Animal lover Debra Rothery was in her early twenties when she became aware of the plight of hundreds of greyhounds that, once past their racing best, were abandoned or destroyed.
Determined to do something to help, she rented a paddock with outbuildings near her then home in West Yorkshire, and got started, saving and searching for new homes for hapless dogs.
“It all grew from there. I started fundraising, it snowballed and it just went mental really.” said Debs.
She and husband Bob currently have over 80 dogs in their greyhound and Shire horse Rescue at Finningley.
Their farm has 70 acres of grazing land, on which stand “state of the art” kennels and stables, a shop and a brand new dog-friendly cafe offering wholesome meals and snacks, with a paddock for owners to take their dogs to exercise in.
“We want people to come along and bring their dogs, then hopefully fall in love with one of ours here,” said Debs.
“So far this year we’ve rehomed 55 dogs. People are great in this area, most of our trustees are from Doncaster now.
“We do need a new kennel block urgently to cater for more dogs, and are trying to save towards that.
“We have seven charity shops including one at Armthorpe, and they provide most of our income but it is always a real struggle to keep financing what we do,” said Debs. “We need around £50,000 a month as we have quite a few staff to pay, with the farm and shops, on top of care for the dogs and horses.
“Vet bills are probably about £5000 per month on average which is actually very good....we have an arrangement with a practise coming here to our own vet room on site, and that works well.
“Sadly, I don’t think the situation with racing is going to improve in the foreseeable future, there’s too much money in it, it’s big business.
“I’ve never wanted it banning, just for the dogs to be cared for properly. They don’t deserve the treatment they get.”
“I was given my first greyhound, literally, on the spot, by a man I got talking to in Sowerby Bridge. He just handed him to me....at that point I had a little terrier and two Boxer dogs already.
“I investigated the racing scene and decided I had to do something for the dogs.
“For some time I was constantly coming over to Doncaster area as that’s where most of the dogs were.....where we were fetching them from. So it made sense for us to move here and this week is our third anniversary with Tia in Finningley.
“Twenty years ago rescues never took greyhounds as they were just seen as chasing machines. They are the loveliest natured dogs.
“We rehome across Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, and we like to keep in touch with adopters. That’s much easier these days with social media.”
There are about 30 Shire horses at Tia Rescue, including a couple of former brood mares, and some show horses.
“We got a first placing with Tom, one of our Shires, last month, at a show in Stafford. We like to promote the breed as much as we can,” said Debs.
“We also have coloured cobs as there’s a big problem with them being ill-treated and abandoned.
“One of our Shires is almost 30 years old and we have a Clydesdale mare due to foal soon, along with one of the cobs.
“My ambition for the future is to keep all this going and to welcome more people here to enjoy our facilities and meet the animals, I need this to be a success.
“We have two French donkeys who look like they have dredlocks - it’s worth people coming just to see them.
“And if anyone is keen on gardening and wants to get involved with a project they are welcome to come and join our band of volunteers. “We plan to develop an allotment to use home produce in our cafe, and we have a six-acre orchard that never gets enough tending.
“It’s very rare Bob and I have a day off. This is our way of life.”
Finningley Ball is to take place at the Tia Rescue this year, on June 9, with proceeds to support its ongoing work.
Tia Rescue is the largest of its kind in the country, added Debs.
“Animals come first here.....we don’t let them down and every one is given whatever care and attention they need for them to be healthy and happy.
“Some Rescues have a policy of taking in dogs from abroad, places like Romania now, but I don’t understand why when thousands of dogs over here are put down every year because homes can’t be found for them. That’s something I feel strongly about.....that we should look after the animals needing help here first. “