If I die
before my dog...
ever wondered what would happen to your pet if the worst happened
to you? It's one of the things few of us like to think about yet
something which all of us should give serious thought.
If you have
and elderly dog then maybe the answer to this question, is
Elderly rescue. One such rescue is Hilltop Animal Haven, near
Kilkhampton in Cornwall.
started in 1986 by Charles Bingham and Gillian Smart with the
intention of giving elderly animals a home for life.
them different from the more well known rescues is how they house
their animals. Most of the animals that arrive at Hilltop are
coming from loving homes, where they have been well cared for and
very much a part of the family. For this reason, both Charles and
Gillian have tried to ensure that the transition from home to
rescue is as stress free as possible. In order to do this, they
do not place their animals into a kennel or cattery environment,
but invite them into their home, where they become part of a
large and incredibly loving new family.
reality is that without charities like Hilltop Animal Haven, many
elderly animals would be put down every year, just because they
were deemed too old for a home.
privileged to speak to Sam Bell, (Sanctuary Manager) who has been
working for Hilltop for six years now, and looks set to take over
from Charlie when he retires.
thing that hits you on meeting Sam is her pure devotion and
dedication to Hilltop and all that they do.
She had some
amusing stories to tell me about the animals in her care.
by telling me about a cantankerous magpie called Ponsunby.
was hit by a car, and was left with a damaged wing and foot,
which meant he was unable to be released back to the wild.
an acquired taste; for instance, if one of the cats catches a
mouse, we give it to Poncie, who then likes to give it back to us
in bits, and I do mean bits.
"Another one of his annoying habits is his need to
have a bath whenever we clean out his aviary, which then leads to
him saturating everything, making it feel like somewhat of a
contentedly before moving on to the small King Charles spaniel
nearly eleven years old, and he is a walking dustbin, he eats so
fast, that his food has to be thrown across the floor rather than
put in a bowl, because he chocks otherwise.
time favourite food is cat poo, hence why you don't have kisses
off of Billy."
I ask with
interest how many animals they currently provide homes for. Sam
pauses for a moment, finishes her crisps and asks for a sheet of
paper, which she hurriedly uses to calculate the numbers.
39 animals and 2 aviaries for the birds, don't ask me to count
them too," She adds.
"It can't be
easy to take care of so many elderly animals, what would you say
was the most challenging aspect of your job?" I asked.
she replies instantly. "At the minute there are only three cats
on tablets, but at one point it took about an hour and a half to
do all the pills, and that's twice a day. She pauses here, her
expression sad, as she adds.
we've lost most of those animals now."
"It must be
hard to lose animals, how do you cope with this?"
She replies matter-of-factly. "You learn that death is a part of
life, it doesn't make it easier but you can deal with it. She
pauses to play with her mobile phone as she struggles with her
emotions; it's clear she cares deeply about the animals in her
been three deaths that have been the hardest," she continues
suddenly, "and that's because they were unexpected.
favourite cat, had a heart attack in his sleep, Thai had cancer
of the spleen, but we didn't know and he just started to bleed
internally, you could see the colour draining from his tongue and
within an hour he was gone, there was nothing the vet could do
but sit and wait, because he couldn't get a vein in order to put
him to sleep. And number three was Cassie; she died of a broken
heart, after Gillian passed away," She says, sadly.
I decide it was time to change the subject, to
lighter things, and asked. "What are Hilltop's hopes for the
"Well, we've just bought some more land, it's just
over 12 acres, and we are hoping to start rescuing more ponies,
sheep, and goats.
"We are in the process of breaking in our four ponies,
not to be ridden, just to make them more manageable, as they are
too old for that now.
once we are set up with the new fields, stables and an indoor
sand school, we hope to take on more horses that can be broken to
"This is so that we can possibly get them out on loan,
which will hopefully raise some extra money for the charity and
more importantly provide them with a better quality of
also help us to expand in other areas," she replies, clearly
"Is Hilltop able to raise enough money to cover all
"Luckily, we have a lot of loyal supporters, who send
regular donations. So generally speaking we get by, and are able
to make some improvements.
"Most of our donations go towards vets' bills, which
is roughly 3-4 hundred pounds a month at present, also food,
bedding and hay for the ponies. What's left goes towards the
expansion of hilltop, which means we are able to help even more
animals. She adds with a joyous smile.
"Although money isn't an issue at the moment, every
little bit helps.
also help us by, adopting an animal, offering their time, or by
donating unwanted blankets, towels, and newspapers. We are always
grateful for any offers of help, in any shape or form.
instance my father comes up and cuts the grass for us, because my
legs are too short to reach the pedals, and it's just too much
for Charlie to do himself."
Hilltop Animal Haven isn't the only rescue out there
that caters to older animals, and even if you do not live in the
Cornwall area, there is bound to be a rescue near you that would
be willing to take your elderly pet if the need ever arose, or to
which you could offer some help. It isn't all about money and as
Sam has told us there are so many things you could do, even if it
is as simple as cutting the grass.
If you would
prefer to go to a larger rescue maybe you should consider The
Dogs Trust; as well as having special homes for the
older dogs in there care; they also have a special card called a
Canine Care Card, which allows you to leave your dog to them when
you die. They do not charge for this card, although donations are
always nice and of great help.
As the dog trust has a policy to never put a healthy dog down, it
makes them the perfect choice if you want to guarantee that your
dog has a future after you are gone.
great service is the PDSA's safe hand's re-homing service. It's
available to PDSA supporters who leave a donation in their will,
and will ensure that your dog is found a loving forever home
after you are gone.
They also do
wonderful work helping those on low income to cope with vet
bills, that otherwise might prove too much to handle.
now, you will be able rest a little easier, be prepared, and most
importantly enjoy your dogs without worrying about what ifs that
might lurk around the corner.
I would like
to take a moment to remember Gillian Smart, one of the founders
of Hilltop Animal Haven who sadly passed away on the 22nd January
2008. Gillian dedicated her life to the animals at Hilltop, and
will be sadly missed by many.
elderly dogs end up in rescue centres?
death of an owner.
· Owner dies
from old age.
· Owners move
house and do not want to stress an elderly dog out with a long
journey, or cannot have a dog in their new home.
· Some owners
can't cope with the stress, heartache or cost of medical care for a
sick elderly pet.
change meaning regardless of an animal's age, their owner can no
longer care for their pet.
There are, however, charities out there that can help you if you
find yourself in this situation, allowing you to keep your pet,
by helping you to care for them.
The Cinnamon Trust is one such organisation. Check out the
contacts box for their details.
How to protect your pet after you're gone
Regardless of you or your pet's age you should be prepared should
the worst happen. Below are some helpful tips.
Ask friends and family, it's always nice to know that our pets
are with people we can trust, but be sure to have a back up, just
Talk to your vet, who may be able to suggest local rescues that
have programmes in place, for this very reason.
Contact local rescues; be sure that they have a guarantee not to
put healthy dogs down.
Check out the useful contacts box.
Above all don't be afraid to ask questions, a good rescue will be
more than happy to help.
How can you help your local rescue?
If you can't leave a donation in your will and want to help the
charity that will be helping your dog, or just wish to help a
local charity, then here is a list of things you may be able to
A donation of money
A donation of toys, food, blankets, or other items of use.
Offering a hand with repairs or maintenance of the
Offering yourself as a volunteer in your spare time.
Leaving a money donation or item donation in your will.
Sell old items you no longer want, and donate some of the
proceeds to the charity.
Or maybe if you have the time, arrange a fundraiser for your
If in doubt ring and ask.
Hilltop Animal Haven
Registered charity number: 295206
Nr Bude, Cornwall.
The Dogs Trust
17 Wakley street
020 7837 0006
(8:30 AM - 5:30 PM MON - FRI)
Call 0800 731
10 Market Square,
Telephone: (01736) 757900 Fax: (01736) 757010