In an unassuming white house across the road from a little forest in Gloucestershire, lives are being changed. In just under four years one woman and a her small team of dedicated volunteers have found loving homes for hundreds of UK and Spanish born dogs.
Gill Minnican has a small Spanish holiday letting business which she runs from the UK, and as a dog lover she explains it can be very difficult to reconcile the conditions Spanish animals are subjected to with her own ideals on pet ownership. It was in 2012 when Gill first visited a Spanish dog rescue, and she was completely overwhelmed by seeing at least sixty beautiful family-ready dogs who she knew would be already adopted if it were a UK shelter. But she was in Spain, and she did not yet know how well her idea of re-homing Spanish dogs in the UK would be received. That day Gill chose just two dogs to try and help, and brought them back to the UK on the EU Pet Passport scheme.
Little did Gill know that she had started something which by her own admission is more successful and special than she could ever have hoped. Gill calls the dogs she finds homes for ‘starfishes’. A trip to the Starfish Dog Rescue web site will bring you to this little poem on the home page;
As I walked along the seashore, this young boy greeted me.
He was tossing stranded starfish back into the deep blue sea.
I said “Tell me why you bother, why you waste your time this way.
There’s a million stranded starfish, does it matter anyway?”
And he said “it matters to this one – it deserves a chance to grow.
It matters to this one – I can’t save them all, I know.
But it matters to this one, I’ll return it to the sea.
It matters to this one, and it matters to me.”
The poem has meaning because Gill knows that she can’t save them all; though God knows she’s trying her best to save as many as she can. If you search on-line for ‘Spain dog killing station’ (not for the faint of heart) you can get a sense of what dog lovers in Spain are up against. The sheer volume of abandoned and stray dogs in Spain is overwhelming, and it would be easy to feel that whatever you tried to do, the impact would be minimal. Gill has decided to be undeterred by this, though, but not without many tears.
Starfish does not deal strictly with Spanish dogs. Gill will help try and home local pets in need, too. One such dog is Victor, who belonged to a local homeless man. A positive change in his owners circumstances ended the man’s homelessness, but the landlord would not welcome Victor into the house as well. Heartbreakingly, Victor was destined for the pound, until Gill stepped in. Victor now lives with a family in Wales, such is the reach of the Starfish social media.
Gill won’t just home a dog with anyone, though. Stringent home-checks are carried out by a network of volunteers across the UK. It’s sensible stuff, such as having a secure fenced yard, and a clear understanding of how much of a commitment a pet dog can be, both in time and money. Gill doesn’t want to waste your time or hers. But more than anything she wants the dogs she finds homes for to become permanent much-loved members of the family. It’s not a big ask, but it is surprising how off-key the expectations of some people can be. From wanting a dog that does not shed because they don’t want to clean up the dog hairs, to potential hopefuls looking for specific coloured pure-bred puppies (preferably house trained, thanks), Gill has heard it all.
The team at Starfish only really ask for one thing – that you treat your new dog as a member of the family. In the same way that you would not throw away a new child because she sleeps a lot less than you were expecting at the time of conception, so too does Gill want people to realise that owning a dog is hard work. When you adopt from Gill, you need to know that she is going to be watching over your shoulder for a while, making sure that she has entrusted one of her charges with the right kind of human guardians.
And that is what truly makes Starfish Dog Rescue special. When you adopt with them, you sign a Transfer of Care. It means that Starfish will always be responsible for the dog having a home. If the circumstances of a current custodian should sadly change, Starfish will take the dog back into foster care, and find them their next home. It is a massive commitment on behalf of Gill, and when you adopt from her, you can feel the weight of the responsibility hanging in the air. Signing the dotted line on a Starfish adoption form is no small thing. And it is working. Quite simply, you feel that you do not want to let Gill down – so you don’t. Failure is not an option.
Once a year Starfish organises a get-together for the dogs they have homed – a big dog walk near Gill’s home in Stroud. It is a joyful day; over fifty dogs and their humans attended the most recent event in 2015. The excitement of the big dog walk is reminiscent of the arrival days, where groups of the prepared Spanish dogs travel over to the UK with a kind man in a van, and new custodians descend on Gill’s unassuming white house across the road from a little forest in Gloucestershire.
Inside the house is pure love and joy, and a woman who will change your life forever, if you let her.
Facebook: Starfish Dog Rescue and Little Starfish Spain