BLANKETS FOR BABY RHINOS
Craft conservation group supports wildlife orphanages and anti-poaching units by supplying them with knitted blankets.
Tiny baby rhinos and other wildlife orphans are being helped to recover and stay warm thanks to a remarkable initiative launched in Britain.
Vet Elisa Best heard from friends in South Africa how baby rhinos arriving at animal orphanages were terrified, traumatised and often hypothermic due to the cold.
Together with a friend she launched an appeal on Facebook in 2016 for knitted squares in order to make blankets, but instead they found themselves inundated with a number of beautiful colourful blankets from all over the world.
Elisa, from Monmouth, says: “I was overwhelmed by the talent and good will. We soon had more than we needed for rhinos so branched out to other species.
“We have donated over 2,000 handmade blankets since we started. We also make beanies, scarves and gloves for those out on patrol.
“The rangers in particular are touched to receive handmade goods often from very far away, many of them may never have left their local area, let alone the country and it means a great deal that someone on the other side of the world is thinking of them and grateful for what they do.
“We ask our members to attach notes of support for the rangers, which they do and it's lovely to see how touched they are.
“We feel that the extra moral support is vital for these people on the front line.”
After Elisa’s knitting group rapidly expanded, she established the initiative as a registered charity in both the UK and South Africa, with the aim of also raising awareness about the poaching crisis.
Collectively the charity has raised more than £36,000 to provide feed and equipment not just for rhinos but also for anti-poaching dogs in the Kruger National Park and to support other wildlife centres in three continents caring for endangered animals.
And Elisa says it's reaffirmed her faith in humanity.
"Being part of this group has made me realise there are a lot of really good people out there," she says.
"Everyday I’m surprised by their kindness. People you know don’t have much money who will still give and donate to us. every single penny we raise goes to the beneficiaries which is what makes us different to a big charity, we run on good will."
She's using the platform to raise awareness about other animals too and how our planet is in dire need of help.
"It's so depressing watching how our planet is going and we’re losing animals left, right and centre. It’s not just rhinos, we’ve also tried to help with pangolins.
"Even species that weren't endangered before, like giraffes, are now so if you do nothing it makes you feel sad and depressed. At least if you can channel that energy into something positive and know you’ve done something good."
It's not just baby rhinos who are benefitting from the charity, it's members are too.
"A lot of people have said being part of this has changed their lives, it’s given them a purpose and given them something to do.
"I’m really grateful for winning this award on behalf of the charity, it’s not a one man show, it’s a huge group effort. The response has been phenomenal."
SUSANNAH LOVEGROVE AND RONNIE THE DUCK
Wheelchair-using duck nursed back to health after a near-fatal fox attack brings joy and companionship to his family.
Ronnie, a three-year-old black Cayuga duck, was the sole survivor of a fox attack that killed his best friend Reggie and girlfriend Cagney. He suffered two broken ribs and spine damage, leaving him unable to walk. His devastated owner Susannah Lovegrove, who pulled him from the fox’s jaws, was advised that he might have to be euthanised.
But determined to give her beloved pet a second chance, Susannah pulled out all the stops in a bid to save him, taking him to a physio and building him a specially adapted wheelchair. Ronnie even has his own yoga mat for his daily exercise.
“Ronnie means so much to me,” explains Susannah, who lives with her patient husband Giles and three children in Oxfordshire. “I hatched him and his brother Reggie under a hen. They grew up quite naughty ducks, chasing the other chickens and the dog. So we got them some wives. I was totally devastated when Reggie, and one of the girls, were killed in the fox attack, so I was determined to save Ronnie in any way I could.
“After the attack, I did think it would be a case of having him put to sleep which was heartbreaking. But we wanted to give him every chance, and the vet agreed to give it a couple of days to see what happened. Thankfully some feeling did come back in his legs and feet and so we agreed to give him pain relief and get him some physio.
“The animal physiotherapist had never seen a duck before, and tried electro-magnetic therapy for his ribs and when he regained his strength he got on a treadmill a few times which showed that he could do a stepping motion.
“We have had numerous vet visits over the last few months, we do daily exercises on his yoga mat, he has daily swimming sessions in the bath, and he has massage on his feet and legs to help nerve repair. I even built him his own set of wheels, it's basically a sling on wheels, which you can push around. It simulates the treadmill, and also gives him support when he is eating, washing and preening himself. It also gives him social time with the other ducks without them trampling on him.
“Making the wheelchair was quite a challenge, I have only just got it to a point where the wheels don’t fall off every time it moves. But he seems to like it and often has a little doze in it. He can’t push himself along yet, although he can go backwards. But it really is good for supporting him when his legs are tired.”
Due to his complex needs Susannah has had to take Ronnie with her on trips as far away as Cornwall and Bedfordshire and he sleeps every night in the kitchen with the family dog.
“It’s been a long road to recovery,” adds Susannah. “The attack left him seriously injured but he has done amazingly well, and defied the odds. I love him so very much, even though he often bites me. He is a little hero, and this is an amazing achievement for him and a real honour. He captured my heart a long time ago and it’s just lovely that he captured the hearts of the nation too.”
Horse has helped to transform the lives of children and disadvantaged young people at a groundbreaking inner city riding club.
When Mikhi Fearon first arrived at Ebony Horse Club as an 11-year-old, he was scared of the animals.
Now 17, he is not only a keen rider, but a young man with a bright future - thanks in part to one very special horse.
Splash is the pride of Ebony Horse club, a pioneering charity sandwiched between tower blocks in Brixton, south London, that gives children and young people the chance to take up riding.
For 25 years, the club has worked with some of the capital’s most disadvantaged communities and supports young people from the age of eight to develop a love of horses and also learn key life skills and self esteem.
Mikhi says: “When I first came, I was actually afraid of horses. But I soon grew to love them. It is such a unique location, there is nothing like it around here and has helped so many young people like me.
“Ebony has given me so many opportunities and skills. I have learnt so much about horses and nature and Splash in particular helped me gain so much confidence.
“At school I was really energetic and I did not know how to control that but through coming here, I learnt that horses react to your vibes, and it helped me calm down.
“I soon realised you couldn’t be excited all the time next to a horse, especially Splash, who can also be excitable. I feel like Splash is one of the nicest and most mischievous horses I have met. He is definitely a hero to me, he is the only horse who has helped me in so many areas become the man I am now.”
Ebony’s engagement manager David Fleming, says: “Splash is a gentleman. He has also proven to be very successful working with young people with additional needs due to his gentle nature. I have worked with many horses, and Splash is a truly unique and inspirational individual.”
Naomi Howgate, general manager of Ebony Horse Club adds: “The young people that we work with would not be able to access horse riding anywhere else. Lots of the kidshave additional challenges as well, and have been referred to us by social services, or they have challenges at home or at school.
“Splash so deserves this award, he has helped hundreds of young people to gain confidence in themselves and in riding. I could put someone on him who has never ridden, and they would be fine. He has helped those scared of horses, those who have a physical disability or additional needs, and yet he is so patient and kind and they know they can trust him. He is a total hero, and absolute star.”
Pony horrifically disfigured in a suspected acid attack had a ‘world first’ pioneering operation using fish skin to heal its burnt face.
Cinders was eight months old when she was found wandering in agony with horrific burns to her face, believed to be caused by an acid attack.
When she arrived at the Rainbow Equine Hospital in North Yorkshire she was heartbreakingly weak and unable even to open her eyes due to the severity of burns to her eyelids.
Cinders’ heartrending story was followed around the world and soon donations from wellwishers to help her recover came flooding in.
Meanwhile the hospital scoured the globe to find someone with the right expertise to help her.
Jamie Peyton, who had developed a process of using fish skin grafts to treat animals burned in wildfires, flew in from California to perform the surgery in May 2018.
She worked with a team of vets, and a plastic surgeon from the world-leading burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.
The team worked on Cinders’ wounds, cleaning them before applying a dressing made from the skin of a tilapia fish to Cinders’ face to aid the growth of fresh tissue.
Vet David Rendle from the equine hospital explained that fish skin was used because it is a good source of collagen and retains moisture well.
After recovering, Cinders found a forever home at a beautiful country house in North Yorkshire.
New owner Julie says: “I don’t know how anyone could have done something so awful to such a trusting and gentle little creature. There are no words. Luckily she is so happy and healthy now. She stayed at Rainbow for about five months before she came to me, and she is now around three years old.
“I fell in love with Cinders the moment I saw her, she has been nothing but a joy to look after considering what she has been through. She is loving, trusting and inquisitive and has built up a special bond with two little donkeys that share a stable with her. They do everything together.”
Julie added: “I am so proud of Cinders and how she has come through this, she so deserves this award. She is an absolute hero and just a wonderful part of our family.”
Hundreds of people donated money towards her ongoing treatment, raising more than £17,000, including an elderly couple who drove 100 miles every week for a month to drop off £100 and to enquire on how she was getting on.
Jonathan Anderson, from the Rainbow Equine Hospital praised the generosity of the University of California Davis Veterinary Teaching Hospital who sponsored Jamie Peyton to come and treat Cinders and funded her travel.
“We also were in awe of the amazing collaboration of the plastic surgeons from Pinderfields all of whom gave their own time and expertise for free on two occasions to help operate and perform facial reconstruction for Cinders,” added Jonathan.
He also thanked the hard work and dedication of the team of interns, nurses and vets from who “poured their heart and soul into caring for Cinders over the course of several months and made her life worth living again”.
Schoolboy is raising money to help blind children like him despite his own brain tumour battle.
Three years ago, Theo underwent surgery to remove a tumour from his optical nerve. When he regained consciousness after the operation he had lost the sight in both eyes.
Theo had to relearn how to navigate everyday tasks, but always met every new challenge with determination and a positive attitude.
Despite ongoing chemotherapy, the youngster decided he wanted to help other blind children, and began to raise money for the charity Guide Dogs.
Theo, from Alford in Aberdeenshire, has carried out a series of running challenges, tandem bike rides, craft fairs and collections at his local supermarket in order to raise money. He also sells homemade dog biscuits.
So far Theo, 13, has raised enough money - £6,500 - to name two guide dogs in the charity's Name a Puppy scheme.
He named them Theo and Harvey, and is now well on his way to raising enough money to name a third.
“The fun runs were the best challenges I’ve done, and the support I had from my parents was really important,” says Theo. “My aim is to get my own guide dog when I am independent. The best thing about getting a dog will be having a dog of my own and having the companionship and he will probably become my best friend.”
The brave youngster is determined not to let Covid stop his fundraising challenges, planning to climb the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, as soon as he is well enough.
Theo still faces an ongoing health battle. His tumours are benign and are primarily in his brain, but a scan earlier this year revealed more tumours in his spine. He has started a two- year course of chemotherapy which ends in December next year.
Dad David, a construction project manager, said: “Theo has been doing well and we were hoping to get him a guide dog but his brain operation put him back, as it has affected his memory. For someone to get a guide dog they need to get to know their local routes. So we will be working on that.”
He adds: “We are so proud of Theo. He had an operation on his brain last July and has been in and out of hospital. His doctors are also in awe of how far he has come.
“Yet he has shown more courage, determination and stamina than most adults. That is just the kind of boy he is. Even lockdown hasn’t stopped him, he was building bird boxes that he went on to sell at school and to friends and neighbours to raise more funds.”
Sal Chapman, Guide Dogs’ National Name a Puppy Manager, said: “Theo is just a superhero, an absolute legend. His tenacity is incredible. To go through everything he has at such a young age, most adults would have thrown in the towel, but Theo just carries on. We need more Theos in this world.”
ASHA AND JIA KIRKPATRICK
Sisters persuaded cereal giant Kellogg’s to change its palm oil policy to help save orangutans threatened by devastating deforestation.
Like so many people, Asha and Jia had no idea what palm oil was, or how many products it is found in.
But when they learned from a TV documentary that it is used in everything from food to beauty products, and has a devastating impact on the habitats of orangutans, the girls felt they had to do something.
Asha, 13, says: “Watching the documentary made me feel really heartbroken, I didn’t even know what palm oil was before I watched it. Just the fact it was making such a big difference to orangutan habitats with deforestation and our world."
Jia, 11, adds: “It made me very sad to see how loads of orangutans’ habitats are being destroyed due to palm oil.”
Palm oil farming is having a devastating impact on the great apes’ habitat and threatens to wipe them out.
Asha and Jia were particularly concerned to discover palm oil was in their favourite breakfast cereals, made by Kellogg's.
The sisters decided to boycott Kellogg’s products until it changed its palm oil policy and started a petition asking the business to make a commitment to sustainably sourcing palm oil.
Asha and Jia wrote on their change.org petition: “We are sisters and we love orangutans. We were really upset when we saw the numbers being killed and orphaned every year are being increased by companies who want cheap palm oil – and it has to stop now.
“Twenty five orangutans are killed every day due to palm oil and we must take action now. As well as wiping out rainforests and the wildlife that thrives within them, cheap and irresponsible palm oil companies are also killing people. Due to the toxic gases of burnt down trees, around 110 people die a year. An area the size of a football pitch is torn down in Indonesia’s rainforest every 25 seconds - this has to stop!”
The schoolgirls, from Leighton Buzzard, Beds, gathered more than 780,000 signatures and Kellogg’s bosses agreed to meet them in December 2018.
The company promised to launch an inquiry into their palm oil supply chain and discussed the idea of having a rainforest friendly logo for products which do not use palm oil.
Two years on the company has amended its Global Palm Oil Policy, pledging 100% of its palm oil would be sustainably sourced by 2025.
JOHN AND GILL DALLEY
Driving force behind the Soi Dog Foundation, tackling the plight of street dogs and cats in Thailand.
In 2003 there were an estimated 70,000 strays living on the streets of Phuket in appalling conditions.
John, then 53, and his late wife Gill, 44, had retired early to Thailand that year after falling in love with the country on their honeymoon. But far from taking it easy, they realised that the next chapter in their lives would involve helping thousands of street dogs and cats.
He says: "After Gill and I got married here in 1996, we talked in the following years when we came here on holidays about trying to do something about the horrendous problem that existed with stray dogs.
"In those days there were an estimated 70,000 stray dogs, the conditions of them were appalling. Most of them were skeletal and covered in mange, on every street corner you’d see stray dogs. We decided the only humane way we could do something about this was through large-scale sterilisation."
They met a Dutch woman who had set up a charity called the Soi Dog Foundation and joined forces, deciding that the best long-term solution to the street dog and cat problem was a mass spay and neuter programme.
One year on they faced a heartbreaking setback - while rescuing a dog from a flooded field, Gill contracted a rare form of septicaemia and lost both her legs.
But she continued to work alongside John, building a huge complex of shelters to help rescued dogs and establishing an overseas adoption programme.
They were also among the first foreigners involved in drafting legislation to make it illegal to eat dog and cat meat.
John adds: "We have grown a lot. During that time we’ve managed to achieve a lot of other things. Thailand now has an animal welfare bill and the consumption of dogs and cats is now illegal. We helped put an end to the dog meat business and the trade of dogs from Thailand to Vietnam, as well as the local consumption and skinning of dogs for fur."
Hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats have been neutered since Soi Dog Foundation’s inception, including more than 80% of the stray dog population in Phuket.
In 2019, Soi Dog Foundation achieved over 100,000 spay/neuter procedures and is now neutering and vaccinating more stray animals than any other organisation in the world. They also run the largest and most comprehensive dog and cat hospital in Asia.
Gill passed away in 2017 but John is committed to carrying on their commitment to the street animals of Thailand.
Coronavirus has affected the tourism trade of Phuket, meaning many people with dogs have fled the island to find other work and left their animals behind.
But John says the generosity of supporters has kept the charity afloat.
"Thanks to all of our wonderful supporters in the UK and around the world, we have managed to keep our doors open. I made a pledge not to close our doors to animals that needed us. I'm accepting this award on behalf of all of you.
"I want to thank everybody who supported us. I am just sad Gill can’t be here to share it with you."
Tiny kitten with facial abnormalities won the hearts of deaf couple who saw past her unusual looks and fell in love with her unbreakable spirit.
When Ruby Buttons arrived at Battersea at just seven weeks old, it was immediately clear to staff that she was a special kitten that would require extra care.
Born with a cleft lip, Battersea’s vets discovered that she also suffered from a rare congenital abnormality where one of her eyeballs was underdeveloped, and they had to remove it to ease her discomfort.
As a result the kitten struggled to find a home, and staff feared it was due to her unconventional looks.
Then one day, Deborah Cochrane - who had been looking to rehome a cat with her partner Alex - saw an article about the kitten in a newspaper and her heart melted. “The minute I read her story, I knew she was the one for us. Her wee face just got me,” she explained.
“I had planned to adopt or foster older cats but reading that people were overlooking her because of her face made me want her more. Nobody wanted her because of how she looked, and she was very small. Alex and I talked it over and we applied to get her.
“We are both deaf and have to overcome barriers every day, because of the way we are, and I thought it was so unfair that Ruby was missing out too because she was a bit different. To us it just made her extra-special. Just because Ruby’s face was a little different didn’t mean she was any less perfect.”
A perfect match was made. Now safe and happy in the couple’s home in Birmingham, Ruby Buttons is thriving. “I’m glad she was overlooked because she fits with us so well and makes us so happy. Ruby Buttons has changed our lives. I wanted her so much that I felt like I’d won the lottery when we were accepted. She is definitely one in a million.”
Deborah adds: “I am not surprised that she has won the hearts of the nation because she is so adorable. She might only have one eye and a hare lip but she is still a cute little kitten, fluffy, and brings so much happiness to us. She should never have been ignored or dismissed because she has an incredible personality too. She really deserves this award.”
Ruby Buttons has now been joined by three-month old brother Nuno, another rescue, and the pair are getting on famously.
“Rescue is the way forward, they just want a loving home. If you can give them one, do it. The rewards are endless.”
Police dog’s superb tracking skills found a missing mother and baby on the edge of a ravine on his very first shift.
Max and his partner PC Peter Lloyd were on their first assignment together in August when they joined the search for the woman and her one-year-old child.
The pair had been missing for two days, and officers from Dyfed Powys Police were scouring the area where she was last seen, supported by Brecon Mountain Rescue and a National Police Air Support helicopter.
PC Lloyd says: "I met Max first in February this year, he was brought to us as a potential police dog and he was untrained at that time and had very basic commands.
"By our very first shift together a report came in of a vulnerable female and young baby who had gone missing the previous day. They’d been missing for some time so there was big concern.
"There was a one year old baby, it wasn’t a warm day and at night the temperature had dropped considerably, she’d been out all night with the child. You do ramp up your search and give it that extra bit.
"His training is to search for open areas. We searched all sorts of terrain, ravines, valleys, lakes."
Inspector Jonathan Rees-Jones said: “The woman had not been seen or spoken to for two days, which was out of character, and her phone wasn’t working.
"Thanks to excellent work between teams, her car was quickly found on a mountain road. Although this gave officers a location to search from, there was still a vast area to cover given the amount of time she had been missing. This is where PD Max’s tracking skills really came into play.”
After 90 minutes of searching, Max, a two-year-old German Shepherd cross, led PC Lloyd to the edge of a steep ravine, where the woman was waving and calling for help. Mother and baby were cold and tired, but otherwise unharmed.
PC Lloyd adds: "Max remained focused throughout the long search and he proved invaluable when he reacted to the call for help which resulted in us locating them.
"What Max reacts to is listening to noises and voices. We were searching quite hard in a deep fern area and I thought I heard a little shout. He spun his head, he looked up the bank and was very focused on where the shout came from. I reacted to that and then he guided me to where he thought it was and together we were able to locate them."
When Max found the mother and child, PC Lloyd says she was relieved but also in distress.
PC Lloyd adds: "She was cold, clearly upset and it was really pleasing for me they were in a position where they could speak to me, the baby was ok.
"Max remained focused throughout the long search and he proved invaluable.
"Max had such a successful job on his first deployment, you’d never expect to have such a great result from him. It was a difficult search, a long search. We're all so proud."
MAX, PADDY AND HARRY
Pooch pals became a social media sensation as their antics helped people struggling with their mental health during lockdown.
Kerry Irving credits springer spaniel Max with saving his life when the effects of a serious road accident left him suffering depression and feeling suicidal.
Before the accident, Kerry loved to run, walk, cycle and swim in the great outdoors. But significant injury and crippling pain prevented him from getting back on his bike and he faced a long period of rehabilitation.
“Before I met Max my life was very different,” he says. “I was very outdoorsy, loved cycling, walking, swimming, camping. I lived for the outdoors. Then a truck ran into the back of my car and that changed my life forever.
“After my accident and being housebound for two years, I started to suffer from severe depression. My doctor suggested maybe walking would be a good way of changing my habits and getting back outside.”
He followed his doctor's advice and when his wife asked him to nip out for a pint of milk, Kerry met Max, his neighbour's dog, who he instantly connected with.
Kerry, who lives in the Lake District town of Keswick, says: “One day my wife sent me out for a pint of milk, which was a huge thing for me. Max lived round the corner from us and I knew straight away he was a special dog.
“I saw Max's nose sticking through the railing of a gate.I stopped to say hello because I'd had spaniels when I was younger. He looked at me and straight away there was a connection.
"Stuck in a yard, it was as if he was saying, 'My life's pretty rubbish and yours doesn't look much better'.
"For me, it was a tiny glimmer of what life could become again. I looked at him and he looked at me, the bond was formed and off we went. We started our adventures from there.”
He adopted Max seven years ago and slowly but surely, Kerry found the strength to get back out in the world again.
Springers Paddy, four, and Harry, two, joined the clan more recently and now Kerry has a trio of dogs who help him face life everyday.
“All three of my dogs are heroes but Max is my life saver and he’s the one who got me outdoors,” says Kerry
“And without Max we wouldn’t be here today. Initially it was confidence, being able to go out with a dog was really good for me. If someone sees you with a dog they smile and stop and speak.
“That’s imperative for someone with depression, having someone there to listen.”
Recognising how his walks with the dogs had helped his own wellbeing, Kerry decided to to help others struggling with their mental health by filming their adventures and sharing them online.
Since he started four years ago, Max, Paddy and Harry now have 144,000 followers on Facebook.
During lockdown, the films took on a new importance, helping and inspiring those struggling with isolation and helping to raise awareness of people battling depression.
Kerry has also written an inspiring book about how his dogs help him every day, called Max the Miracle Dog: The Heart-warming Tale of a Life-saving Friendship.
Last month Kerry asked followers to support them in their mission to climb the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, selling more than 40,000 tickets for an online raffle, and helping to raise a total of £100,000 for the PDSA.
Kerry is thrilled his loyal pooches have won this award. He says: “Like my dogs, it means everything in the world to me.”