Retirement home for dogs
We arrived in France in 2002 after two years spent in Greece. We both suffered from ill health and we felt living in a warmer climate with a more relaxed pace of life would do us good. Greece wasn’t quite right for us so we tried France instead, mainly because it was affordable and we could be closer to family.
“When we left the UK we had three Golden Retrievers, and shortly after arriving in France we were down to our last one, so we visited some refuges to try to find her a companion. We were horrified to find that in many instances, there was no place for old dogs in them – they were often put down before they even got there or were in very poor condition. So we took one home, and then a little while later, took on another. Then we had a call from the original refuge asking if we could take another old boy. Before we knew it we were getting calls from retirement homes and hospitals when people came in with old dogs they couldn’t keep with them, and mairies when old dogs were found abandoned or their owners had died.
“By 2010 we had around 30 dogs and it was becoming expensive to keep them. We had a lot of supporters and wanted to keep it all above board so we set up as a charity, which was surprisingly easy to do. All you need to do is fill in a form at the préfecture and have an accountant.”
The couple generally have around 30 dogs at any one time, all of which live in their house. Stays range from as little as eight days and they’ve had their current longest resident for three years. While some dogs are rehomed, Leeanne says that they generally regard themselves as a hospice for dogs.
“Of course it is upsetting that most of the dogs die. But, take the example of Tim who we had recently, who arrived malnourished and maltreated. He was only with us for two weeks but during that time he was clean and fed, received veterinary care and was loved – doesn’t every living being deserve that?”
The dogs get Leeanne and Michael up at around 6:30am. After the dogs are fed and various medicines administered, the couple spend around three hours cleaning the house, changing nappies on several dogs and dressing sores. “Many are incontinent, some are just lazy,” says Leeanne, “so cleaning takes up a lot of our time. Fortunately the entire house is tiled!”
The afternoon is spent on admin and walking the dogs that are able, and there may also be visits to the vet. The couple work closely with a trusted vet and will euthanise an animal only when they feel they have no quality of life.
The charity raises around €30,000 through simple fundraisers by their supporters and the money is spent on food and vets’ bills. They are also grateful to receive donations such as old bedding. “We’re lucky to have a lot of supporters and volunteers,” Leanne says. “If I have any regrets, it’s only that we didn’t start doing this sooner so we could help more dogs.”