Downfall of the Alternate Animal Sanctuary

It’s time to regulate private animal rescue sanctuaries.

The events surrounding the demise of the Alternate Animal Sanctuary in Lincolnshire demonstrates the urgent need to regulate such enterprises and shows there are instances when animals need protection from their saviours. The situation began with a lady who found she “could not say no” – a common weakness with some animal rescuers, and ended with three police raids over a period of eight months and hundreds of animals removed for their own safety and well being. And this at a great cost of time and money to the Police, other animal charities and local authorities. This kind of scenario is being played out commonly in the UK and around the world.

The sanctuary owner was in self denial and unable to understand that she was doing anything wrong and maintained she was not to blame. In many respects this was very true. Much of the blame rests with the animal owners who dumped the animals on this obviously vulnerable lady and those who helped and encouraged her to turn her collection into a registered charity which she was clearly unable to manage.

It also pinpoints what happens to many unwanted animals that have been refused under selective intake policies by other major charities because of their age, illness and behavioural problems. More on selective intake policies.

And most of all, it highlights the lack of powers the local authorities, the police and the Charity Commission have in the UK to regulate or close down such mismanaged premises when it all goes wrong.

Police and animal charity vehicles outside the Alternate Animal Sanctuary.
When mismanaged rescue charities fail, the costs to the police, local authorities and other animal charities which must step in to take the animals is enormous. Photo: Anna Draper

The Alternate Animal Sanctuary was visited, or raided as the media like to call it, on three occasions between May 2019 and January 2020 and hundreds of animals removed including dogs, cats, horses and pigs. Three dead cats and a half cremated dog were found. The owner’s comments to the media regarding the dead cats and dog regrettably demonstrates the misguided nature and the state of mind of the sanctuary owner.

I knew some cats had died but couldn’t find them due to the large size of the enclosure and I wanted help to “catch-up” on the cleaning. I did look, but I clearly didn’t look hard enough. The RSPCA did find three cats and that clearly does not look good, but it was an exceptional case, not run of the mill.”

“Because I don’t get any help, when one of the big dogs died, I didn’t have anybody to help me lift her in the car so all I could do was try to incinerate her, I wasn’t very happy about and it made me feel quite sick, but it seemed the better of two things to do. But obviously I hadn’t made a very good job of it”.

“I don’t go looking for the animals people come to me as a last resort.”

The sanctuary appears to have been operated by just one woman, with little or no help, “caring” for an alleged 400 animals and had a certain notoriety in the local area being well known as a dumping ground for unwanted animals “that no one else was prepared to take” and “I could never refuse to take”.

It had come to the attention of the media before any raids took place, but they were more interested in making the owner a celebrity with the Sun newspaper declaring her a pet lover for having 106 dogs in her house. A TV channel 5 documentary “The Woman With 106 Dogs” included a piece on her and other animal obsessives, but the media seemed to be celebrating their eccentricity rather than the harm they were doing to the animals.

Charity Commission steps in.

The charity was registered in 2013 and due to mismanagement the charity’s auditors were unable to properly audit and provide the Commission with the legally required annual financial records. Incredibly what charity accounts there were, indicated that over £1 million was being raised annually through a third party fundraising agency, but little of the money was being received by the sanctuary and it was in debt. The agency was taking 70% of the donations for fund raising initiatives.

The Charity Commission belatedly began investigating the charity for financial irregularities in November 2016 with a Statutory Inquiry beginning in March 2017, and interim managers were appointed by the Commission in 2019. Meanwhile the sanctuary continued operating with the owner taking in more animals to fill the places of those taken away.

The Commission stated that they had: “serious concerns about the charity’s apparent over-reliance on the agency and the rate of return to the charity.

The Commission is concerned that the public is unaware of the proportion of donations that is consumed by the costs and fees associated with the agreement against what is used on caring for abandoned and neglected animals”.

England & Wales Charity Commission

Word was also going out on some social media sites from concerned animal lovers and potential donors who were receiving “begging letters” from the fundraising agency seeking money on behalf of the sanctuary. They began to question what was happening to the donated money.

Sleeping dogs at Alternate Animal sanctuary.
Some of the 106 dogs sleeping in the owner’s house. Photo Sanctuary Facebook page.

Losing their rationale.

The sad fact is that the owner’s rescue efforts were probably well intentioned at first and she may have genuinely believed she had the first interests of the animals at heart, but had become totally out of her depth and blinkered to the state they were being kept in.

Operating sanctuaries where animals are kept for life without the chance of rehoming need a firm hand at the helm and there is a fine line between true altruism and hoarding. There has to be limit for the sake of the animals involved in order to prevent the saviour from causing the suffering everyone is attempting to avoid. Many animal lovers unfortunately lose their rationale along the way through pressure and anxiety and it can all end in tears for the saviour as well as the saved.

But the stress and anguish to the animals when they must be removed for their own safety is the most tragic consequence of it all. This needs to change – and soon.

READ MORE – Alarmingly and amazingly, anyone can set up an animal rescue charity regardless of experience or ability.

Watch the Channel 5 documentary “The Woman with 106 Dogs” on iPlayer MY5 for more information on animal obsessives.

Author: John Brookland

John Brookland has been passionate about animals from an early age and has always been more concerned about their individual health and well-being than any scientific or zoological interest. During his long and varied career in animal welfare in the U.K. and worldwide, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into animal welfare issues. On leaving school he trained as an RSPCA clinic assistant in London and later was manager of one of their veterinary hospitals and an animal centre. He was Chief Inspector and manager of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau and spent time in Trinidad advising on a humane stray dog control service, before becoming a deputy manager and animal health inspector at Heathrow's Animal Quarantine Centre. He then travelled the world for a conservation group investigating the capture and transport of wildlife for the pet trade and was an honorary consultant to the IUCN and CITES. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places and writing a blog and books on animals.