Planet Dog: The Mayhew, An Animal Shelter in North West London

August 24, 2020

Interviews & Inspiration | Lauranne Heres

This time, Planet Dog is visiting an animal shelter in North West London, The Mayhew. We talked to their team about the work they do, the help they need, and got some adorable pictures!

Please talk us through the creation of The Mayhew

Mayhew was founded in 1886 as “The Home for Starving and Deserted Cats”. In 1904, it was rebranded as The Mayhew Animal Home in honour of its first superintendent, Anne Mayhew.

During World War One and World War Two, the shelter remained open to offer refuge to abandoned, desperate and homeless animals and people, and it’s this ethos that has carried Mayhew through to its current modern iteration. In the past few decades we have opened an on-site vet clinic, launched an animal assisted intervention programme (TheraPaws) and opened branches abroad; and in 2018 we rebranded for a second time, to the “Mayhew” you know us as today. We are and always have been an animal welfare charity and shelter with a difference - working to improve the lives of dogs, cats and people in our communities, at home in London and internationally in Georgia and Afghanistan.

How many dogs and cats do you care for at any given time?

We have capacity in our shelter to care for up to 30 dogs and up to 150 cats. We are also supported by animal foster carers in London, who look after our cats and dogs in their own homes until we can match the animal with a forever family.

How difficult is it to find a “furever” home for the animals in your care? Do you have strict rules you adhere to for applicants?

Every animal who comes into our care has a unique background and set of needs, and we work tirelessly to ensure we match every animal with the right owner for them. Each animal is behaviorally assessed, vaccinated, neutered, microchipped, and given a full health check before going up for adoption, and we are very clear about what kind of home each animal requires.

If someone is interested in adopting one of our animals, they are asked to fill out an adoption form and have an interview with someone in our rehoming team. Only if they pass this stage and match an animal's needs will they be invited to meet the animal. We will then conduct a home check to make sure the environment they live in is suitable for the animal, and all still being well, they will then be able to adopt the animal for a small fee.

Some animals only stay in our shelter for a few weeks before being adopted, whereas others can wait much longer to find the perfect match! Long stayers or animals more in need of a home environment can also be placed on foster care whilst they wait.

Tell us about the work you do outside of the UK

Mayhew International works with governments, local communities, and charitable groups to improve animal welfare overseas. We address issues around cat and dog populations in urban areas and help to change attitudes towards animals.

Our goals are to control, contain and reduce free-roaming dog and cat populations in a humane way; work towards eradicating rabies caught from dogs and other infectious diseases spread between animals and people, and improve veterinary standards through access to training.

In Afghanistan, we are working hard to eradicate rabies by vaccinating 80% of the population of dogs in Kabul. We also successfully petitioned the local municipality to stop culling dogs using poisoned meat, and instead we are helping to control the population of stray and free roaming dogs by neutering them in our local Animal Birth Control clinic.

In Georgia, we are currently busy giving extensive veterinary training and advice to Georgian vets and vet nurses; alongside treating sick and injured cats and dogs in existing shelters there.

Can you explain the concept behind TheraPaws?

At Mayhew, we have a unique approach to animal welfare. We believe that in order to tackle the root causes of animal neglect and abandonment, we must also understand the social welfare issues that face people and pet owners in our community. We acknowledge the power and benefits of the human animal bond, and we work tirelessly to keep animals and their owners together.

TheraPaws is an animal assisted intervention programme designed to promote physical, social and emotional wellbeing, and demonstrates the bond and benefits between people and animals. Our volunteers take their behaviourally assessed dogs into hospitals, mental health centres, SEN schools, care homes and hospices every week or fortnight to help improve the quality of life for those interacting with the animal.

A recent study carried out in partnership with Middlesex University found that regular interaction with an animal improves quality of life by up to 12% and helps prevent loneliness and isolation and improve communication skills in elderly people in particular.

Other noted benefits of the programme are an improvement in emotional and physical well-being, the unlocking of positive memories and emotions for those suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; the building of confidence and self-esteem in young people, and improving communication between people, volunteers, staff and families.

How do you help the homeless and their pets?

Mayhew has been a lifeline for the homeless and rough sleepers since 2000. We work closely with homeless charities, hostels, and rehabilitation centres across London to make sure we keep homeless people and their animals together.

Often, a pet is a homeless person’s only source of comfort and companionship - and we know from firsthand experience that homeless owners will feed their pets before feeding themselves. However, the added expense of vet and food bills puts an extra burden on people who are already in a vulnerable situation.

Our Animal Welfare Officers regularly visit homeless people and their dogs and build close and trusted relationships with them, as well as offering preventative vet care including neutering, vaccinations, defleaing and worming treatments. We also give out collars, tags, and leads to keep their dogs safe, and jackets to keep them warm in the cold winter months. We make sure all the dogs have plenty of food, and we are always there to help, no matter how difficult the situation may be. Many people believe that those who can’t support themselves financially but own a pet are irresponsible. We see firsthand just how important the bond between a vulnerable person and their pet can be. In 2018 we created a campaign to try and change these perceptions - you can watch our short films and find out more here.

How regularly do you get donations from the general public, as well as from patrons/supporters?

It costs £6,000 per day to keep Mayhew running, and we receive no government funding - so we’re totally reliant on the generosity of our supporters. There are a number of ways people donate and fundraise for us - including one off payments, monthly direct debits, legacy gifts, challenge events and sponsoring a cat cabin! We also usually host a number of fundraising events during the year, including a sponsored dog walk and celebrity judged dog show, a Christmas Carols service and an Open Day street fair - sadly we’re unable to hold this events right now due to the coronavirus pandemic, so online donations are even more important.

How have you dealt with the pandemic so far? Were you able to keep operations going well?

From the very beginning, the health and safety of our staff, students, volunteers and animals has been paramount, and we have taken a number of necessary steps to mitigate the risks and ensure the ongoing safety of everyone associated with Mayhew.

From 13th March, everyone who could work from home started to do so, and from 16th March, we closed our doors to the general public, allowing only a small skeleton team of local staff members to care for our animals on-site. We also closed our vet clinic to all outpatient appointments and have since only carried out necessary procedures on animals already in our care. All our annual fundraising events were cancelled, and our Animal Welfare Officers took extra precautions when rescuing or treating animals in the community. We also stopped adoptions, temporarily paused our TheraPaws visits and scaled back all “business as usual” outreach and output.

Over the past couple of weeks, and after careful consideration and consultation, we have begun to open up a limited range of services. We are now facilitating adoptions again, to people who live within one hour of Mayhew and can consent to an interview and virtual home tour over video call. Our vet clinic are trialing flea and worming treatment deliveries for existing clients, and our TheraPaws programme has started to offer virtual animal-assisted-therapy sessions to care homes, hospitals, NHS workers and their families, special needs schools and individuals who are shielding or particular lonely or isolated. We have also begun to host online quizzes for our fans and followers, who pay a nominal donation to play along every week.

We recognise that the pandemic has hit the most vulnerable people in society the hardest, and so in April we launched our emergency care package appeal. We have been inundated with calls from people in our local community, who are desperately in need of help due to isolation or vulnerability, and who cannot get out themselves to buy things like food, litter and flea and worm treatment for their pets. We started up a free delivery service of these items, following strict social distancing guidelines, and are incredibly grateful to everyone who has donated so far towards our purchase of these items.

If you want to find out more about the Mayhew, check out their website. You can donate here or organise a Facebook Fundraiser. You can also apply to volunteer (once the pandemic is over) as they are always looking for extra hands!