The NEDWA gathering for International Women’s Day (8th March 2016) was held in Excideuil this year and our guest speaker was Leeanne Whitley from Twilight – The Retirement Home for Dogs.
Leeanne began by thanking NEDWA for voting Twilight as its chosen charity for 2016 and explaining how much it would mean to the elderly dogs who have a home with them.
Leeanne went on to congratulate NEDWA for providing a social network for women of many nationalities. We were reminded that the purpose of International Women’s Day’s is Parity. Parity for all women of all ages, nationalities, religions and social background. Parity, in the same way, is the aim of Twilight – parity for dogs of all sizes, ages and ability.
Leeanne then spoke to us about how they found themselves living in a retirement home for 30 dogs! Mike and Leeanne came to France 14 years ago with their three dogs. Two of the dogs passed away. Mike and Leeanne went looking in refuges to find a new friend for their remaining dog who was feeling a little lonely. It quickly became obvious that refuges were not happy places for elderly or disabled dogs who often led a miserable life and faced an uncertain future without dignity.
Leeanne and Mike went home from a visit to one refuge with five dogs. They chose four but whilst they were doing the paperwork they were aware of a dog living in a cupboard. The poor dog suffered epilepsy and the refuge had no choice but to keep the dog in the cupboard. Needless to say, the dog went home with Mike and Leeanne that same day.
In time more dogs arrived. Seven dogs, then nine dogs. Twelve dogs. Fifteen dogs. The current ‘average’ at any one time is 30 dogs and they try to keep a balance of males and females and always one, often more, disabled dog. The ‘disabled’ dog may be three-legged, blind or have no use of his/her back legs. Many of the dogs have been neglected, abused, bereaved, abandoned or are just ill and need care in their last days which a traditional refuge could not provide.
Mike and Leeanne provide a home for such dogs in every sense. There are no kennels – the whole house and garden is one big kennel and whilst their bedroom is the only area ‘off limits’ to dogs there is a quiet space set aside for nervous newcomers to settle or a sick dog to enjoy a peaceful end. The local Gendarmerie, Mairie and vet make regular visits to check that all is well and ‘correct’: safe, clean and providing the best care for the dogs.
Now in their eighth year with Twilight Mike and Leeanne take dogs from all over Europe and the only proviso is that the dog is 12 years old or more, critically ill or disabled. Leeanne currently turns away an average of four dogs a day through lack of space. Each and every dog is cared for as you would care for your own family pet: a place by the fire, a bed of his own, freedom to wander in the garden, food, medicine when needed ………. and love.
Inevitably, there are deaths, either naturally or with the help of the local vet but no dog is left to suffer or die alone – and each death makes way for another in need.
Leeanne told us the stories of three particular dogs who well represent Twilight.
Wolfie was in very poor health when he arrived at Twilight. He only lived for 20 days but those days were the best he could have had: warm, safe, fed and loved.
Queenie came from Spain aged 11. She had spent 11 years in a refuge and was a very scared and nervous dog. It took three months of gentle care and letting her find her way before she could react to, and trust, her new surroundings – three months before she was confident enough to enter the house.
Holly was the first of the disabled dogs to find a home at Twilight. Holly had been hit by a car and the spinal damage was severe. But, Holly had a ‘trolley’ and could move around the house and garden on her ‘wheels’ which did the work of her back legs. Holly was the first and founded a promise that Twilight would always give a home to a disabled dog. Basil followed Holly.
Leeanne finished the morning by telling us that Twilight is a 24/7 labour of love which starts at 6.00 a.m. for them. The care of the dogs is first and foremost but there are ordinary chores and daily life to do too. Dealing with donations, fund raising, e-mails, publicity and paperwork fits in as and when it can find a few minutes spare.
Every donation anyone makes is valued. Money pays vet bills, buys dog food and cleaning materials – as well as nappies for the incontinent disabled dogs. Towels and bedding are used as bedding, for washing and cleaning and mopping up ‘accidents’.
Donated ‘bric a brac’ is sold at vide greniers and other fund raising events. Any clothing which cannot be sold can be stuffed into a pillowcase and provide a doggie bed. Anything which cannot be sold or made use of at Twilight is donated to other, sometimes ‘human’, charities. Nothing is unwanted or wasted.
Leeanne ended by telling us about the star of the day: Ollie.
Ollie came with Leeanne to represent his canine friends and took a lot of tickling back home with him to share. Ollie is about 12 years old and had been sadly neglected – living alone in a box just big enough for him. He has obviously forgiven and forgotten his previous life and wandered around the room happily while we got ready and then settled himself down while Leeanne spoke to us.