But as Christmas draws near, an animal sanctuary in Sheffield is facing a dreadful dilemma over more than a dozen dogs it cares for which face being put down – for barking too loudly.
Mill House Animal Sanctuary in Fulwood has been taking in and rehoming unwanted pets for 64 years but could now face closure after just one complaint.
Around 15 dogs currently being cared for there are likely to have to be destroyed after owners Jane Wright, 70, and her twin, Pat Hartley, were handed a noise abatement order.
The sisters, who have devoted their lives to rescuing animals, cannot afford to fight the order, meaning the dogs may have to be put to sleep.
It is a devastating blow for the pair, who have always prided themselves on their charity’s non-destruction policy.
“As it stands we will be forced to have to put the dogs down and we could even close for good,” said Ms Wright.
The order was made by Sheffield Council after a single complaint that the dogs were making “excessive noise” – the first ever made against the sanctuary in more than six decades.
The sisters face a £500 fine for each day the dogs continue to bark in breach of the notice – a sum the sanctuary, which relies entirely on donations, can ill afford.
Nor do the pair have the funds to fight the order and they have been forced to drop what would have been an expensive appeal.
“It was costing too much money to cover the legal costs,” said Ms Wright.
“The sanctuary relies on financial contributions to help us care for the animals.
“We have insufficient funds to pay for a lengthy legal fight and feel it is better spent on caring for the animals.
“We have been here for 64 years and have cared for thousands of animals in that time – no one has ever complained before.
“We do our very best to ensure the noise is kept down. However, I have to concede that the dogs do bark from time to time.
“But it’s not like that all day every day as the person who has complained is claiming.”
The twins have been dedicated to helping animals since 1948, when they were just six and their parents rescued a pony from the slaughterhouse gates.
Inspired, they went on to set up Mill House. It became a registered charity in 1982 and now rescues animals from all over the UK from the south coast to the Orkneys.
Over the decades, the sisters have taken in thousands of animals – from dogs and cats to chickens, cows, ducks, pigeons, pigs and horses – and have around 200 animals in their care at any one time.
“We have just devoted our lives to it,” said Ms Hartley. “It means everything. It is our lives.”
Now, for the first time, they are being forced to turn needy animals away.
“We certainly can’t take dogs in any more and we have taken so many dogs in that were at death’s door before they came to us,” said Ms Hartley.
“There are so many dogs needing care at the moment.”
The sisters have rehomed several of the larger, noisier dogs and have resorted to keeping most of the rest in the house to try to keep the noise down.
They are now pinning their hopes on a sound-proof fence they have ordered in an effort to muffle the noise.
But with a price tag of £2,000, it has come as a serious blow to the charity’s coffers. “That is money that we could be spending on the animals,” said Ms Hartley.
She said the complaint had come from a neighbour who had lived nearby for 40 years with no previous complaints and they had made every effort to resolve the situation amicably with him.
“All of a sudden he has decided that the dogs are noisy,” she said.
“We have tried to sort it but he just says it has gone too far.”
She said it was “appalling” how they had been treated by the council, which the sanctuary has helped out in the past.
Last November, it gave a home to nine goats that had been saved by council inspectors from an illegal slaughterhouse in the city.
A spokesman for Sheffield Council confirmed that a noise abatement order had been issued against Mill House.
“The owners initially appealed and then withdrew their appeal,” he said. “We are now working with the owners to help them comply with the notice.”
For more information about the charity go to www.animalsheltersheffield.co.uk.