Quinn Border Collie Raystede

BN1 Chats with Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare

For over 70 years, Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare has cared for a huge variety of creatures. From cats and dogs to alpacas and parrots, it’s become one of the most diverse rescue organisations in the UK – its staff, volunteers, and supporters helping more than 1,200 vulnerable animals each year.

“When we were set up, it was around three guiding principles,” says Raystede’s Communications Manager, Simon Bennett. “A place to offer sanctuary for animals that had nowhere else to go. A place where animals could be rehomed. And education, to help people ensure they can care for their animals. We stay true to these today.”

Located just outside Ringmer, on a 43-acre site amongst the picturesque Sussex countryside, the charity was established in 1952 by Miss M. Raymonde-Hawkins. Bennett tells me they’ve received over 4,500 requests to take in animals last year. People look to surrender their pets for a variety of different reasons. “The cost of living is obviously a factor,” he tells me. “Owning a pet is expensive, and there’s a number of things you need to do as a responsible pet owner to ensure they stay well – like taking them to the vets… paying for medication or a special diet. Other reasons include not being able to look after the animal. Failing health can often lead to older people surrendering their pet.” Other reasons often involve changes in living or relationship status. When moving into rented accommodation, landlords are at liberty to bar pets. In most circumstances, owners will look for alternatives, like friends or relatives who can provide care. But, failing that, a rescue centre will try to step in.

Raystede is seeing a large upturn in the number of dogs needing care. Many people took on pets during lockdown. Most of the training classes were shut during that period, so it was more difficult to socialise puppies and young dogs. Also, everyone was at home all the time, so pets became reliant on their owner being around 24/7. As people started returning to work, now adolescent animals were being left alone, which is an opportunity for certain behaviours to surface. 

A dog’s needs can often sit at odds with our increasingly busy lifestyles. “If you’re going to be out all day, maybe a dog is not right for you. They shouldn’t be left alone for more than four hours, because they can start to get worried and anxious. You can’t shoehorn it into your life. If you’re lucky enough to be able to take your dog to work, that’s great. But obviously that’s not always the case.” Bennett tells me prospective owners need to do a lot of research into which breed of dog will suit them. “There’s a lot of popular ones… like Cockapoos which are part Cocker Spaniel, so they’re working dogs and need a lot of exercise. You might consider a dog because it looks cute or it’s small and might fit with your lifestyle, but often it doesn’t.”  All animals have their own characteristics and behaviours, so taking on the responsibility of bringing one into your life demands understanding these and dealing with them in an appropriate way. Some breeds just want to run around and jump into stuff.

There’s plenty of people who don’t want to hand over their animals but they have no other choice. Raystede had 181 requests to take dogs in a single month recently, despite only running 31 kennels. “We can’t take in all of the dogs that people ask us to. We do try to signpost to other places which can help, but obviously want people to be able to look after animals in their own home.” There’s a team of experts working to help some extremely anxious animals get to a stage where they can trust people again – and hopefully, help them find a loving home.

To encourage and enable this, Raystede puts a lot of effort into their animal welfare education programme. They run regular pop-up events in towns like Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, where owners can come and speak to them about any worry. Especially with dogs, some behaviours are specific to breeds or triggered as a result of their circumstances. “People should always seek advice. Most people know when to visit the vet. But, if it’s a behavioural issue, what do you do? There are people who can help. And it’s better to ask for advice early, rather than getting to the stage where you’re at your wit’s end.” The charity also offers a wealth of materials online and organises learning opportunities with schools and community groups.

The centre at Raystede is open 10am – 4pm every day, so visitors can see the work they do and some of the diverse animals which live there. Entry is free (although, it is essential to book tickets) to see their goats, horses, ponies, alpaca and sheep, a rodent room full of furtive activity, roaming rabbits, a colony of tortoises, sun-worshipping terrapins and aviary walkways. There’s also a free guided tour every day, where you can find out more about the animals and their routines. For obvious reasons, the kennels and cattery are not open to the public.

As a charity, Raystede receives no government funding, and relies entirely on public support.  The entire operation costs around £6,000 a day to run, so the staff are truly appreciative of all the donations, individuals raising money through activities like marathon running or parachute jumping and those remembering with legacies. You can also sponsor larger animals like donkeys and get an opportunity to go and meet them in person and find out more about their lives.

Obviously, one of the most important ways people can help Raystede is by providing a home to one of their animals. They’re happy to consider anyone who can offer a stimulating environment and a new start. Anyone considering this is encouraged to visit their website, where you’ll find details of all the animals up for adoption, along with details about their characteristics, including likes, dislikes, history and any medical issues. 

The next step is to fill out an application, which asks about your circumstances, home and routine.  One of the key things asked is why you think you’d be a good match for an animal, as opposed to the other way round. Raystede staff get to know each animal fairly well, not only medically assessing them but studying them closely for any behavioural quirks and working through those. This information is used to match any animals up with suitable adopters.  If a submission is successful, it’s time to visit the centre and your family’s prospective new member. “It might take a few visits. Which is fine. If everything goes to plan, we’ll arrange a time when you come to collect your animal.”

Those who miss the companionship a pet brings, but are unable to take one on full time, Raystede also offers a fostering scheme. Here people can look after dogs, cats and even rabbits, on a temporary basis. As with adopting, animals are matched to candidates, with the care period usually lasting for three months or until your furry guest finds a new home. “It’s very much about educating people as to what makes a responsible pet owner, and what’s good for the animal and the owner.”

And when you all head home, it’s not necessarily the end of the relationship. “One of the things Raystede does, as well as offering dogs up for rehoming, is we become a partner to those adopters, because taking care of a rescue animal can take a little extra time and patience. “They can always come back to us to ask questions if something is happening or there’s anything the new owners are unsure about. The teams, particularly in the kennels, will have worked with those dogs a lot.”

“Adopting an animal is great,” says Bennett. “Because you’re giving it that second chance. It might have found itself here through no fault of its own. You know that you’re helping an animal find a better life.”

Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare is at The Broyle, Ringmer BN8 5AJFor more information, head to: www.raystede.org

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