Special report: Banbury animal charity BARKS looking to the future, but needs our support

BARKS chair Ann Collins with a kitten on its way to a new home NNL-181231-092355001
BARKS chair Ann Collins with a kitten on its way to a new home NNL-181231-092355001

For over four decades Banbury’s oldest animal charity has been caring and re-homing small animals with little fuss or fanfare.

This year they hope to change that and publicise the great work they have continued to do, attracting more members and sponsors.

BARKS (Banbury Animal Rescue and Kindness Service) saves, cares for and re-homes cats, kittens, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, hedgehogs and small rodents each year. They have also begun to take on a few foster puppies.

Their name, as well as being a clever acronym, is no accident as chair Ann Collins explains: “Kindness is central to all that we do and always will be – it’s our watchword.

“We aim to be kind in all we do, not only to the animals who rely on us but to all the people who support us in so many ways.

“We’re combatting an ongoing nationwide lack of understanding about what it really means to commit to owning a pet and being accountable for that animal, even when your lifestyle changes.”

BARKS members and volunteers 2018. From left Sophie Fickling, Theresa Grant, Marianne Kern, Pat McCombes,  Joyce Turner, Solomon Kennedy, Ann Collins (Chair), Sia Mason and Jo  Allen. NNL-190401-105348001

BARKS members and volunteers 2018. From left Sophie Fickling, Theresa Grant, Marianne Kern, Pat McCombes, Joyce Turner, Solomon Kennedy, Ann Collins (Chair), Sia Mason and Jo Allen. NNL-190401-105348001

She added: “Sadly, in Banburyshire as elsewhere, the trends in poor pet ownership are constant year on year. It’s our job to save the casualties and educate the new pet owners.”

BARKS has developed its own care and hygiene standards as well as thorough processes to attract and assess loving new owners for the animals.

Ann said: “All adopters are visited and assessed. We have a contract that requires long-term care of the animal, with vaccinations, flea and worm treatment, safe holiday care and, above all, neutering.”

With two rescue centres in Bodicote and Woodford Halse, last year the team succeeded in adopting out almost 200 cats and kittens and cared for over 350 animals.

If the animal still has quality of life we will make sure it enjoys that life.

BARKS chairman Ann Collins

Ann said: “We’re also proud of our record in caring for animals that other charities might turn away, ones that can never be re-homed as they have illnesses or injuries that require our teams to give them special attention.

“If the animal still has quality of life we will make sure it enjoys that life. We only ever euthanise on a vet’s advice.”

West Bar vet Richard Byrne, whose team is one of two Banbury vet practices to work extensively with BARKS at discounted rates, is proud of his partnership:

He said: “For many years we’ve worked with the dedicated volunteers at BARKS.

BARKS committee members Jo Allen  with nine-year old Bengal cat Cinnamon NNL-190401-105520001

BARKS committee members Jo Allen with nine-year old Bengal cat Cinnamon NNL-190401-105520001

“The team give of their time and resources to care for needy animals, treating the sick, finding good homes for as many pets as possible and encouraging responsible pet ownership.”

He added: “Their efforts are to be commended.”

Cinnamon to be your purr-fect friend

Twenty-two-year-old Jo Allen has been volunteering with BARKS for nine months and joined the committee this past November

Jo said: “I get so much pleasure from being with the animals and seeing how we can improve and transform their lives.

“I often work with our young members at weekends, teaching them to care for the cats in their pens, and we have a great team spirit going. It’s very rewarding for all of us.”

Jo is pictured at Bodicote care centre with nine-year-old Cinnamon, a Bengal cat, who, with her brother, Blue, is among a number of felines looking for a suitable new home this year.

There are also younger cats and kittens who are waiting for the right owner to come along.

To help care for and re-home cats like Cinnamon, BARKS has launched a 2019 Membership Appeal, aiming to triple its members and combat a fall-off in numbers.

BARKS chair Ann Collins said: “Our target for 2019 is to get back up to 300 members. We have fantastic support from almost 5,000 online followers but, ironically, as this social media popularity has risen and calls for our help grow, so our membership numbers have fallen off to around a third of what we really need.

“We absolutely rely on our bedrock of annual membership fees for our core income to finance the daily feeding, housing, medication and care of the animals.

“We hope it’s just a case of reminding our supporters how their relatively small membership subscription really does make a vital difference.”

Individual annual membership costs £10 or £15 per family. To join or offer other voluntary support, or to donate, email BARKS at barks2010@hotmail.co.uk or phone 07427 063178.

BARKS by the numbers

Since 2000, BARKS has cared for and re-homed almost 5,000 needy animals, mainly cats and kittens, working across Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.

In 2017 the team looked after 289 cats and over 100 other small furry creatures.

BARKS is run by a committee of eight and a core team of around 25 volunteer carers who fund and manage all administration.

The two main care centres are in Bodicote, run by Theresa Grant, and Woodford Halse, run by Mary Dunbar.

There is a network of around 10 foster carers.

Volunteers, regular or occasional, get involved in jobs ranging from driving animals to the vet and collecting animals who need help to feeding and caring for small creatures, cleaning out pens, fundraising and assessing new adopting families.

Corporate backing to seal future

Banbury’s oldest animal charity, BARKS (Banbury Animal Rescue and Kindness Service) has made two New Year resolutions: to restore its membership numbers, and attract Banbury corporate sponsors for the first time.

Since its inception in the 1970s when pet-loving enthusiasts got things underway in the Easington area of Banbury, BARKS has remained the main animal rescue service in the town, saving and re-homing around 350 small animals each year.

Last year they merged with Tiny Paws of Bicester, and also partner with Middleton Cheney’s Nutkin Ward wildlife rescue operation and Oxfordshire’s Persian Cat Rescue.

Yet, with all this work and care, they still struggle each year to break even financially and are seeking corporate backing.

BARKS chair Ann Collins said: “We’ve always been delighted with the prizes and donations of gifts that we get but we’ve realised that we could really benefit from one or two key corporate sponsors who might be able to help us with financial backing or other support in kind.

“Our vision is to be able to own and run our own permanent care centre facility, no longer relying on the supreme generosity of our volunteers’ home premises.

“If we could make this happen in the next decade it would transform the scope of what we can achieve and remove the struggle to manage and maintain our current infrastructure.

“Banbury is growing so fast that we’re hopeful that new or established business backers might take an interest in us, either with financial support or help in kind through donating vital supplies.”

She added: “We can offer them so many benefits in return.”

Annual membership fees are also a vital revenue stream and they are aiming to triple membership numbers this year. Individual annual membership is £10 or £15 per family. If your company wants to get involved call them at 07427 063178.