ALL year round, volunteers and staff at Margaret Green Animal Rescue Centre care for the county’s homeless animals – and Christmas is no different.

When we are waking up early ready to spend a day with our families, or tucking into a festive lunch, the horses, goats, hens, dogs, cats and guinea pigs will still need feeding and exercising. Rachel Stretton speaks to centre manager Kate Wickens on why, despite the hard work, it’s ‘the best job in the world’.

FROM the ‘gentle giant’ horse who’s a favourite with visiting children to the cat trying to steal Christmas presents, it’s clear every animal at Margaret Green Animal Rescue Centre has a distinct personality.

But currently, it’s the hens who have a special spot in the heart of centre manager Kate Wickins.

“We take in big batches of hens all at once,” she said. “They are killed at 18 months, at the end of their commercial life, but they make the best pets and are still laying eggs.

“When they come to us, they’ve never been outside before, never trod on grass. They’ve been in a cramped environment, so when you give them more space, they struggle to stand up at first. We give them space, with fresh straw and they just blossom. It’s amazing to see.

“They start scratching around, their natural instincts coming back. We love it.”

The hens are unusual in that they would be killed if they weren’t rehomed. Most animals who end up at the centre, based in Church Knowle in Purbeck, come from loving homes, and their owners have made the difficult decision that they can no longer look after them.

“Many people think that if an animal is given away, it must be unloved,” Kate said. “That’s just not true. Most people who give their animals to us are utterly heartbroken that they can’t take care of them anymore. It’s great that we are in a position to help.

“We have to support responsible pet ownership,” she added. “When people bring their pet to us, they feel a lot of guilt, sometimes they are almost expecting us to have a go at them. But sometimes, to be responsible, you have to admit your pet may be better off not living with you – and these people need support as much as anyone else.”

Kate keeps in touch with former owners, and lets them know when their pet has found a new, happy forever home. And she still hears from people who are thrilled with the newest member of their family.

Working in London eight years ago, Kate rehomed a cat and, this year, they tracked her down to Dorset and sent an email to say how much joy he had brought to the family.

“Rehoming really is the best part of the job,” she said.

Kate is a firm believer in the benefits of being around animals, and said she is ‘constantly amazed’ at how much support and fundraising the centre’s volunteers offer.

Lots of people have responded to a ‘Christmas gift’ appeal this year, so the animals all have something to open on Christmas Day. The presents are kept in the office, and the centre’s resident cat is always trying to get into them.

“People give us both their time and money,” Kate said. “We have kids fundraising for us. Volunteers come in and help look after the animals. We even have a group of ‘cat cuddlers’. It can be difficult for some of the cats, who are used to a lot of attention to come into the centre, where they don’t get that human contact everyday. So they come in and sit with the cats and stroke them. It’s mutually beneficial.

“We have a sheep called Phillip and he is really good at recognising people. So it’s the aim of all our volunteers to be recognised by him, and to get a ‘baa’ as a welcome.

“You can get so wrapped up in your working life, everything going at 100 miles per hour, but there’s a simplicity about being around animals, an innocent, quite basic, pleasure. Seeing people’s faces light up when they’re here is so rewarding.”

The centre is also a part of the community, working with local schools, with children who have been excluded from mainstream education or have special educational needs.

It’s a way of life for Kate, who lives on site. As well as looking after the animals and rehoming, her job includes managing volunteers, answering emails and welcoming the many people who drop by for a visit.

“It is a way of life and I love it,” she said. “We are very lucky to do what we do. It is stressful at times; you can’t always help everyone. When we are full and someone wants us to take their pet, there are times we have to say ‘no’, but we always try to say ‘not yet’ rather than a straight-out ‘no’.”

The centre is open seven days a week (but is closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day) and welcomes anyone who would like to drop by – it’s free and there’s no need to book.

Anyone interested in volunteering or fundraising should visit or call 01929 480474.

'Please do your research if you're getting a pet'

MOST of the animals that come into the centre are from loving homes, but sadly, that isn’t always the case.

One of Kate’s favourite members of the Margaret Green family was King Arthur the horse, who died of old age this year.

“He came in not long before I started at the centre,” Kate said. “So I think that’s why I had this connection with him. He had been used as a hunt horse in a previous life but unfortunately when he got too old to do that, he was given away.

“This is a big problem with horses today.”

But the story has a happy ending, as King Arthur lived out his retirement at the centre, where he became a surprise hit with visiting children.

“He was such a gentle giant,” said Kate. “I would often go out to the field and see three or four children making a fuss of him. He loved the attention.”

Pigs can also pose a problem for people, Kate added.

“We have a lot of pigs at the centre. Quite often they are sold as micro pigs when they are actually normal sized so they grow and grow and grow – and they are big animals, they are not easy to handle. Even the actual micro pigs will get a lot bigger than they are when you buy them as piglets.

“Like with all animals, it’s really important to do your research if you are getting a pet. Find one that is right for you, and that you are confident you can look after all their life.”