Q&A from Community Engagement Event on 13 June 2022
Thank you to each and every one of you that took the time out of your busy day/evening to attend our community engagement event on 13th June. It was really important to sit down and meet our supporters face to face and listen to your views and feelings. It also gave us an opportunity to update you on our thinking as well as to answer any questions you had about the Charity.
We have taken on board all of the feedback and it is clear that Trustees and everyone who attended the event share the same objective: to maximise the care and support St Francis can provide for dogs with the resources that have been kindly donated over many decades.
We even had a guest appearance from former St Francis Rescue Dog, Baxter who put a smile on all our faces .
Thank you to The Sands Resort Hotel, Newquay for having us.
For those of you that were unable to attend, we have collated a Q&A which will contain responses to questions raised previously and at the event. We hope that this provides clarity and transparency about how the Charity will ensure the care and safety of dogs moving forward.
The Trustees have taken on board the feedback and strength of feelings. In particular we have noted,
- The need for more regular communication and transparency
- Broad support for dog fostering with behaviourists, veterinary assistance and other resources from St Francis. This is something that can bring immediate benefit for dogs in the local area which is our primary objective. We appreciate the feedback that this depends on recruitment of good fosterers but based on extensive discussions with other dog rescues and working with experienced dog behaviourists the Trustees believe this model for dog care can successfully meet this objective. We will be following through with this plan and more updates will follow
- The strong local support for St Francis and desire to utilise our current fantastic location. There are problems with the site (such as drainage) and the kennels in their current state do not meet DEFRA animal welfare guidelines. However, we share the desire to retain our work to help dogs on this location and will look at all the options for how the site can again become part of the local community it was previously. This includes investigating refurbishing some of the current kennels, a more limited build and making better use of the training hall and grounds. Again, more updates will follow.
The Trustees and everyone who attended the community engagement day share the same objective – to maximise the care St Francis can provide for dogs locally with the resources that have kindly been donated over many decades.
Starter question – In a nutshell, what is your current thinking?
Response – We want to do three things:
- We want to help dogs as soon as we can,
- Place each dog with a suitable experienced, trained and supported fosterer,
- Provide a good level of professional behaviourist and other support for our dogs and fosterers as well as owners.
Therefore, we will not be proceeding currently with the construction of the new kennels building, as we had planned. That decision is due not only to cost increases, but the risk of further increases and delays that could push the cost to exceed what the Charity could afford to pay.
The pandemic has also had a massive impact on dogs with many poorly socialised dogs coming to rescues. Housing them in homes offers many advantages over kennels for dogs not yet well accustomed to domestic life, and professional behavioural support is crucially important. Therefore, it is vital that we quickly adopt a model that can ensure rehabilitation and support. That doesn’t exclude the use of kennels as well.
Question 1 – Where is the rescue sector currently and where will it be in 5 years’ time?
Response – While no-one can say for sure, the research we have undertaken has identified a number of changes.
There has been an enormous increase in dog ownership during the pandemic. Many of these new dog owners are first-timers and are inexperienced in dog ownership. Some of the new dog owners might decide not to keep their dogs.
Particularly significant is that lockdowns have made it challenging to socialise puppies.
Other usual factors will affect all owners, like deaths, sickness, family breakdown, etc and so the low level of relinquishments early in the pandemic is expected not to last.
A new factor is that a large number of people in work have been home-based, and some of them will be returning to working in offices, etc. This will lead to a change in the need for support on behavioural issues from dogs experiencing separation anxiety, poor socialisation and a range of other issues.
Also, the massive surge in imported dogs (some of whom are not well suited to UK home life and can bring medical and behavioural issues) may well lead to relinquishments of dogs in need of a lot of behaviourist input.
These are just some of the trends that have been identified.
Question 2 – The obvious thing to do is to use the kennels already on site. Why are you not doing that?
Response – St Francis Dogs Home had suffered from a lack of investment in the past and so, when the state of the buildings was reviewed it became immediately apparent that they were in a very poor condition and did not meet modern DEFRA standards. The boarding kennels were closed first as they would clearly have failed to meet the newly introduced licencing standards. Subsequently the rescue kennels were closed.
The Government is planning to introduce licencing and standards for rescue kennels in the near future (as has already happened in Scotland).
The existing buildings, which we believe are no longer fit for purpose and are economically beyond repair, would probably need to be demolished. The timber framed training barn at the southern end of the site and the ‘bottom six’ kennels can be retained. Several people at the recent Community Event confirmed from their experience the very poor state of the kennels.
Question 3 – Build costs have been going up during the pandemic. Why, now the application has been approved, has this come up?
Response – Build costs have been going up for some time, but several factors have recently hit the construction industry all at once: The Ukraine war and associated sanctions have hit many industries unexpectedly, particularly with the scarcity of energy (and many building processes rely on energy, for example the manufacture of concrete and certain plastics). In addition, there have been global shortages of materials and labour and Britain has suffered from these factors, overlaid with the trade barriers and labour shortages due to Brexit exacerbating the inflationary pressures. Many in the building industry say they have never seen a time like this before.
While some of this was indeed present before the planning application went in, the war and other pressures have escalated the problem quickly since then. The plan that was submitted for approval was fully costed however once granted, and plans having been re-costed, the revised costs had increased significantly.
Question 4 – Why have you not communicated these issues to all your loyal supporters and given us the opportunity to raise money for this ‘amazing state of the art, fit for purpose building’?
Response – It is normal to rework estimates of the cost after planning consent has been achieved so that any requirements made by the planning authority can be incorporated. In our case we were fortunate that there were none, so immediately on gaining planning consent we asked the architect and quantity surveyor to give us their latest estimates. It was then that the effect of the inflationary pressures became clear. We then needed to see whether there were ways to reduce the cost further, but only small further cost reductions were made.
Our conclusion was not simply that the cost had increased, but that the building market was now so volatile that it would be wrong to embark on a major building project at the current time. The risks of delays due to material and labour shortages, as well as of further cost increases, meant that it would be the wrong time to embark on such a project. Fundraising from supporters and grant-giving trusts would not take away those massive risks so it would still be equally wrong to go head at the current time. The risks would be too great for the Charity to take. A different solution to helping dogs was needed.
Question 5 – We were told fundraising would happen during the closure, why has this not happened?
Response – There are several types of fundraising, including from trusts that specialise in supporting building projects for dogs, as well as the type of giving by supporters, and community events that we are all more familiar with.
Work had started on trust fundraising for that stage of our project. Asking individuals and the community for support normally comes later, when we are helping dogs again. It is, however, fortunate that we had not asked for funding for the building that we had planned to construct as those plans have been forced to change.
Question 6 – Why have you not looked at short term income generation?
Response – We are very happy that our fields and training hall are being let commercially to a dog trainer. This means we are still able to help dogs on site and it is providing income for the Charity. Other options will be considered but our priority is to help rescue dogs so we want to put our time to the fostering project and investigating the longer-term building options explained previously.
Question 7 – Why are you recruiting for a Fundraiser on an annual salary of £38,000?
Response – We did try to recruit a fundraiser with a wide range of skills and experience to handle everything from trust and corporate fundraising to digital, individual and community fundraising. However, we were not able to find the right person at that time so we paused that to reconsider.
Question 8 – Why were plans not put in place before closure?
Response – At that time Trustees did consider delaying the closure until plans could be fully developed, but the Charity’s costs were well in excess of income. To delay further would have meant reserves would have been used up. Therefore, it was necessary to close at that time to preserve funds so that we could start helping dogs again in the future. If trustees had delayed, all the reserves would have been used and there would have been nothing left.
Question 9 – Why did you make it such a high-tech build?
Response – We wanted the best for dogs in our care and a modern kennel building is far more complicated than kennels built 5, 10 or more years ago.
More is understood about welfare and health issues, for example how best to reduce the risk of disease spreading. That was a severe problem with our old kennels. It is almost inevitable that some dogs coming into rescue bring in disease with them and when that happened in the past it was very common for otherwise healthy resident dogs to catch the infection or disease. There is far more science now available to reduce that risk by using modern design principles.
Similarly, we have more understanding of the part that stress can play in lowering dogs’ immunity to disease so design features that reduce stress and improve the dogs’ welfare have an added benefit in reducing their likelihood of catching disease when it is introduced – a double benefit.
There is a third and different factor. Our old buildings were not well maintained and so had fallen well behind in many ways. We therefore needed to invest in a completely new drainage system, and improve the environmental standards of the buildings which were built, many years ago, to very low standards. Playing our part in reducing our effect on the climate emergency is a dog welfare issue every much as it is a human issue. The planning authority was satisfied that we were doing the right things in that respect, but they all cause the project to be more complex than simply a few kennels.
Question 10 – What happened to legacies, donations and other funds during the closure?
Response – All the Charity’s funds are there to help St Francis Dogs Home look after dogs. Listening to people at the Community Engagement Event helps us. We will make decisions on the most appropriate ways to do this. During our closure our income exceeded all outgoings and we are now in a stronger financial position than before the closure.
We also want to reassure all supporters that the legacy of the late Margaret Jean Wiles, known to us as Peggy, is still here and growing. Peggy kindly donated an incredibly generous amount to the Charity and this will be used and recognised as part of our plans. We want to look into having a plaque thanking and commemorating Peggy Wiles. We could also remove the existing plaques on site and replace them all together so that all our major benefactors’ generosity and their memory is recognised into the future.
Question 11 – What are the plans for the buildings now?
Response – The Community Engagement Event was planned in order to listen to local people’s comments and so we have not yet made final plans for the buildings. However, it is clear that we cannot go ahead with the building as planned, and we are considering all options on what alternative plans would best help dogs.
Question 12 – What are the plans for the site moving forward?
Response – During the pandemic we have continued to use the Training Barn and field for dogs by letting these out to a local dog trainer. Our intention is that St Francis’ dogs can still benefit from both of these fabulous facilities. Space is one valuable factor in working with dogs (and their fosterers and owners) on behaviour modification programmes. Dog behaviourists and trainers always prefer to have an outdoor space to work in. We are hoping to use our facilities as part of our operations in the future. Our building plans have been put on hold but, until a decision is made, we aim to engage fosterers to help dogs more quickly.
Question 13 – What is fostering and how is it beneficial to the dogs?
Response – Fostering is where a trained and experienced person agrees with the Charity to look after one of our rescue dogs (or occasionally more than one) in their home and work with us to rehabilitate the dog until it is ready for rehoming. Each rescue dog is assessed behaviourally and then placed into a suitable home environment.
It is generally recognised that rescue dogs’ benefit from being in a home as they get the benefit of regular human companionship and love. They also get used to all the normal things that happen in a domestic environment which, for some of the emotionally damaged dogs who come into rescue, can be an essential part of their rehabilitation.
While there can be benefits to kennels, these relate more to scale – the ability to take in more dogs at any one time – and some dogs, particularly well-adjusted dogs, are perfectly content to live in a kennel environment for a while. Dogs that have been used to kennels in the past (ex-racing Greyhounds for example) can happily adjust to new kennels.
It is well documented that dogs placed into a kennel environment don’t always enjoy their time there. It can be a stressful time; they don’t always have their individual needs met and we don’t always see their true behaviour. When placed into a foster home they can be exercised more frequently, worked with individually and have the enrichment they quite rightly deserve. We can also paint a true picture of their character and behaviour. This in turn gives us an idea of the correct and best forever home they will need.
Question 14 – Fostering has never been a St Francis model and we have always had dogs on site, why change this?
Response – We have often involved fosterers in the care of St Francis’ dogs. It is not new to the Charity. We would place the dogs with fosterers where that was the most appropriate placement for a particular dog. Examples would be dogs who were showing signs of being stressed by kennels, or the occasional pregnant bitch who could give birth in a quiet home and the puppies would learn about living with people far better with a fosterer. Although puppies are, nowadays, relatively rare in rescue, they would almost always go to a foster home to make sure they were properly socialised and habituated to human lifestyles. Fostering could form part of a hybrid system whereby dogs are also situated on site.
Question 15 – What happens if you can’t find foster families?
Response – We have done research into this and we are confident that there are still suitable homes, people and families around to involve in this rewarding but sometimes challenging work. We will support fosterers with specialist expert help, including from a behaviourist.
We would aim not to have every foster home full all the time so that we can respond to urgent needs for a dog to come in. At the Community Event people told us about fosterers who needed to stop fostering and this again is a good reason for having some spare capacity – fosterers without a dog at times. In that respect fostering is a more flexible model than kennels. When all the kennels are full, there is no way to flex the walls to take in more.
We have built up excellent working relationships with other rescues and we support each other to help dogs. We will always do what is best for any particular dog to meet its needs.
Some of those partner rescues have fosterers and can advise and help us in setting that up.
We have the support of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home which successfully has a foster care strategy in place. Battersea is happy to continue to work with us and have already offered us valuable advice.
We have also gained valuable advice from other dogs’ homes that also implement this type of successful re-homing.
Question 16 – How do you plan to recruit foster families? How will you ensure that the foster homes are suitable?
Response – We will be very careful to make sure that fosterers are suitable both to act as fosterers and also to match each dog and its individual needs with their fosterer. We will ask for information in advance and then visit potential fosterers and meet all members of the family if they live with other people as part of the selection process. We will consider their experience and whether they have what’s needed to foster a dog, including their willingness to give up the dog to a new home, so that they can help another dog…and another and so on. Fostering definitely is not a ‘try before you buy’ arrangement where the fosterer takes on the foster-dog permanently and then is no longer available to help dogs in the future.
We will provide a training programme to follow, and we will require many different types of foster homes. We aim to build up a bank of fosterers. Here are some examples:
- a family home environment
- a home that already has a dog/other pets
- a quieter home willing to take on an older dog
- a home that can work with a dog that has certain behavioural issues such as separation anxiety or resource guarding
- a child free home or one with no other dog.
Question 17 – Would a dog being in a foster home and then moved to their forever home be even more disruptive?
Response – It is two moves, like moving from a home to kennels, and then to another home. But it will benefit from a loving home and specialist behaviour support to help it to become well-adjusted and better able to handle the next move.
We have no concerns regarding moving a dog from foster to its forever home. With the correct support for the dog and the awaiting home it can be achieved easily.
A plan can be put in place for this transition for the dog. Where needed we can arrange a gradual build-up of dog spending time with new owner. For example, the dog can start from having a walk, then staying the day, to then staying the night. We will go at the pace of that individual dog’s needs, all advised by behavioural assessment.
Question 18 – How will you continue to monitor the health and safety of the dogs once they are in their foster home?
Response – We aim to look after our fosterers and our dogs while they are together and we will visit as well as keeping in touch on social media and phone.
In fact, the process starts before then as our behaviourist would always undertake a behavioural assessment on a dog in advance of the placement in a foster home.
Dogs will also come to the site with their fosterers where they can benefit from focused behaviour work based around each dog’s needs, on the fields and in the training barn.
We intend to employ a Manager and a Behaviourist, who will both work together with the fosterer.
St Francis will continue to fund all Veterinary costs including neutering, provide a quality diet as diet can play a huge part in behaviour – wanted and unwanted.
By all working together the dog will be kept a very close eye on and support given throughout.
Eventually we even plan to give support as needed once the dog is in its adoptive home.
Question 19 – What are the changes to the Board of Trustees and why have these been made?
Response – Good governance requires a certain degree of change in any Board of Trustees and we have been very fortunate in recruiting people who are experts in their fields over the past two years. Tracey Collins, Chair of the Board of Trustees, has now stepped back from her position. We are incredibly appreciative of all the time and energy that Tracey has given to the Charity over eight years. Our commitment remains to provide the best possible care for dogs and to futureproof the Charity for years to come.
We want to thank Tracey for all that she has done for the Charity during her time as Chair.
We would also like to thank our longstanding Trustees John Rabey and Jennie Gough as they retire as Trustees from the Charity.
Question 20 – How will these Trustee changes impact the dogs and the new building?
Response – The Charity is governed by the Board as a whole, and not by individual Trustees. That ensures that the Charity can continue to move ahead whenever there are changes to the make-up of the Board. All Trustees are committed to the objects of the Charity, as set out in its constitution, and will work tirelessly to make sure that the Charity can continue to help dogs in the future. Trustees were looking at how best to use the site, kennels and buildings for the benefit of dogs and will continue to do that. All Trustees have joined because of their passion for dogs and their welfare. The changes do not affect that process.
Question 21 – Who is now the Head of the Trustees?
Response – The Interim Chair of Trustees is currently Anthony Kinder. The constitution of the Charity requires the Board of Trustees to appoint a Chair and this is currently under consideration.
Question 22 – If you are recruiting new Trustees, how will you ensure that these individuals echo St Francis’ values and will help safeguard the charity in the future?
Response – We have, for some years, had a careful and thorough recruitment, selection and induction process for new Trustees. This has included in-depth conversations and an interview as well as a ‘meet-the-Board’ session. It is important that this is a two-way process and it continues after appointment with signing a Code of Conduct as well as ongoing opportunities for continuing development in the role.
Question 23 – What are the new timescales for the home?
Response – The most pressing need is to start helping dogs and so we will be prioritising that aspect first. There is a lot to set up to get it all going – recruiting staff and volunteers including fosterers, insurances, website, partnerships, etc.
We’ll have to see how long that takes but we want to start small and build up gently, learning as we go. We anticipate that could take 6 to 12 months.
Overlapping, in part, will be social media updates and the start of fundraising.
We will also be re-looking at the questions around building work. Logically that can be informed by the experience we have gained from helping dogs using the fosterer model.
Question 24 – How will partnerships help dogs?
Response – The animal welfare sector is particularly strong on partnerships and our dog partnerships help in a variety of ways. Locally, rescues speak with each other about space so that a dog needing to come into rescue can be helped even if there might not be space at the first rescue that the owner tries.
Some rescues have strengths in certain breeds and so if a dog of that breed needs help its needs can sometimes be better met by transferring it to a specialist with the right knowledge and facilities. We have already made new collaborative partnerships with several charities based in the South West during our temporary closure.
Taking a wider view, rescues can help each other with training for staff and volunteers, experience of matters like IT, GDPR, fundraising, resources, and many other topics. St Francis has long been a member of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) which gives immediate access to a huge number and spread of partnerships with other member rescues.
Question 25 – What are your plans for Beaver Lodge?
Response – We are considering our options but we no longer need the bungalow for staff accommodation. We are speaking with property experts about what we can best do, for example whether to sell or let it, and whether we need alternative planning consent. We also currently have a local Architect reviewing the possibilities for the site and hope to sit down with the Planning Department in the next few weeks.
Question 26 – Will new jobs and volunteering opportunities be created for the local community?
Response – Yes. But our main aim is to help dogs. Staffing has always been small. We used to have five staff and the number in the future is likely to be similar, with a range of duties including dog welfare, education and fundraising. Also, local people enjoy volunteering for a dog charity and there will be volunteer opportunities also.
Question 27 – Have you been helping dogs while the Home has been closed?
Response – We have grant-funded partner rescues, some of which have helped our dogs. We have ensured the rehoming of many former St Francis dogs, we have helped people who came to us to relinquish their dogs, and dogs are still using our field and training barn. We have also helped several dogs in the community suffering from behavioural issues. Successfully re-homing the dogs has allowed St Francis to form good connections and relationships with other Charities.
Question 28 – Can the site be used as a hub for the local community including access to dog grooming and dog behaviourists?
Response – All options are being and will be considered.
Question 29 – Can supporters visit the site to assist in providing input in to how the site could be used moving forward?
Response – A site assessment by professional behaviourists and building experts has already taken place and we have been advised that it would not be viable to refurbish anything other than the 6 newest kennels. It would also not be suitable to house dogs in these kennels whilst building work is being undertaken elsewhere on site.