I’ll be home for Christmas?
Its Christmas day.
You have no idea where your family is, or indeed, where you are. You woke up in a strange bed, and you didn’t sleep well as the residents in adjacent rooms were making too much noise.
On your left, behind a stone wall, an unseen youngster has been crying for their mother. Behind the wall to your right, an older gentleman bangs on walls and shouts to be let out. He is clearly quite stressed, and now so are you.
This nightmarish scenario is the daily reality for animals in shelters across the UK and Ireland, and unfortunately, Christmas day is just another day in a kennel for abandoned dogs. Many of these poor pooches have come from warm, loving homes, but due to illness, death, or a change in living circumstances, their families have had to make heart-breaking decisions to give them up.
As costs continue to rise, many rescues are struggling to meet demand as more and more families find themselves unable to provide for their pet.
With kennels full, the burden of caring for so many animals weighs greatly on our staff and volunteers. Being spread so thin, many of us leave work with a heavy heart, wishing we could have spent more time with the animals in our care to give them the attention and love they so dearly deserve. Unsurprisingly, the physical and emotional burden of working with relinquished animals can lead to high levels of stress and burn-out within this sector during the holidays.
The worst, however, is yet to come.
Every year, thousands of animals are gifted to friends, family and children for Christmas. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, everyone is off work, you have lots of love and attention to give and the kids are delighted. But when the new year rolls in, people are back to work and school has started back, the day-to-day reality of taking care of a sentient being, with his or her own needs and desires, becomes too much to cope with, leading to a large proportion of these “Christmas gifts” being abandoned post-holiday.
Despite the great work certain animal charities have been doing to convince people that “A dog is for Life”™, every year our exhausted animal carers are left to pick up the pieces when a sleepy Christmas puppy turns into a high-energy teenage dog that the kids don’t walk or clean up after. And from the dog’s perspective, being torn from the warm embrace of a family to take up residence in a comparably less comfortable kennel is hugely distressing.
For this reason, many animal charities, including Assis Animal Sanctuary, avoid rehoming too close to Christmas, to slow the higher-than-average return rate come January.
Yes, I know. So far, I have painted a picture of doom and gloom, not exactly the fun and fluffy festive feature you probably prefer to read at this time of year. It’s not all bad news though.
Despite the struggles and heartbreak those of us in the animal welfare world witness, I find myself incredibly privileged to occasionally get a glimpse of the best side of humanity, particularly during this season of giving. Last week, for example, we received an Amazon package full of beautiful Christmas toys for our animals that one kind supporter had ordered for us.
We have almost daily donations of food, treats, and cosy blankets for the animals dropped up to our sanctuary by members of the public. One particularly astute donator sent a cash gift, strictly earmarked for treating our hard-working staff and volunteers (which went towards some well-deserved beverages at our Christmas party!)
Most heart-warming perhaps, is the number of people who have offered to become “Assisi Angels” and open their homes to temporarily shelter an animal over the Christmas period. Taking part in this foster program is a wonderful way for individuals and families who can’t commit to the lifespan of an animal to take one in and give them some extra love and care while their lives are less busy.
This also provides much needed respite for the dog, who may not be coping very well in a kennel environment, allowing them to feel “normal” even if just for a few weeks. This short break from the stress of kennel life can improve their resilience when they eventually come back into our care to look for their forever home. And it helps relieve some of the pressure on our over-stretched teams of animal welfare workers, most of whom will continue to work through the Christmas period, taking time away from their families on Christmas day to provide care and attention to the animals that remain on site.
Many rescues, like us, rely heavily on the kindness of animal lovers nationwide to keep our doors open and continue to care for animals in need. If you find yourself full of Christmas spirit and would like to help our rescue efforts, you can visit https://www.assisi-ni.org/donation/.
You could also be a Secret Santa to our animals by purchasing a gift for them via our Amazon Wish List, or if resources are tight this year, consider using Amazon Smile to do your shopping, meaning Assisi receive a small donation for every purchase you make, at no extra cost to you! Click Here To Find Out More
And of course, if you live in Northern Ireland and you have time and space to house an animal temporarily you can register your interest here: Assisi Angels.
Wishing you and yours a happy, warm, and comfortable festive season,
Assisi Animal Welfare Manager
Editor’s Note: Richard McMullan, our Chair, is also Chair of Assisi Animal Sanctuary in Northern Ireland and he asked Katharine to share her thoughts about running a sanctuary at Christmas. There are hundreds of rescue charities and we’re sure they’d love your help this Christmas, whether it’s a gift for the animals or a donation.