Aspects: In for a Puppy, in for a Hound; Christmas Is Always a Busy Time at Birmingham Dogs' Home. Ros Dodd Meets Their Good Samaritan
Dodd, Ros, The Birmingham Post (England)
John Goodhead is gearing himself up for a particularly hectic few weeks. It's the same during the run-up to Christmas every year.
"Around this time, people have this horrible tendency of throwing their dogs out in order to buy a new model," says John.
"December is one of the worst months in terms of in-take."
New Year isn't much better at Birmingham Dogs' Home. For that's when the furry bundles that elicited such whoops of delight on Christmas morning start to lose their appeal.
"Once the kids start going back to school after the break, lots of strays start coming in," explains John.
"A dog is a companion animal; if it's left alone it gets bored and, like naughty little boys, it starts getting into things it shouldn't. But unlike naughty little boys, people can get rid of dogs."
John has been manager of the dogs' home for nearly 30 years. "I love animals," he says simply.
"My staff don't change very often, but when I have to interview anyone for a position or for work experience, I tell them straight that, here, nothing else matters other than the welfare of the dogs. They don't matter; nobody matters - all I'm interested in is the dogs' weleing."
In fact, the stray and abandoned dogs which end up at the home in Digbeth are looked after extremely well. Each animal has its own spacious kennel - centrally-heated in winter and air-conditioned in summer - with a bed and a toy to play with "until they tear it up". There's an adjoining area in which the dogs can have a run and they are bathed, fed and watered regularly.
Happily, most animals stay only a few days before they are either reclaimed by their owners or bought (pounds 40 plus VAT is the usual charge) by someone willing to give them a new and loving home.
A few are not quite as lucky. "I remember we had one dog that stayed with us for eight months," says John. "Most, however, are reclaimed or bought pretty quickly. There's a dog for somebody and somebody for a dog."
Last year, 564 stray dogs were claimed and new homes were found for a further 1,275.
A large majority of the dogs are strays, but many have been given up by their owners, either because they don't want them or they can't cope.
"We are the official City of Birmingham dog pound for the police and the council dog wardens and from the RSPCA we take dogs which have been involved in accidents but have recovered enough to go to new homes," explains John. "We also take dogs from a dog s' home in Hull when it gets overloaded and we take strays from the Coventry, Redditch, Bromsgrove and Droitwich areas.
"In addition, we do a lot of work with the social services, whereby we take dogs from elderly people who have to go into hospital. In many cases, their pet is the only thing in these elderly people's lives and they won't go into hospital unless they know the dog is being cared for."
Most of the pounds 350,000 it costs to run the home each year comes from public donations.
"We are a charity, so although the the police and council dog wardens pay us a capitation charge, we rely on money that is given to us."
One of the biggest misconceptions people have of Birmingham Dogs' Home is that if owners are not found within a certain amount of time, the animals are put to sleep.
"We do have to put some dogs to sleep," explains John, "but only for specific reasons: if they have an infectious disease, if they have little quality of life because of their age or condition or if they are not completely sound in temperament.
"There are those who say you should find vicious dogs a home, but I couldn't send a dog out knowing it might be dangerous.
"A lot of the people who do the pontificating on these matters are those who don't have animals. …