CLA Member Profile: Border Collie Rescue

Border Collie Rescue, Rugeley

When Ben Wilkes adopted a dog from a rescue charity in 1996, he didn’t realise that he was taking on more than a border collie in need of a home, he was about to embark on a new career.

A year later the rescue centre purchased its own kennels thanks to a substantial bequest, but it also needed smaller donations so Ben duly arrived with a car load of useful items - and left with a volunteer application form.

After spending many a happy hour walking dogs and helping out at shows, he was invited to become a trustee of the registered charity. In 2002 he retired from the Police and with newfound spare time helped with a few hours in the office, rapidly increasing his involvement to the point in 2004 when he and wife Sue moved onsite - all from simply taking on a dog. Ben is now a driving force behind CLA Members Border Collie Trust GB, a rescue and re-homing centre in the heart of rural Staffordshire that provides new homes for over 400 needy collies a year.

 

It is a common misconception that all rescue dogs have behavioural problems. Many arrive at the centre because of a change in circumstances of their owners such as separation, children, allergies, pressure of work and – increasingly - unwillingness of landlords to accommodate pets (although Ben stresses that border collies are not pets but companions,  each highly individual, and often demanding).

“They are intelligent and highly motivated working dogs, bred through generations to work in a farm environment and some may not cope well with noise, change, sudden movement or strangers. Collies need a structured routine, ideally in a secure rural location without constant distractions.

“For example a farm dog is often very shy and needs much staff input to socialise it before the dog is suitable to be homed but, in the right circumstances, they will form a strong bond with one person, to whom they remain loyal for life.”

Ben and the staff get to know every dog’s character – and there can up to 40 at  time – so they can be matched with potential owners whose lifestyles best suit a potential companion. “You’ll never find the perfect home, but we do everything we can to try and match the dog’s needs with an owners ability to meet them.

“Our dogs stay until a suitable home has been found – there is no time limit, and if it doesn’t work out, we will take them back and try again.”

With such exacting standards it is no surprise to hear that the 4½ acre site needs 11 staff and a team of dedicated volunteers to keep it running.

 Technology has changed the way dogs are re-homed. Where people used to talk to their vet, or scan the small ads in newspapers in the search for a dog, the internet is now the first port of call, and increasingly social media. The Trust has developed a successful strategy that has seen them acquire 13,000 Twtter followers and 6,500 Facebook likes. Ben is inundated with photographs of his dogs in their new homes – natural material for social media.  An Amazon Wishlist allows people to donate goods that are needed in the daily running of the centre. And a recent appearance on BBC Countryfile saw traffic to their site increase daramatically

“The website got 6,000 views as the programme progressed; bearing in mind we normally get 800-900 visits a day it was pretty good for a small dog rescue. The social media side of it went mad and I was up all night handling enquiries and Facebook posts.”


Ben Wilkes (R) with Adam Henson from BBC Countryfile.
A recent appearance on the programme resulted in 6,000 website visits.

Income streams are varied, but as well as the money from re-homing, which barely covers the costs of keeping the dogs, the centre relies heavily on donations and has a small but successful commercial side, selling collie related items and gifts as well as canine supplies. Any donations that can keep costs down can make a huge difference, for example to maintenance and repair costs.

Border Collie Trust GB is a rural business dealing with the same issues many other members face; health & safety, employment law, lack of public transport for staff, slow (“but OK for what we need”) broadband, and planning issues complicated by a development exclusion zone due an oil pipeline. Unfortunately the Trust also has to deal with the threat of HS2, which is proposed to pass within metres of the site.

Ben says: “Many collies are highly sensitive to noise and if you take them into an area where they are frightened, it’s quite possible you won’t be able to get them back in there for a few days – if ever.

"The location at the moment is perfect. Quiet with just enough activity to get the dogs used to dealing with everyday situations, but we have no idea how HS2 will affect the dogs ability to be re-homed.

 “We have to plan ahead. Our long term plan has to be to ensure that, if conditions make our work difficult, we can relocate while helping the collies who need us.  Having spent over £600,000 in ten years improving the facilities here, it would be heartbreaking to move, but the dogs come first every time.

 

To find out more about Border Collie Trust GB visit www.bordercollietrustgb.org.uk or call 0871 560 2282.

The centre is open every day, (except Tuesdays) to receive dogs for re-homing (by arrangement), dogs for boarding (booked), visitors who want to give dogs a home and people who would like to offer their services and skills to further the work of the Trust.