Nestled away in Kenagh, lies a beautiful haven for animals - and animal lovers.
Derryglogher Lodge, home to the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) National Centre, sees countless animals pass through its doors year on year.
While most are aware of the ISPCA’s work in rescuing, caring for, treating and rehoming vulnerable creatures, few see the dedication it takes to keep such a large volume of animals happy and healthy from day-to-day.
With that in mind, and after several reluctant promises to not bring home any animals myself, I set off to the centre to meet some of its adorable clients.
“All animals come from our inspectors,” Centre Manager Eva Ellis explained, as she led the way towards the stables.
Admitting that summer is the quietest time for the society in regards to equine rescue, Eva admitted that “you kind of see the same things again and again,” with the largest problems including malnutrition and skin problems. According to Eva, it can take between six to twelve months’ rehabilitation, in terms of physical and mental health, before a horse or pony can be rehomed.
“Every year we are saving more and more animals,” Hugh O’Toole told the Leader, but the Equine Supervisor was quick to point out that it doesn’t necessarily mean the problem is worsening, but that the society is becoming more effective. “Horses blur the line between pets and livestock” he said, adding “things are getting better, attitudes are getting better”.
In a nearby stretch of land, a few of the stables’ inhabitants basked in the summer sunshine, appearing calm and friendly, despite Eva’s explanation that one of them had been completely unhandled when she arrived at the ISPCA.
Moving through the centre, the cattery and the kennels were the next stop, and the most challenging, with outgoing, cuddly cats and cheerful, yappy dogs vying for attention.
All cats and dogs go through quarantine when they are brought to the National Centre, and have a health assessment.
“Kittens are generally rehomed with one month,” Eva pointed out. “It’s not unusual that older cats would be here for a year.”
Walking through the cattery, we met the Joyce family, who traveled from Mullingar just to pay a visit.
“We come down here every few months,” explained Avril Joyce, as she fondly watched her children Megan (6) and Elliot (8) play with two tiny, ginger kittens. “We adopted two cats from here before.”
“I think the ISPCA is absolutely fantastic,” she smiled, adding that the children “love it”. “They couldn’t wait - it [the visit] was on their bucket list for the summer,” she laughed.
The centre got even busier as we approached the kennels, with visitors enjoying the centre while volunteers helped walk and train the dogs
“Over the summer holidays or if the weather gets good it gets busy,” Eva said. Adding that anyone is welcome to the centre to enjoy the land and the beautiful woodland walk, she stated, “It’s nice for people from cities to come here, even with their children and spend as much time here as they want.”
With the centre operating over-capacity, donations and more importantly, volunteers are a crucial part of the ISPCA.
“We have about 70 volunteers,” Eva continued. “Some of them are basically members of the team or members of their families.”
Volunteers help out with every aspect of the centre, from maintenance and cleaning to observing and settling the animals and spending time with them to help with rehabilitation.
As Eva explained, the animals aren’t always brought in because of cruelty or abuse. Often, animals are neglected and not used to being handled by or spending time with people, so the volunteers provide an invaluable service.
Killian Dempsey was just bringing Gail back to the kennels after a walk when we met him. Originally from Wicklow but now living in Mullingar, Killian explained that the ISPCA was ‘amazing’, adding that he comes by to help walk the dogs.
Volunteer Co-ordinator Kelley Hynes was relieved to see such a busy day at the centre, as she revealed that she was working in the kennels on her own that day.
It’s a hectic schedule, with feeding, walking, cleaning, etc going hand in hand with the dogs’ rehabilitation, and while Kelley is grateful for the extra help, she added that they’re always on the look out for more volunteers.
As well as being offered a truly rewarding experience, volunteers also benefit in other ways, such as training schemes.
“We’ll help them if they help us,” Kelley smiled, adding that eager volunteers can contact her on 087 9539769.
Volunteer Claire Collins has been with the ISPCA on a job scheme for the past year. She looked at Abe, the tiny pup in her arms, before saying, “I love it. I love every bit of it.”
“It’s great for anyone to get involved, it’s worth every moment,” she enthused. The best part of her work, she says, is seeing a dog go to a happy new home.
Caroline McCormack from Athlone was training some of the pups, having done a course last year.
Hoping to continue on with her studies in September, she said the ISPCA has helped her get more experience with different dogs.
“You have your favourites,” she laughed, confiding, “I ended up going home with a dog a few weeks ago!”
It was an admission that this writer could empathise with only too well.
However, I managed to leave without a new pet - this time!