This week, a 'bigger than your average Four Thoughts' is focusing on an inspiring community story to mark Somerset Day. We’ve been talking to Happy Landings animal shelter and finding out about the awesome work they do to rescue and rehome different kinds of animals in need.
If you’re looking for a new member of the family or are interested in animal welfare, check out what they had to say when we asked the four questions we thought you’d love to know the answers to.
1. How did the animal shelter get started & what types of animals do you care for?
In 1978, a little dog called Buffer inspired Annabelle Walter to start it. Buffer was the worst rescue case she’d ever seen - tied on a chain for 14 months, malnourished and dehydrated. He had parasitic problems, weighed just 11lbs and was dying. His owner was eventually taken to court, but was only fined £25.00 even though he had caused so much suffering. In Annabelle’s capable hands, Buffer made a full recovery and with the help of her parents, Betty and Jack, they bought Heaven’s Gate at West Henley, near Langport. We moved the rescue centre to Shepton Mallet 20 years ago and changed the name to Happy Landings. We rescue and re-home farm and domestic animals and we’re also a boarding facility for dogs and cats.
2. Can you tell us about some of the animal characters you've helped over the years?
Frazer is a character that stands out! As many people will know, Frazer lived at Happy Landings for 5 years. He watched so many dogs come and go and was longing to find a home of his own. People would walk him regularly and take him out for trips in the car, but we really hoped to find someone that could do this with him all the time.
Due to his past, Frazer found it hard to trust dogs and needed time to get to know them, which many would-be homes found difficult. Eventually, after 5 years, Helen and Frank came along. They totally fell in love with Frazer and we couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect for him. They sent us this, which says it better than we could:
“I'd like people to know that adopting an older dog with "issues " isn't as scary as it sounds! Having Frazer in our family has enhanced all our lives and bought us so much joy. He’s such a fun little character, with a big streak of Scallywag! When I first met Frazer he seemed quite shy… with his big brown eyes and expressive eyebrows, but his waggy tail hinted at a more excitable nature! I decided I'd like to get to know him better before making any rash decisions and came back several times over the next few weeks, bringing family members and their dogs to meet him. They all got on well. When my husband first met him, Frazer just jumped up and licked his face and I knew it was time to take him home. In the time he's lived with us, we've had so much fun and adventure. Seeing him loving his walks and being let off the lead to run over the fields is a joy to watch. Even more of a joy is that he comes back! We've learned to trust each other and what situations to avoid. I forget he has "issues" because in his new environment, they are rarely encountered.”
And then, there was Coco.
Coco came to us just after Christmas 2014. She was already struggling with an older child and there was a new baby on the way. When she arrived at Happy Landings she had shut down completely. She slept as much as she could, stayed hidden away and would only sneak out to eat. Gradually, with time and patience, she began to come out of her shell a bit. Using a variety of food challenges and explorations of the garden, she began to talk to us and make eye contact.
Coco was incredibly slow to trust. She had a very sensitive area on her back and would bite too, so she needed an adult-only home and patient people to invest time in gaining her trust. We found them! This is what Rox & Pete said, after she was homed:
“Coco has already made herself at home. There was no way she was staying in one room so she's explored much of the house already - sat on windows sills and tried the kitchen surfaces! She's been rubbing around my legs, coming when I call and letting me stroke her - she's fabulous!! She loves looking out at the back garden from the window sill. It's like she has lived here for years!”
3. We’ve heard about your 20th anniversary regeneration project. What exactly is it and how can people help?
Well, we’re a very, VERY old site (20 years since we took it on and it was a boarding kennels before that) and our regeneration project will eventually modernise all areas. The first phase is brand new kennels - the BARK Appeal (Boarding And Rescue Kennels). We want to make sure the experience is the best it can be for our animals and this includes making sure their mental state is as calm as possible. To do this, we’re looking at a few things:
Isolation Kennels. This would be a space for dogs with unknown vaccination histories. There are four of these kennels planned, so we could help more dogs in need – in particular, dogs that would be rejected by other local services. There are many instances of dogs in Somerset having no option of care, so this will provide a highly important improvement in local animal rescue provision.
We’d also add a Grooming and Medical Room. Enabling treatment on site would reduce stress for the animals.
A Quiet Room would replace the current ‘Quiet Shed!’. Many of our animals become distressed by noise in the main kennel block and the new design would reduce noise levels substantially. This space is absolutely key for particularly vulnerable animals, who need to learn how to trust again and build relationships with new families. We’d love to furnish this space like a home, so that traumatised animals could get used to a welcoming home environment. It would be used for one-to-one time with animals as well.
We need to raise £906,000, so there’s lots of spreading the word to be done! People can support us and the animals by buying a virtual brick, a row, or a wall via Just Giving, or simply give any donation at all. People can also text BARK15 to 70070 or send a cheque, payable to Happy Landings. Any support would be absolutely brilliant and we’ve already raised £31,000 from people hearing about our plans locally. It’s an amazing start that we’d love to build on.
4. For our fourth ‘Four Thoughts’ interview question, we usually always ask "tell us a secret no-one else knows" but instead, could you tell us what the secret is to finding a happy home for your animals?
We take great care to match the right animal to the right owner - that’s the secret! The first part of that is completing an application form for the animal you’re interested in offering a loving home to. We’ll then check if (on paper at least) it looks a good match. If it does, we invite the potential new owner to come and meet the animal. For cats, it usually takes a couple of visits depending on the cat - some may need more bonding time. For dogs, we need a minimum of 3 visits and all family members (plus any existing dogs) will get to know each other. If all goes well, we then arrange a home visit and if that’s positive, the new member of the family is formally adopted.
Animal rescue is close to our hearts at Somerset cool. We’ve had 2 rescue cats and are about to home a rescue Lurcher pup. For us, charities like Happy Landings do amazing work that is sometimes overlooked - and whilst the initial reason for setting up the charity left us with tears in our eyes, just think of how many animals have been helped as the result of a little dog called Buffer, the amazing spirit of Annabelle and the awesome staff who are now carrying on what she started, all those years ago.
If that’s not Somerset cool, then we don’t know what is!