A charity that helps find new homes for animals is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
RATS – Rehoming Animal Telephone Service – was founded in 1984 by a small group of animal lovers.
The premise was simple; people would call the service if they were looking for a pet, and RATS would try to match them up with animals on their rehoming list.
Today the charity operates across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, though it is still run entirely by volunteers and is totally dependant on fundraising events and donations from its members and public supporters.
It takes in dogs, cats or small mammals who are lost, abandoned or whose owners can no longer take care of them. And it is its policy to never put a healthy animal down.
Committee member Helene Turner explained: “In the early days as a purely telephone operated charity, volunteers manned the phones on a weekly basis.
“Ill-treated, dumped or abandoned animals were put into foster homes while awaiting long term homes.
“One fosterer even had a caravan on a small plot of land and had kennels for six dogs. Fosterers still play a key role within RATS, which has a team of dedicated animal lovers who are willing to have animals live with them until a permanent home can be found.”
Today, finding volunteers to help within the charity has become much more of a struggle. In the early days they had a large team of volunteers who helped with a vast array of fundraising from jumble sales, coffee mornings, garage sales, quiz nights, auction sales and sponsored dog walks, to barn dances, market stalls and open days.
Helene added: “Today, given the generally lower levels of volunteering across the voluntary sector and the increasing age of the volunteers who run the events, fundraising is limited to a number of dog shows and stalls at open days.
“However RATS is hoping to turn this around with increasing membership and able-bodied volunteers.”
While most animals RATS takes in tend to be cats, dogs and small mammals, the charity promises to try to help any animal that needs care – and has even helped to find a new home for a donkey.
At first the donkey was rehomed in a field belonging to a church. He was happy for several years before the land was sold and RATS were called upon again, eventually finding a home for him in another church field in St.Albans.
The owners left RATS a house in their will as a thank you – and the charity receives funding through legacy donations from many of its supporters.
The charity’s dog kennels, Highfields, is in Buntinford and has space for 12 dogs as well as live-in accommodation for the dog carers.
RATS was very hands-on with the site from the word go; and when first setting up the site current chairman, Les Robinson and volunteer Roger Williams spent several months clearing the site of rubbish and digging trenches for electricity and water supplies.
Eventually Mandy Guntley and Walter Gortz moved in and managed the site until January 2014.
The site in now run by Deby and Neil Parkin.
RATS also has a cattery in the Sandy area, which is run by President Irene Byrne and fosterer Liz Goodyear. Irene has been fostering cats for over 20 years, she first started with ferals and then mothers and kittens. Now she mainly fosters young adult cats with just a few kittens.
Helene said: “Unfortunately many think cats of five years old are too old to consider for re-homing. This is a huge shame as cats can easily live to be 20 and older cats can still have as much love to give.”
RATS is also very pro-active when it comes to feral cats –trapping, neutering and releasing in a bid to help cut down the stray cat population.
During one week in July they trapped two feral cats and six kittens. The cats were rehomed onto a farm, with volunteers taming the kittens so they could find new homes for them.
Helene said: “Sadly, some owners are irresponsible and do not neuter, as well as just moving house and leaving their cat behind.”
The small mammals section of RATS was started in 1987 by Zoe Dilleigh, who is vice chairman today. At its peak RATS was rehoming in excess of 1oo small mammals a year. Today it is less than half that number.
Helene said: “It seems less and less children have their own pets and spend more time inside playing with computer games or on social media.
“It’s a tough time for the charity 30 years on, but it only makes us more determined than ever to continue our crucial work.”
The team continues to help as many animals as it can, and they urge people looking for a new addition to their family to come to them first, before heading to a pet shop.
RATS’ next fundrasing event is a companion dog show in Upper Caldecote on Sunday, September 7.
For more information about the charity visit www.rats-animalrescue.co.uk
If you have any queries, would like to make a donation, become a member or find out how you can help, please email firstname.lastname@example.org