HOW THE LABRADOR RESCUE TRUST WAS STARTED
This is the second article written by The Labrador Rescue Trust’s founder, John D. Cowell MBE.
HOW THE LABRADOR RESCUE TRUST WAS STARTED – AND ITS SUBSEQUENT HISTORY
You might find it of interest to know how The Labrador Rescue Trust was started and what is required of such an organisation.
For years, my wife, Pat, and I had been members of many of the Labrador Breed Clubs around the UK. In the Summer of 1988, the Secretary of The West of England Labrador Retriever Club circulated a letter to all members of the Club asking if there was anyone who would be prepared to form a Labrador rescue group as she was unable to cope with so many requests from the public for help to rehome theirLabrador. By then, Pat and I had owned Labradors for almost twenty years and we used to breed the occasional litter as our main hobby was in the Labrador Show “world”. We also owned a Boarding Kennels inSomersetand either we, or our staff, were therefore on site twenty four hours a day and able to be contacted at all times. We also felt that we wanted to give something back to the Breed that had given us so much pleasure for so many years. After considering the situation, we agreed to take up the challenge and, after spending some two months researching the subject, Labrador Rescue (South West) was ready to be launched. We had no idea of the scale of the problem that we were about to face nor the enormous stresses and strains that we would encounter in the ensuing years. Nor did we envisage that the organisation would grow into the size that it is today – and, unfortunately, it is still growing!
In order to set up such an organisation from scratch, there are three main criteria that all breed rescue organisations should consider – administration, finance and personnel. Indeed, running a Breed Rescue organisation is just like running any business – except that you are working with volunteers and not paid employees – and there is a big difference!
I believed that, to be successful, the administration of the organisation had to be professional and, in particular, legally binding. After researching organisations like The Dogs Trust, RSPCA and several existing Dog Breed Rescues, I had gleaned sufficient knowledge to write a set of ten basic Rules by which every volunteer would have to agree to abide. These Rules were then combined with a set of Guidelines in order to give the volunteers a framework of basic procedures and guides in which to work. The first Rule of The Trust states “The welfare of the dogs must remain paramount at all times.”. This Rule is absolutely fundamental to the work of The Trust and every person who works with it.
I decided that the organisation could be financed through donations for the dogs from both the current and future owners and that this could be supplemented by various types of fund raising activities. Realising that there would be financial constraints, i.e. raising sufficient funds, I felt that every penny that was raised should be solely spent on the rehabilitation of the dogs. This meant that everyone who would work for the organisation would have to be unpaid and would only receive the genuine expenses that they would incur in the course of their duties.
I needed to find people with a good knowledge of the Breed, together with a deep sense of responsibility towards the dogs, who would be prepared to give up some of their spare time to carry out the assessing and re-homing of the dogs. So, initially, I wrote to members of the national Labrador Retriever Club who lived in the west of Englandand also to members the West of England Labrador Retriever Club – with the permission of both Clubs, I should add! I had a reasonable response but, on the wet and dreary night in Bristol on 25thNovember 1988, only twelve people turned up to the launch meeting – and that included Pat and myself! However, on that night, Labrador Rescue (South West) was born!
Word spread across the West Country fairly quickly and soon other people offered to help so that the organisation grew to around twenty five volunteers within a few of months. Thereafter, it grew both in the number of personnel and in the number of dogs who needed help. By 1995, we had some 100 volunteers and currently are just over 130 strong. We had handled our 1000thcase by January 1995 and will handle our 10,000thcase early in 2013.
I had always considered that the organisation should be completely autonomous whilst keeping the national Labrador Retriever Club and the regional Labrador Breed Clubs informed about our activities and the services that we were able to offer. Within a couple of years, we had achieved a great deal of respect from theLabrador “world” for our work and, although we had started with no funds whatsoever, we had also managed to generate sufficient income to cover our costs. We have been included in The Kennel Club’s Dog Rescue Directory of approved rescue organisations for over twenty years.
We were most honoured in November 1991 when His Grace, The Duke of Wellington, a great Labrador enthusiast, agreed to become our Patron and, just over a year later, we became a national Registered Charity under the title of Labrador Rescue (South West) Trust. As a Registered Charity, we were fortunate to find a generous business sponsor who helped enormously with our finances during a rapid period of growth in our organisation. Without their help at that time, we would not have been able to help the number of dogs that we can today and, to them in particular, we and the dogs will be forever grateful.
There were a few other Labrador rescue groups around theUK but each was working in isolation. I had the idea of trying to bring them all together under one umbrella. I did not believe that it would be possible to do this in one fell swoop as it would have been a massive job. So it was agreed by our Board of Trustees that we would start with an organisation in the South East of the UK that would work alongside the Labrador Rescue (South West) Trust and which would work to exactly the same Rules and standards that we had proven had worked very successfully over the previous seven years. In order to do this, it was decided to change our Charity’s name to The Labrador Rescue Trust which would become the umbrella organisation under which each new region of the country would work. So, early in 1996, and with the Labrador Rescue (South West) Trust well established, I also founded Labrador Rescue (South East) under the banner of The Labrador Rescue Trust.
With the permission of the Breed’s Labrador Clubs in the South East of theUK, I wrote to their members explaining what I hoped to do in the South East and had an excellent response. Having lived in the South East myself for many years, I already knew a number of Labrador people in that part of the country. A few of us met together in a hotel in the Maidstone, Kent and I put forward my plans. I proposed to split the Region into four Areas, each having an Area Co-ordinator just as we had in the South West. Four of the people who attended this meeting agreed to take up these positions and agreed to work in exactly the same way as we had proven to be successful in the south west.
In order to get this off the ground, I called an inaugural meeting which was held just outside Guildford, Surreyin March 1996. It was extremely well attended and over 80 people turned up from all over the South East. Prior to the meeting, I had a further meeting with the four Area Co-ordinators and finalised the Areas that they would cover together with the lists of people who had volunteered from within each Area.
Everything started well but, as time progressed, it was found extremely difficult to control the activities of all the volunteers in the south east from the south west. After some five months, it was considered that it would not be possible to have sufficient control over the work of such a number of volunteers in the south east. With every person being a volunteer rather than an employee – and there is an enormous difference! – it was found that there were just too many possibilities of matters going out of control and jeopardising the whole organisation. Labrador Rescue (South East) was then registered as an autonomous Charity in its own right. Subsequently, the organisation fragmented into three autonomous Charities, all of whom are still working today. It was therefore concluded that a national Labrador Rescue Charity, made up entirely of volunteers working in their spare time, would not be able to function, nor be controlled, in a manner that would be satisfactory for the benefit of the Breed. So ended the hope of bringing all Labrador Rescue groups under one umbrella! The Kennel Club’s Dog Rescue Directory for 2012 shows no less than nine separate Labrador Rescue organisations working in theUK!
Over the last twenty four years, changes have been made to the working practices of The Labrador Rescue Trust as our knowledge has steadily grown in all aspects of rescue work. The number of cases that we had handled during the first few years grew rapidly and we now handle around 600 cases every year – almost two a day! At the same time, we have had to raise more income to cover the ever increasing costs and now have to raise £200,000 or more every year. The Labrador Rescue Trust is now one of the largest Breed Rescue Charities for dogs in theUnited Kingdomand is respected throughout the Labrador “world” for its work with Labradors that need help for whatever reason.
We cover an even wider area than we did at the beginning and we now have Helpers as far north as Worcestershire and even in an area around Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire – the latter area being covered due to the relocation of Helpers who have moved there from the south west! Being the nearest geographically, we also receive many requests for help from South Wales. The number of volunteers now exceeds 130 – all unpaid volunteers – many of whom have been with The Trust for a considerable number of years and continue to carry out this, sometimes, harrowing work just for the love of the dogs.
We opened a Charity Shop in Tavistock, Devon some years ago which proved to be a worthwhile venture for, as it became well known in the area, it produced a regular income not only to cover the costs and other outgoings but also to bring in some much needed funds. Sadly, we had to close it after a number of years when the owner of the premises sold the property for development. However, we have recently opened another Charity Shop in Bridgwater,Somerset which, we hope, will bring in much needed extra funds. Our volunteers also regularly attend various types of Shows with our merchandise and other items to sell. We have been fortunate enough to receive a number of legacies over the years and such kind donations have contributed enormously to enable us to continue with our work. We have continued with the policy that no-one who works in The Trust is paid so that every penny received is spent to help the dogs – this is fundamental to the work of The Trust.
A Forever Scheme has been introduced which is set up to look after Labradors for the rest of their lives when their owner dies. There is a small registration fee and we now have a list of dogs registered with us which is increasing steadily. As mentioned above, legacies form an important part of the Charity’s income as does the merchandise that we sell at various types of Shows that are held around the West Country. Each of our Areas holds an Annual Fun Day which is mainly for Labradors but any dog is welcome to come. The Annual Fun Days have various activities for the dogs as well as a Dog Show with many classes and stalls of all varieties. This again helps to raise much needed funds for The Trust. We also produce a Magazine three times a year which is subscribed to by well over 1000 people.
There are, of course, many problems and pitfalls to running such an organisation. Quite a number of people offer their services as volunteers but, although they genuinely believe that they want to help unfortunate Labradors, they do not realise the stresses and strains that are endemic to this type of work. Many situations are absolutely heart wrenching either from the way that the dog has been treated or from the people who genuinely love their dog but have no alternative but to give it up. Each new volunteer is interviewed, and if successful, is trained by one of our experienced Area Co-ordinators. Paperwork has to be issued and explained as are our Rules and Guidelines to which they must work. Needless to say, ownership of a dog brings with it a certain amount of legal requirements to ensure that any change of ownership is legally carried out. Whilst the vast majority of the dogs that come into The Trust are well behaved and healthy, occasionally one may be aggressive, badly out of control, in need of medical attention or has been very badly treated. Sadly, some new volunteers fall by the wayside when they find out what is actually involved and expected of them. We are, however, fortunate that we have many volunteers who become dedicated and absolutely committed to this type of work for the love of the dogs.
I believe that, somewhere, there is the right home for every dog. Our job is to find that home for each dog that comes into The Trust’s care. The only reward that we receive is the knowledge that we have found that home and that the dog is happy and will be loved and cared for throughout the rest of its life.
You can contact us through our website, www.labrador-rescue.org where you will find the contact details of all our Area Co-ordinators and a great deal of other information – but, if you are reading this online, you will already know that! Should you wish to make a specific enquiry, you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 07791 519084.