Rising to a giant task with a very big heart

Picture: Simon Hulme
Picture: Simon Hulme
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The Tia animal rescue has a new home and some pretty large animals in its care. Starting out as a rescue for dumped greyhounds and lurchers the centre has expanded. Nicky Solloway reports.

A shire foal balances on hairy hooves close to its mum in a sunny paddock at Tia Rescue. At just four months old she’s the youngest in the heavy horse stable, which is set to be the biggest Shire horse rescue centre in the country.

The animal shelter has just moved from a windblown moor above Sowerby Bridge to a former shooting range within 45 acres of paddocks and fields near Doncaster.

“Pandora was given to us by a guy who breeds shire horses,” explains Tia Rescue founder Debra Rothery.

The shire horse foal, like many of the animals at the shelter, was handed over with her mum by a breeder who no longer had any use for her.

“Basically she was given to us because she wasn’t up to their showing standards.”

The centre has 17 heavy horses altogether, including Joey, a huge Clydesdale. At 19 hands tall and just three years old, Deb believes he may grow into the biggest Clydesdale horse in the country.

Tia is home to a menagerie of strays, former pets and abandoned animals, including 80 greyhounds and lurchers, two grey parrots, 30 chickens and an old mule. There is also a small herd of goats and two tiny donkeys, which help with fundraising.

“The majority are rescued but I bought these two to take to agricultural shows,” she says. New dogs and horses arrive regularly. A black greyhound was simply dumped outside the gates last week.

A lot of the animals will live out their days at Tia; some will find new owners. Two huge mastiffs sit looking a little sorry for themselves in large cages in the staff room. Chester and Millie belonged to a friend of Deb’s, who sadly died last year from cancer.

Deb says they’re too ‘big and slobbery’ for anyone to want to adopt them, so she has taken them under her wing. Her friend left an even larger legacy than the two hounds – £100,000 to help fund the new kennel block.

Deb first fell in love with greyhounds while working as a policewoman in Calderdale.

“There was a little Irish guy who bred greyhounds. He told me he was going to put one down because it was no good to him and I said ‘well what do you mean?’ and it just went from there really.” She agreed to take the greyhound, and soon became acquainted with the often murky world of dog racing and breeding. According to Greyhound Action, at least 10,000 greyhounds “retire” from racing in Britain every year. Most retire at an average age of just two and a half, either because of injury or because they are judged to be unfit to race. The charity believes as many as 6,000 are put to sleep every year.

“There aren’t enough places for them to go. It’s always been bad. There are just more dogs bred for the racing industry than there are homes and that’s simple maths. The industry will lie and say they all go and live happily ever after but if that was the case I wouldn’t be here, would I?”

After eight years as a police officer, Deb’s life was turned upside down following an attack at work. “I got stabbed by a care in the community patient with a machete,” she says. “I was given time off work and then went back to the police force for 18 months, but just didn’t want to do it anymore. I thought there’s more to life than this. It’s what happens inside your head when something like that happens that’s the problem.”

She quit the police force to pursue her love of greyhounds and set up Tia Rescue 19 years ago at a farm on a bleak stretch of moor in Calderdale.

“It was beautiful, we were 1500 feet above sea level, but it was scary. The weather was that bad we were terrified that the roof was going to blow off.” The charity moved to the rural outskirts of Doncaster three months ago and is busy installing new kennels, a visitor centre, café, nature trail and petting area.

“Doncaster Council welcomed us with open arms,” says Deb. “They wanted a visitor’s attraction as part of the regeneration of the area.”

By next year she says they will be the biggest greyhound and shire horse rescue centre in the country with space for up to 200 dogs. She estimates she has re-homed around 4,000 dogs since opening and demand is as great as ever.

“I’ve got 50 dogs that are waiting to come in. There are 20 dogs being looked after on an allotment in Sheffield. The rest are with trainers and owners who are waiting to bring them in. If I had a thousand kennels they’d be full tomorrow. I don’t know how we’re going to manage.

Tia Rescue’s eight charity shops across the region – including ones in Pickering, Marsden, Halifax and Hebden Bridge – help with day to day running costs, but it’s a daily battle.

“On our website we have what we call a wall of shame which is a list of dogs that have been abandoned and some people in the racing industry hate it. They hate the fact that I put the stray dogs on there but if they weren’t kicking them out they wouldn’t be on it. I’ve been threatened a few times.

“The whole purpose is to educate people that greyhounds are good pets and deserve a good home after racing.”

A couple arrives with a young grandson to walk a lurcher. They are given a mottled blonde saluki/greyhound cross, named Cecil to walk around the grounds.

“He was in a bad state when he came to us,” says Deb, pointing to the scars on the dog’s back. “He’d had a hiding. He couldn’t even wag his tail for the first two weeks after he arrived.”

The thin dog looks up with pleading brown eyes and it’s not hard to see that the family is smitten.

It’s a happy ending for Cecil as he trots off with his new owners, but hundreds of other dogs are not so lucky.