Behind the scenes at Stubbington Ark Animal Shelter
PUBLISHED: 16:19 14 April 2010 | UPDATED: 11:47 28 February 2013
Stubbington Ark Animal Shelter in Fareham is the largest in England and is temporary home to hundreds of uncared for animals - from chinchillas, to horses. Sion Donovan explores the fantastic work they do and retells some of their stories
Britain is famous for being a nation of animal lovers, but a visit to Stubbington Ark Animal Shelter near Fareham would make you doubt that. The shelter is nearly always full of pets and wildlife that have been deliberately hurt, neglected, abandoned or left untreated with painful diseases. Other pets may not have any physical symptoms but display extreme nervousness of humans after being prodded, kicked or picked up by their tails. But for many of the animals here there is a happy ending, as most find a good, loving home with people who want to give them a better life.
The Stubbington Ark is the largest RSPCA shelter in the country with a licence to house 600 animals, brought in from a 400-square mile area from Dorset, Hampshire and Sussex. Its been based on its present site since 1987 and is always busy.
When I visited, the Ark was close to its capacity with 587 animals. The majority are pets, at the time there were 134 dogs, 128 cats and 90 rabbits. Vanessa Eden, the Arks fundraising manager, said it may be hard to think of anyone whod want to hurt a rabbit, but they are the most abused pets in the country, as she explains: People think theyre good pets for children but they dont do enough to keep children entertained.
Theyre soon just left in a hutch. In worst cases they have no shade or water and die. But even if theyre well fed and watered people dont realise that rabbits are very social animals and can die from depression if theyre left on their own. Thats why we only allow rabbits to be rehomed in pairs.
Weird and wonderful
Wildlife such as foxes and hedgehogs can also be found at the Ark, as can many types of rodents; its aviary is nearly always full. But there are more uncommon inhabitants such as Toady the horse, a 34-year-old white stallion who retired as a ceremony horse at HMS Dryad near Portsmouth.
There have also been many more exotic residents like an iguana, a skunk, a possum and even a tarantula. Vanessa says: The possum was very unusual. Someone brought it in last year after it slipped through their cat flap. We think it was bred illegally in this country before it escaped. Its now at Marwell Zoo.
But the tarantula story is one of the favourites I tell when groups of children visit. Someone had two tarantulas that went missing. They couldnt find them and had to move house because it was too dangerous to live there with two loose tarantulas.
A few weeks later an old lady was doing her knitting. She dropped her ball of wool on the floor and a tarantula pounced on it. The other one was later found dead in an airing cupboard.
In 2007, the Animal Welfare Act passed in to law enabling, for the first time, RSPCA inspectors to prevent animal suffering by taking action earlier in cases of ongoing neglect. Now owners have a legal obligation to care for their animals.
Its undoubtedly good news for the animals. But it does mean more animals will be taken in to shelter at RSPCA centres like the Ark. It already costs 2,000 every day just to keep the centre open with enough feed and care for all the animals.
With no money from government, the Lottery or the RSPCA headquarters, Vanessa says its a full time job raising funds locally: Its very rewarding and upsetting at the same time. I get very angry when I see how some of the animals have been left. But I think its good to get upset. Everyone who works here wants to work with animals and when we find a good home for an abused or neglected animal it is very satisfying.
A sad tale
Seth the lurcher was a terrible sight when he was found abandoned in a field near Winchester. Seth was suffering more from a skin infection that irritated him so much that deep cuts and sores was left all over his body from where he had scratched himself constantly. A passer-by spotted him and called the RSPCA.
Back at the Ark, vets decided that Seth had so many cuts and scabs that his matted hair had to be largely shaven off so his wounds could be treated. Creams were applied and over a matter of weeks his skin started to heal. After six weeks his skin was much better and his hair started to grow back.
The Arks Dog Welfare Co-ordinator, Lyn Royce, said: He was badly neglected. We dont know who owned him but he was just too much for someone to bother about. He had great clumps of hair hanging off him from where he had scratched himself. He looks a lot better now. He does still try to scratch himself sometimes but its a lot less often. Hes a very friendly and gentle dog and well hopefully find a good home for him.
How we can help
As many of the animals brought into the Stubbington Ark require treatment, its no surprise that the vets room is a busy place. But while it has served the Ark well, staff are raising funds for a bigger and better treatment room.
They need to raise 700,000 for a state-of-the-art treatment centre and operating theatre, which they hope to open towards the end of this year.
So far theyve raised more than 436,000, so they still have a way to go. There are many ways you can help with this fundraising drive or aid in the Arks daily need for donations.
If you would simply like to make a one off donation, please make your cheque or postal order payable to RSPCA Solent Branch and send it to The Stubbington Ark Animal Shelter, 174 176 Ranvilles Lane, Fareham, Hampshire PO14 3EZ.
You can also make an online donation on its website at www.stubbingtonark.org.uk
The Ark also has the Safe Haven scheme. For around the cost of a Sunday newspaper each week, you can sponsor a dog kennel, cat cabin or small animal unit. To find out more, tel 01329 667541.
How to adopt
To adopt an animal you can visit the Ark at 174 -176 Ranvilles Lane, Fareham PO14 3EZ, between 10am and 4pm, seven days a week. A questionnaire must be filled out regarding your lifestyle and home environment. Home visits will also be organised once youve adopted an animal to make sure your home is suitable.