In 1977, a group of like-minded friends decided to do something about the rising numbers of unwanted pets being destroyed in Plymouth. Led by Carole Bowles who, with her husband Dave, ran Fursdon boarding kennels, these friends formed The Thornbury Animal Group.
Realising that indiscriminate and accidental breeding was at the root of their problem, Carole piloted a spay and neuter programme and the group began its pioneering work.
In the first year, two dogs, one litter of puppies and two litters of kittens were safely re-homed. Thirty more animals were spayed or neutered through group fund-raising, with owners paying weekly after the operation. Visiting homes for payment—which was often just 50p per week— was frequently in the most deprived areas of Plymouth and not for the faint hearted.
In 1981, the RSPCA began funding kennelling facilities at Fursdon which, in addition to considerable subsidising from Carole, enabled over 70 animals to be given a second chance. In 1985, with the number of rescued animals at 550, Carole and Dave sold Fursden and moved to Woodside at Elfordleigh, little knowing the enormity of what lay ahead.
With a lovely cottage and grounds for Dave’s early retirement, but no boarding income to subsidise her welfare work, decisions needed to be made for the future. TAG decided to change its name to that of the new premises and Carole continued to give her time for free (as she does to this day), but fundraising had to move up a gear—no mean feat for what was still a small group of people.
Those times were very hard indeed. Although the fledgling sanctuary was a ramshackle huddle of donated sheds and portacabins, its activities soon caught the attention of local people and animals began to flood in. Unfortunately, significant cash gifts did not, and there were regular periods when closing the doors was a distinct possibility.
Despite its roller coaster ride to present day, Woodside’s broad field of work continued and evolved. Slowly the shanty town of mismatched and decrepit outbuildings disappeared and in 1997, the new sanctuary re-build began in earnest. Completion would be gradual—we kept our pledge to remain open— and even today, some building work remains on a back burner until funds are available.
Eventually the Woodside Animal Welfare Trust became a fully fledged, registered charity. Its original aims have only been altered in order to embrace animals other than cats and dogs. We are now the only sanctuary in our area to take in most types of domestic pets, as well as a number of tame farm animals.