More abandoned pets to be given a chance to be superhero dogs


22 April 2024
An assistance dog charity is ramping up its efforts to give even more dogs a second chance by increasing its recruitment from rescue centres and unwanted pets.

National charity Support Dogs aims to bolster the number of rescue dogs it uses to help autistic children, adults with epilepsy and adults with a physical disability to live safer, more independent lives.

The good cause is a champion for dogs who need a second chance – in fact, over the past 32 years one in four of the charity’s pooches have been sourced from rescue centres, council pounds or from owners who sadly can no longer look after their pet.

Spearheading the campaign to build on that figure is Bronte Craig, the charity’s new Rescue Recruitment and Assessor. Bronte steps into the role fresh from maternity leave, having previously been a puppy co-ordinator with Support Dogs.

“I think there’s a big misconception that unwanted pet dogs and rescue dogs are a lost cause or have a lot of behavioural issues and are a bit difficult to manage,” said Bronte. “What we can do as a charity is highlight that that’s not always the case – there are a lot of dogs with really great potential, and with the right training, they can potentially go on to do really incredible things. As a charity, we are able to offer that dog a second chance in a home environment where they are loved, really appreciated and well-cared for and on top of that, they are doing a job that’s purposeful and really enjoyable.” She added: “Some of our dogs out working are from pet homes where the owner could no longer care for them.

“If there are people out there who aren’t in a position to keep their dog, but really care about where it goes and that it goes to the right place where it’s going to be cared for and looked after, this is a good opportunity. If successful, often they get the added benefit of following their journey through their working life.”

Support dog Thunda, a yellow Lab, was an unwanted pet and has since gone on to help young Franklin Jordan, who is autistic and lives in Bolton, to make sense of the world and to keep him safe.

Fellow support dog Cleo the Labradoodle has an unbreakable bond with client Natalie Hibberd, of Hampshire, who has cerebral palsy – the former rescue dog opens and closes doors, picks up dropped items and generally makes Natalie feel safe in a world she found hostile before the pooch’s arrival.

In 2022, the RSPCA reported a 25 per cent increase in abandoned pets, compared to the previous year, responding to 22,908 animals being left by their owners. During the pandemic, sourcing dogs was difficult for Support Dogs, due to reduced operations and more people adopting and buying dogs as they were home longer, says Bronte. But when normalcy resumed and people returned to work, and the cost of living increased, the number of unwanted pets rocketed.

As Support Dogs’ puppy programme boomed, Bronte has been redeployed to this area of need, giving it a new lease of life. Her newest recruit is Adam, a one-year-old yellow Labrador from Helping Yorkshire Poundies, who was rescued as a stray in the Midlands. One of her first tasks in the role has been to tweak policies. For instance, previously, rescue dogs were assessed over a four-week period, but this has changed to five weeks, to give them more time to settle and adjust, given their rocky start in life. Bronte is also contacting rescue centres to explain the initiative and hopefully build a sustainable working relationship to keep up supply.

Local and national rescue centres and dog donors preferably need to be within a two to three-hour radius of Support Dogs’ training centre on Jessops Riverside in Brightside, Sheffield, although exceptions can be made for the right dog. Bronte is also busy sourcing volunteers to look after their rescue recruits outside office hours, when not in training. Volunteer doggy foster carers need to have the dog seven days a week, and to be at home the majority of the time.

Criteria for dogs to be considered includes:

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•             Dogs aged one to four years old

•             Most breeds, with some restrictions

•             Confident, friendly with people

•             Motivated by food/toys

•             No aggression

•             No possessiveness/resource guarding issues

•             No health problems

•             No major fears/phobias

•             Friendly with other dogs, and also other animals

Any rescue centres or struggling pet owners interested in the initiative, as well as potential foster carers, can email [email protected] or call 0114 261 7800 to find out more.