Battersea Brands Hatch: 20 years of sanctuary for dogs and cats

PUBLISHED: 16:58 06 April 2020

Wide open spaces are perfect for walking the dogs, as centre manager Anna Hemmings shows (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Wide open spaces are perfect for walking the dogs, as centre manager Anna Hemmings shows (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Battersea’s rehoming centre Brands Hatch, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, offers a peaceful rural sanctuary for dogs and cats

The Brands Hatch centre of animal rehoming charity Battersea has come a long way since it opened 20 years ago to cope with overflow from the main London centre.

Originally a privately owned boarding kennels, the Kent site is set in 12 acres of rolling countryside and has been rebuilt from the ground up to provide state-of-the-art facilities to the many rescue animals who pass through its doors.

Run by a mixture of paid staff and dedicated volunteers, Battersea Brands Hatch can house up to 61 animals at one time – with kennels and a cattery section, as well as a clinic and plenty of woodland walks for the dogs.

We’re welcomed at the front desk by a member of staff and by Dan, a friendly black greyhound who is the current office assistant.

Centre manager Anna Hemmings offers a warm welcome at Battersea Brands Hatch (photo: Manu Palomeque)Centre manager Anna Hemmings offers a warm welcome at Battersea Brands Hatch (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Centre Manager Anna Hemmings, previously at the London centre, has worked here for the past three years and shows off the facilities proudly, keen to point out how much time the staff spend one-to-one with the animals.

“I had always wanted to work at the Brands Hatch site,” she says. “Because of the beautiful location with fields and woodlands to exercise and socialise the dogs in. I had always known about the centre as I grew up nearby.

“It’s the secluded rural site that makes this centre really stand out, and it’s often used for the animals that need more peaceful surroundings than the city.

“I love seeing how the animals benefit, from our dogs going on country walks or relaxing in the log cabin, to our cats stretching their legs in the garden pens, they all love to get back to nature and experience the sights and sounds of the Kent countryside.”

American Bulldog George greets his handler Melanie Dolling, a Rehoming and Welfare Coordinator (photo: Manu Palomeque)American Bulldog George greets his handler Melanie Dolling, a Rehoming and Welfare Coordinator (photo: Manu Palomeque)

One of the centre’s volunteers is Margery Hamilton-Jones, who has freely given up her time to help out for the past 17 years. Having seen a great many changes since she started, she says the centre is more modern and professional than ever.

“It all looks very grand now, compared to the old buildings we used to have here. I started on dogs, just taking them out on walks. But we have a lot of hills around here and when it’s muddy it can get very slippery. At my age I could do without a broken leg or something, so I moved over to looking after cats. It’s very nice doing the cats, particularly if it’s a wet day outdoors. The animals are always very well looked after and they have lovely pens.”

Margery says that volunteering at the friendly centre has filled a hole in her life. “I find it very rewarding. I’m on my own, I don’t have any family, so my family is at the cattery. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go over the years.

“I would spend more time there but I have animals of my own at home to look after.”

Rehoming and Welfare Coordinator Victoria Catton gives greyhound Dan a cuddle (photo: Manu Palomeque)Rehoming and Welfare Coordinator Victoria Catton gives greyhound Dan a cuddle (photo: Manu Palomeque)

The bittersweet part of working in animals rescue is, of course, that often the staff find themselves falling in love with their charges. Although they’re not supposed to have favourites, Anna admits it’s impossible not to do so.

“I have so many memorable animals and I am usually in love with several at any one time,” she says. “I have often fostered dogs or cats that have needed some TLC in a home for a while before they are ready for adoption.

“And I always remember a big mastiff called Dino who had only ever lived in a garden and had been deprived of company or any home comforts.

“He needed support to help him de-stress and learn how to behave around people in a calm way, but he quickly made himself at home and he adored his warm kennel, cosy beds, regular meals and visits from staff and volunteers.”

Margery Hamilton-Jones has volunteered at the centre for 17 years (photo: Manu Palomeque)Margery Hamilton-Jones has volunteered at the centre for 17 years (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Margery agrees it’s hard not to have favourites. “We always have our favourites cats. And when I worked with the dogs it was easy to get attached to them, as we were taking them out for walks.

“If the dog didn’t want to go out, there used to be a room made to look like the sitting room in a house where we could take them just to sit and have a cuddle.

“We have a lovely cat in at the moment, who loves to sit on my lap. Unfortunately, he has FIV so he’s looking for a special home with an escape-proof garden. It doesn’t make him ill, but if he bit another cat he could infect them.”

Working in animal welfare can of course be very challenging and staff and volunteers are used to the ups and downs of dealing with abandoned and mistreated animals.

Battersea (photo: Manu Palomeque)Battersea (photo: Manu Palomeque)

“We see animals who are suffering or struggling from neglect, health issues or behavioural problems.

“I wouldn’t say that I ever get used to this, as it still upsets me, however I am grateful that once the animal comes to us we can get to work to do something about it,” says Anna.

“We have an expert team at Brands Hatch who quickly build a picture of the type of veterinary and behavioural support the animal will need so that we can get them on the road to recovery.

“We love getting pictures of the animals in their new home, it’s the reason we’re all here; to see happy dogs and cats in loving homes.”

Margery agrees that the best part of the work is turning an animal around and reaching that goal of a successful rehoming.

“Although they are there to be rehomed, because we are volunteers and we all have our favourites – when they get a new home we get a bit sad on our behalf. But we’re always happy on the animal’s behalf.”

Anna’s advice on adoption

“Spend some time researching first and think about what time you will have available for the new pet and how they will fit into your lifestyle. While many of us have favourite breeds, it is important not to take on a dog or cat on their looks alone, as each breed has different traits and needs. Here at Battersea, we operate a bit like a dating agency. As well as taking into account what our customers are looking for in their next pet and the home they have to offer, we take time getting to know each of our animals and take them through a health and behaviour assessment. We then match these things together to find the best animal for the home and the best home for the animal.”

Battersea Brands Hatch: the facts

Battersea Brands Hatch opened on 26 October 1999

The site was originally Foxcroft Animal Motel boarding kennels

The Brands Hatch centre cares for 41 dogs and 20 cats on average at any one time

It has rehomed 2,946 dogs and cats over the past five years alone

The average stay at the Brands Hatch centre is 52 days for a dog and 25 days for a cat

ITV started filming Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs in 2012 – which is still going strong today. They occasionally film at the Brands Hatch centre

The centre caters for the dogs and cats who struggle the most with city life and need that extra bit of TLC and one-on-one training

The longest stay dog at Brands Hatch is Theo the Husky – he stayed for 759 days before finding a home.

Visit www.battersea.org.uk

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