This is the first of two articles written by The Labrador Rescue Trust’s founder, John D. Cowell MBE.

John first wrote this article back in 2000, and has recently found a copy of it and updated it so that we can publish it on the website for everyone to get an insight into the wonderful work that the trust does.



Many people have asked me why we need a rescue organisation for Labradors as they believed that, as Labradors are renown for making wonderful family pets, there cannot really be much of a demand for such an organisation.  I hope that this article will help you to understand that, whilst we are said to be a nation of animal lovers, this reputation can be far from the truth in far too many situations.  The need for our organisation may surprise you!


There are six types of Retrievers. These are:  the Labrador Retriever, the Golden Retriever, the Flat Coated Retriever, the Curly Coated Retriever, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.  By far the most popular of these six types of Retrievers is the Labrador Retriever, commonly known as theLabrador.  In the UK, there are more than twice the number of Labradors registered with The Kennel Club (around 40,000 each year) than any other breed of pedigree dog.  TheLabradorhas been the most popular breed of dog every year for more than twenty successive years according to The Kennel Club’s registration statistics. Taking into account that there may be just as many Labradors bred that are not registered with The Kennel Club as there are registered, this may give you an idea of how many are probably bred in theUKeach year.  With such large numbers, it is not surprising that a considerable number “fall by the wayside” and need help to find new, caring homes.  That is where Labrador Rescue comes in.


Each breed of pedigree dog has its own rescue organisation.  Some are fairly small organisations and form part of the Breed Club itself but others, like The Labrador Rescue Trust, are totally independent of either The Kennel Club or Breed Club but are manned by volunteers who care deeply about the welfare of their Breed.  Although there are now other Labrador Rescue organisations around theUnited Kingdom, The Labrador Rescue Trust, founded in 1988, is the largest and achieved National Registered Charity status in 1993.  Although based primarily in the south-west of England with over one hundred and thirty volunteers, The Trust will help any Labrador in need in any part of the United Kingdom if the other Labrador Rescue Groups are unable to help.  Indeed, The Trust has even rehomed Labradors from Cyprus and from Spain into new, caring homes in England.  We believe that every dog is entitled to care and understanding and The Trust goes to great lengths to find the right home for every dog that comes into its care.  Somewhere out there is the right home for every dog – our job is to find it!


The Trust relies entirely on donations and other means of fund raising in order to ensure that it has sufficient funds to cover the needs of every dog that requires its help.  Being such a versatile dog, the Labrador is in great demand.  All too often, the Breed is used by the media to promote commercial products, many of which have nothing whatsoever to do with dogs.  The appeal of young, cuddly puppies playing together creates a demand for puppies and, due to the inherent nature of most Labradors, the public believes that they make the best domestic canine pet.  This, in turn, increases the demand for the Breed.  Indeed, I recall one puppy farmer who claims that her puppies appeared in a popular TV advertisement – and she uses this as a selling point for her puppies!


In the event of a Labrador coming into Rescue that is known to have been bred by a responsible and  recognised breeder, we always contact that breeder first to see if they wish to rehome the dog themselves.  I have never forgotten one instance when I rang one of the leading Labrador breeders in the country to inform them that we had one of their dogs coming into Rescue.  Although the breeders lived in the north east of England, without any hesitation whatsoever, they arranged to collect the dog themselves the following day – travelling a round trip of over 400 miles.


During my twenty four years in Labrador Rescue, I have found it very rare for a Labrador to come into Rescue that has been bred by a breeder in the show or working fields.  I would estimate that well over 90% of the Labradors that The Trust handles come from pet bred litters, puppy farms and strays from the Council pounds.  There is a multitude of reasons given by the public for having their dogs rehomed and there is a real need for someone to pick up the pieces and help with their rehabilitation.  In the present economic climate, we are finding that a number of dogs are being brought into Rescue as their owners can no longer afford to keep them.  Naturally there are also very genuine cases such as bereavement, changes in personal circumstances and so on but, when we heard one reason for rehoming being given that “The black dog hairs will show up on our new biscuit coloured carpet”, our patience was stretched to the limit!


It does not seem to matter what people do to our Breed, how badly they mistreat them, starve them or whatever, the vast majority of Labradors have an inbuilt trust and affection for human beings.  For all of us in Rescue, the biggest reward is when we see a dog happily re-homed with new owners who we know will love it and care for it throughout the rest of its life.  That is the only reward that rescuers receive for the hours and hours of their time that they give up to help the dogs – but the feeling of satisfaction is enormous.


So, what type of situations do our volunteers have to face?

A few years ago, we rescued a bitch that had been thrown into a slurry pit and left to die a most horrible death.  Almost certainly, she had come from a puppy farm.  Fortunately for her, she was found in time and, after rehabilitation, was placed in a wonderful home to join her new owners’ other two Labradors.


We all know how Labradors love their food!  Unfortunately, we rescue some dogs that are starved and look like skeletons and some who are so overfed (often out of the owner’s “kindness”!) that they look like sea-lions.  We have to bring all these poor dogs back to a healthy weight which, of course, takes special care as well as time, money and patience.


I recall a yellow Labrador dog called Cobbler who had spent most of his life chained up in a yard and was given little or no exercise.  He weighed in at almost 60 kilos – the biggest Labrador that I have ever seen in forty two years in the Breed.  It was a real struggle for him to get up on his feet let alone walk but, with help, he could manage to walk a very short distance but wobbled about quite a lot.  To our foster home that took him in, he became known as Wobbler instead of Cobbler.  However, with a proper diet and a programme of gradually increasing exercise over a fairly long period of time, he slimmed down and lived the rest of his life very happily with one of our volunteers.


In the early 1990’s, we were informed of a small Labrador bitch who was kept outside in all weathers with her only shelter being on the corner of a patio at the rear of the house amongst a pile of wet blankets.  Neighbours used to throw food over the garden fence in order to feed her as she was so thin.  It was in January that year that we first heard about her plight when there was a particularly bad cold spell.  An old saucepan left out on the patio was her only source of water and the rain water in it was frozen solid.  When one of our volunteers visited the house and spoke to the owners, she was told that they did not get on with their neighbours and only kept the dog to annoy them.  The owners would not part with the dog on that visit but, on the second visit to the house a couple of days later – and after we had parted with £100 – we managed to rescue the dog and, after careful rehabilitation, she was placed in a very loving home in the countryside many miles away where she lived out the rest of her life most happily.


One morning, we had a phone call from a man who lived in a high rise block of flats who told us that he no longer wanted hisLabradorand that if we did not come and collect the dog within the hour, he was going to throw it off his balcony.  Fortunately, our nearest volunteer was available and arrived in time to save the dog.  In another instance, just as one of our volunteers was putting an unwanted dog into his car to take it to its new home, the original owner stopped him and took the dog’s collar off saying that he could sell the collar to recoup some of the money that he had spent on the dog.


Some years ago, we were contacted by a lady who was due to go into a Hospice and, knowing that she would not come home again, she contacted us for help to look after her much loved Labrador bitch.  After visiting her and assessing the needs of her dog, we found a wonderful home that, understanding the lady’s situation, was prepared to wait until she went into the Hospice.  We were, therefore, able to keep her informed of how her dog had settled into its new home and she was so pleased to receive regular information about how her dog was progressing.  The last “update” was fortunately relayed to her just the day before she passed away.  Unbeknown to us at the time, she had arranged to make a large donation to The Trust from her estate.  As a Registered Charity, we have been fortunate to receive a number of legacies over the years that have helped The Trust enormously by bringing in extra funds to enable us to continue looking after the dogs.  The Trust has a special Scheme, called our ‘Forever Scheme’, where we guarantee any owner of a Labrador that we will re-home their Labrador after they pass away thereby giving them complete peace of mind as to the future welfare and security of their dog.


And then there was Jet!  Jet was a black dog with a wonderful temperament that was brought into Rescue after he had been hit by a train.  His owners had no pet insurance and could not afford the veterinary fees as Jet needed a leg amputation and a partial tail amputation as well as treatment for internal injuries.  After his operations, for which The Labrador Rescue Trust paid, his owners asked us to re-home him as they did not want a three legged dog with half a tail!  We found Jet a really caring home by the sea inCornwallwhere he recovered, was very much loved and was able to run free on the beach.  A few years later, a charity fashion show was held in the West Country in aid of The Labrador Rescue Trust.  Many of our rescued Labradors and their new owners attended the show and, during the interval, the owners were allowed to show the audience their rescued Labradorson the catwalk – or the “dogwalk” as it became known that evening.  Jet came on last as the star of the show and stole the hearts of everyone there!


In today’s economic climate, there are many people who find themselves in very difficult financial circumstances and ask The Trust to find a new home for their dog as they simply no longer have the money to look after their dog.  Very occasionally, someone’s dog may need expensive medical treatment and, in exceptional circumstances, The Trust may contribute financially towards the costs rather than the owner have to give the dog up and put it permanently into our care.  Any such case is thoroughly investigated as, naturally, The Trust’s funds are limited.  It is always prudent to take out Pet Insurance to guard against such difficulties.


We will normally take any Labrador who needs help for whatever reason.  Over the years, we have rescued many stud dogs and breeding bitches from puppy farms that have often been kept in horrendous conditions with very little human contact.  They need specialist care, rehabilitation and, almost without exception,  veterinary treatment.  In addition, we have to fund expensive operations for some of the other dogs that come to us with medical problems and also pay for kennelling until caring new homes can be found for each individual dog’s needs.  We are fortunate to have built up a network of foster homes that help with rehabilitating dogs for all sorts of reasons. This is naturally less traumatic for the dogs and, of course, less expensive for The Trust.  However, we are constantly looking for additional good foster homes as many of the dogs are adopted by the foster home to which they have been allocated.


A stray dog becomes the property of the Council after seven days if it is not reclaimed by its owner.  This can mean that fully healthy dogs, that have been somebody’s pet, are often put to sleep for no other reason than the Council cannot afford to keep them if the owner does not reclaim them.   The Trust is frequently called upon by local Councils to rehomeLabradorsfor them.  I remember one Council in Wiltshire who actually charged The Trust a fee of £80.00 for rescuing a Labradorfrom their pound when they had telephoned us to ask us to collect and rehome it for them.  They would not waive their fee even though we explained that we were a Registered Charity and were being penalised for clearing up someone else’s misdemeanour and which, in turn, was saving the Council money by taking it and looking after and rehoming the dog.  We paid the fee in order to save the dog from being put to sleep.  We tried to reclaim the fee afterwards but, even after our representations to the Leader of the Council, they would not refund it!


These are just a few of the reasons why there is a need for Labrador Rescue.  There are so many stories that we have gathered over the years that I could write a book – although I have to say that some of the stories do not bear thinking about!


I am extremely proud of the achievements of The Trust and of all the volunteers who have helped to make it into the highly respected organisation that it is today.  The Labrador Rescue Trust is an approved Breed Rescue by The Kennel Club and is now one of the largest Breed Rescue Charities for dogs in theUnited Kingdom.


So, I hope that I have answered my opening headline “Labrador Rescue – Who needs it?”  We, the rescuers, don’t but, unfortunately, the dogs do!


You can contact us through our website, where you will find the telephone numbers of our Area Co-ordinators for your area and a great deal of other information – but, if you are already reading this online, you will already know that!  Should you wish to make a specific enquiry, you can also email or telephone 07791 519084.


John D. Cowell, MBE


October, 2012



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