Friday, 21 March 2014

The Animal Sanctuary at Dorney.

Last Friday, I was late getting to Cookham, partly because I stopped off at The Animal Sanctuary at Dorney on the way. I hadn’t planned it but when I passed this rather ramshackle collection of wooden buildings I thought I’d take a look and I’m doing this special Blog on it because I was so impressed by what I saw.

Turning in, the sanctuary appeared even more strange – many DIY wooden buildings, some chaos, lots of frantic building work and painting going on, all set amongst what seemed to be a recycling yard. On top of that, the R.A.F. had to help them out last month when the sanctuary was in danger of being flooded out – so lots of sandbags are still piled up as well as pools of muddy water lying around.

After I parked, Matt quickly came over and told me that because of health and safety restrictions he had to accompany me the whole time I was there. I asked his permission to put his picture on this Blog and here he is at the Sheep Shangri-La;
It turned out I was very lucky to have him as my guide – as he took me around he described the animals in each pen or stable, told me their names and explained how they had arrived at the sanctuary. Given that there are at least 200 of them, this was quite an achievement.

As you’ve seen, there were a couple of sheep, there were also lots of cats, a fair number of dogs, 40 horses, pigs, lots of chickens, ducks, geese, a pigeon and two pheasants.

Obviously, I only took pictures of domestic animals and didn’t use flash so I can’t show you the wild birds who had come in as casualties. I’ve never been so close to live pheasants before and was stunned by their plumage.

The pigs come in because when people buy them as tiny cute piglet pets they don’t realise that Porky is going to end up big and bad and possibly dangerous.


Many of the animals come in neglected and abused – especially the horses. While I was there, Matt pointed out all the sticking out ribs, the injuries and the untreated illnesses that had come with the animals. None are turned away.

A small number of the horses were still angry at people, most were touchingly friendly given what they had been through. As Matt told me; because a lot of the horses haven’t been looked after properly, they never stop eating – they were always underfed.

The sanctuary’s policy is to continually replace the food until eventually they learn that they will be cared for. No animal is ever killed;

All of this was very nice – I like animals but I’m not an extreme animal lover, I’ve always put people first.

What really moved me were the number of volunteers and their dedication to the animals there. Soon it was obvious that there was more to the sanctuary – I got Matt to pass me a leaflet and I read that apart from rescuing mistreated or abandoned animals;

“ We believe that the Animal Sanctuary has a highly beneficial role to play in the support and rehabilitation of local vulnerable people. We have groups and individuals with learning difficulties, physical disabilities, autism and we work hard to facilitate their full inclusion in the community”.

Back last summer, I was having a fairly bad time myself – I’ve got some wounds of my own and I had big problems as a carer, a cancer going badly wrong and some gruesome side effects to be getting on with.

I got involved with a herd of semi-wild horses near where I live. At first I enjoyed the thrill of just being in the middle of a seething band of half wild, fighting, kicking, biting horses. It was a real buzz being there, better than running with the bulls.

Soon I started feeding them carrots and over the summer got close to several of them. I’d never been around horses before– so they had to train me up, deal with my fears and prejudices. You can read about ‘the Punk Horses’ in several blogs I posted through July, August and September last year.

It made a big difference to my problems and helped me through a really tough time.

Later I read that there are programmes now which treat soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder by putting them together with horses.

From my experience, damaged men interacting with vulnerable horses produces a noticeable therapeutic effect. I have to make it clear I’m not talking about breaking, training or riding horses – that’s a different and unequal kind of relationship.

So I was just as interested in the volunteers as I was in the animals but I didn't feel able to post photos of them because I wasn’t happy about getting proper consent.

There was a great, human atmosphere wherever I went but my tour came to a quick end – a troupe of Shetland ponies were being brought through for their walk and Matt just couldn’t resist joining them. Clearly it was a highlight of his day and I don’t blame him;

Click on any picture for a slideshow and a better quality picture.

This is a really good cause and well worth a visit if you have an hour free. I intend to go back, in the meantime here’s their site;

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)


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