‘Shelter life is tough’: Helping dogs find their ‘forever home’ a fulfilling job
Hundreds of dogs are abandoned or surrendered to the Dogwatch Shelter in Christchurch every year. Journalist Emilie Moorhouse chats with Bridget Paterson about life at the shelter and why she loves her job.
Bridget Paterson pinches herself every day on the way to work and says she’s doing her “dream job”.
“My job is basically hanging out with dogs and doing what I do for dogs, we’re all dog lovers so it’s a really, really cool place.”
That place is Bromley’s Dogwatch Sanctuary Trust, an organization that rescues, recycles and rehoms unwanted dogs in the town.
Paterson joined the Dogwatch team at the end of March as managing director when the organization underwent restructuring due to staffing shortages with Covid.
The trust receives no funding and therefore relies heavily on volunteers, the Dogwatch Variety Shop in New Brighton and donations from the public.
Paterson has a background in marketing and fundraising, and previously worked for Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust before owning a jewelery store in the city centre.
However, she closed the store during Covid due to a lack of tourists and is now responsible for fundraising to keep Dogwatch running.
Like other Dogwatch staff and volunteers, Paterson is a dog lover and has admitted to growing attached to the dogs that come through the trust’s doors.
“Everybody is crazy about dogs here,” she said.
“Almost everyone who works here has a dog from here and they adopt them as well.”
Paterson has a rescue dog and cat, both from the SPCA, and said her mother was also a dog lover, so she was surrounded by growing dogs.
Because the organization is constantly operating at full capacity, they often juggle the dogs between 14 trust kennels, various foster homes and month-long adoption trials.
“Shelter life is tough for a lot of dogs, so if they’re nervous or don’t get along well with other dogs, it’s a really tough place for them, they can be very stressed, so we work very hard. tough with them on that,” Paterson said.
One dog in particular who struggles with the stress and noise of other dogs is Stanley, the two-year-old Staffy mix who has become a vital member of the administrative team.
Stanley is stressed by the noise of other barking dogs and tries to escape, often injuring himself in the process, so spends time in the office with staff during the day.
“He’s really relaxed there because he’s around people,” Paterson said.
The trust gets most of its dogs from municipal pounds like Waimakariri, Selwyn, Ashburton and the city.
The majority of them are abandoned by owners who can no longer take care of them, or they are abandoned and picked up on the side of the road.
Paterson said the hardest part of the job is meeting dogs who have been abused and hearing the stories of their past.
Two months ago, the trust had two small dogs dumped on the driveway in a crate one “freezing” night, while another with a broken tail was dumped on the side of the road.
“People do some pretty awful things,” she said.
“These are sad stories…it’s just disheartening the way some people treat an animal and when you’re an animal lover it’s hard to deal with.”
However, staff and volunteers work with these dogs to restore their confidence, giving them the chance to show their true character once they are comfortable.
In fact, most trust dogs are named after certain traits or characteristics they possess.
One dog in particular New Brighton residents know well was named Trapper, after several attempts to catch him while living in New Brighton Beach caused quite a stir on a Facebook community group.
Paterson said while staff and volunteers form a bond with each dog, they are thrilled to see them adopted into a loving, caring family.
“We couldn’t survive without these volunteers, they are amazing,” Paterson said.
The trust has 120 volunteers, with animal behaviorists and a qualified dog trainer in the mix, rehabilitating dogs with traumatic pasts that can make repatriation difficult.
Paterson said some dogs have been hit by objects such as a leash, so they have developed a fear of leashes that needs to be overcome.
“They each have their own little challenges. When we get a dog, we don’t know their full story, so we don’t know what we’re dealing with until we get to know them.”
Sometimes when a dog is adopted, it’s returned to the trust if the owners can’t care for it properly, which Paterson said was quite difficult.
“We always try to be really nice to people who have to return dogs because that’s often a hard thing to do…so we have to be supportive.”
Three-year-old Boss, a Rottweiler cross rescued from the council’s pound, is the trust’s longest-staying dog, having spent more than 600 days in the shelter. He is currently undergoing an adoption trial, which staff hope will be successful.
Staff and volunteers tend to keep in touch with the people who adopt the dogs and receive photos and updates on their health, even years after the adoption.
“We tend to have long-term relationships with people and they adopt one dog but then come back to get a second,” Paterson said.
This year marks 40 years of operation of the trust. To celebrate, staff want to build an adventure park for dogs on the trust’s five-acre lot.
The park will be equipped with tunnels, obstacle courses, sprinklers, a wading pool, a sandpit and everything a dog needs to play.
There is currently a Givealittle page with the goal of raising $40,000 by the end of the year.
Paterson said they had “a long way to go” with just under $3,000, but the trust will soon approach backers and launch a separate campaign, which it hopes will bring in more donations. .
“Life in a shelter for dogs is quite difficult, they don’t get the individual attention they would get if they were in a house, so something like that, which allows them to be challenged and to doing different things and just allowing them to play would be fantastic.”
- Donate to the adventure park here.