Dog rehoming charity SNDogs urges gift-givers to remember a dog is for life, not just for Christmas

NEGLECTED, starved or left for dead, hundreds of defenceless dogs are found wandering the streets of Swindon every year.

Thankfully, the small but unwavering team at SNDogs has embarked on a mission to end the cycle of cruelty by sheltering abandoned pooches until they find a loving home. It is now calling on would-be owners to think twice before adopting a pet – particularly in the lead up to Christmas.

“A dog is for life not just for Christmas; it’s a cliché but it’s true,” says Clare Fantini-Stephens, a volunteer with SNDogs.

“Dogs are members of the family.”

SNDogs, formerly known as Swindon’s Needy Dogs, was founded informally in 2012 by Jessie Bascombe and fellow Swindon pound volunteers.

The group offered to walk the animals in their spare time and give them much-needed exercise and attention. This snowballed and soon they began fostering the dogs while looking for good families to welcome them into their homes.

Overwhelmed by demand for temporary homes, Jessie and her team of 25 foster carers began welcoming dogs held in pounds across the country and even abroad. This prompted the group to change its name to Saving Needy Dogs or SNDogs in 2015.

Since 2012, the charity has rescued and rehomed 175 unwanted dogs from Swindon, Sheffield and kennels as far as Spain and Romania, where many faced being put to sleep. In the last 12 months alone it rescued 89.

While many breeds are relatively easy to rehome, some, like Staffies, are often spurned by prospective owners. Many have remained in foster homes for up to a year before being adopted. Finding homes for older dogs has also been problematic.

Last year 275 dogs were taken to or rescued by the Swindon pound, 60 of which were never claimed.

Of them six had to be put to sleep for behavioural reasons, four were rehomed directly and the remaining 50 went off to rescue charities like SNDogs.

On the face of it the figures were an improvement on 2013-2014.

During that time, 242 dogs were taken to the pound or found as strays but an alarming 80 were not claimed.

Nine had to be put to sleep, four were rehomed directly and 67 were sent off to rescues.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg as the council believes hundreds more are effectively being abandoned and passed around from home to home, some as many as seven or eight times in the space of seven weeks, via social media sites.

“We really have a problem with dogs being passed around from home to home through things like Facebook,” said Swindon Council animals officer Alison Waine.

“It’s impossible to know how many there are – it could be in the hundreds.

"It’s not possible to put a figure on it. The stats are purely based on what’s in the pounds.

"The problem seems to be getting worse but I don’t think we’re seeing it in an official capacity.”

One of SNDogs’ newest arrivals is Blu, a starved greyhound discovered in Sheffield which was days away from being destroyed. Blu is currently being fostered by Jessie.

Not unlike Blu and in one of the worst cases the charity has seen, stray Lurcher cross Patas, who was first rescued by a Spanish pound, recently arrived at the charity half-starved and wounded.

“He had several lesions on his nose and his ears were scabbed over,” said volunteer foster carer Claire Beale.

“He was in a right state, really frightened.”

“It doesn’t matter where they’ve come from for me it’s about saving dogs. It’s about unconditional love. They’ve been through so much torment. It shouldn’t happen.”

Fellow foster carer Clare Clarke said: “When they come to us they’re shaking, they’re petrified.

“They are lovely, most of them are house trained, they sit and wait for their dinner and you think, ‘What have they done to deserve this? Why would anyone do this?’

“They are so grateful for someone to look after them. All they’re looking for is love – and food.”

While some pets are abandoned by owners due to unforeseen changes in circumstances, for example elderly people forced to move into care homes or unable to look after their dog due to illness, the majority simply failed to consider the cost or responsibilities that come with adopting a dog.

“People need to think before they get a dog, especially at this time of year when people are given puppies as presents,” said Clare, who joined the charity in August and is currently fostering two spaniels, Ricky and Nola.

“People get the puppies and then start to get fed up, it’s too much or they can’t be bothered to walk them or they get bigger than they thought.”

In the last 12 months more than 47,500 dogs were abandoned in council pounds in the UK, unclaimed by their owners.

In total 102,363 stray and abandoned dogs were handled by UK local authorities and 5,142 were put to sleep – that’s one dog every two hours.

Foster carers at SNDogs not only take in dogs in need but are instrumental in finding them a suitable home.

Once a would-be owner has come forward, they receive a home visit from one of the volunteers.

If everything is in order, they will "adopt" a dog on a two-week trial to ensure they are a good match.

During this trial period, the charity pays for everything from food to toys and bedding.

If the prospective owners decide not to go ahead with the adoption after a fortnight, they will not have spent a penny.

“If you’re not thorough then a dog can end up on the streets again – it’s a vicious circle,” said Clare Fantini-Stephens, who works as marketing officer at Swindon Dance.

“Two weeks gives them time to understand the implications of adopting a dog.”

If they do decided to welcome the animal into their home, the minimum donation is £180.

“Making people pay shows a level of commitment and of course the charity then needs the money to rescue other dogs,” said Clare Clarke.

Then comes the hardest part from volunteers – letting their little charges go Every dog is also neutered and vaccinated by the charity at a cost of £109 on average per dog.

Yet the volunteers receive no funding and rely solely on donations and regular fundraising events and street collections.

While nursing back to health sick and often traumatised animals has taken its emotional toll on volunteers, giving in to anger and bitterness is fruitless. Instead the team focuses its energy on educating people locally and pre-empting rash adoptions.

“There is no point being angry,” said Clare Clarke, who lives in the town centre.

“Some people make bad decisions, others have their reasons.

"All we can do is educate people. The dogs are defenceless. They are the ones who pay the price and get a hard deal.”

To become a foster carer, adopt a dog, or donate money, food or toys to the charity visit