furry visitors to say thank you with a tail way or a long purr of satisfactions and appreciation!
If you love animals please reach out, we need you now, more than ever.
Drop me a line [email protected] and I will be back in touch.