Along with two other newbies, we were welcomed warmly by the dedicated team there, headed up by the brilliantly friendly centre manager Richard. Harefield was a particularly tricky site to develop, as there were a great deal of planning regulations that meant the careful restoration of sixteenth century farm buildings (one of which is now rented out as a conference centre and houses a popular weekend tea room!) and the inclusion of various water features. The advantage of being able to design the kennel buildings from scratch, however, was that both the dogs and their human carers have a peaceful, safe and secure environment in which to spend their days.
Kennels are at an angle, with glass doors. The doors keep visitors safe from finger nips and make the dogs feel happier as they're able to see what's happening around them. However, the angle of the kennels also provides an extra feeling of security as they can't overlook any dogs - this could unsettle some of our charges. Human visitors, on the other hand, are able to easily see a lot of our residents at once, giving everyone the opportunity to spot their new forever dog quickly and reducing the chances of any single dog being forgotten.
The puppy area is kept separately to ensure our older sponsor dogs get the best possible chance of a home, and only those owners who are able to take on the responsibilities of puppy ownership are able to meet the tiniest centre residents.
Admissions kennels, where new dogs are health checked and processed are blocked off into sections to ensure that any incidence of communicable disease can be quickly isolated. The state-of-the-art vet suite is a favourite place for student vets to observe and learn alongside the resident trained professionals who carry out the entry and exit health checks, vaccinations, neutering and microchipping that every dog will undergo.
Three sets of exercise compounds (concrete, sand and grass) complement the many acres of ex-farmland that can be used to walk the dogs and play with them. In addition, an on-site training centre where new owners can be supported in creating a bond with their eager pet means that the number of people finding themselves unable to cope with dog ownership is greatly reduced.
Visiting Harefield brought home to me more than ever why we at HQ do what we do on a daily basis. Sitting in our London office, it could be easy to forget what a difference can be made to the lives of abandoned, unwanted and mistreated dogs, but the excited welcoming bark of a happy, hopeful dog waiting in the centre to find his forever home reminded me of how little dogs ask for and how much they give in return.
From petting a silky-soft Border Collie pup as he turned his chocolate eyes towards me and snuffled into my palm, to seeing a volunteer being greeted with grateful affection by the Golden Retriever he was taking out for a walk, I was reminded of how very passionate and committed our staff, volunteers, sponsors and donors are. It's a humbling experience, and I hope I can serve them well.
You can visit a centre any time, but an ideal way to see West London Rehoming Centre at its best is to attend the annual Open Day. This year it is on Sunday 8th June. Starting at 11am, it will include the annual Fun Dog Show, judged by none other than Graham Norton and his canine companions, a Kids Activity Area packed with go-karting, football and facepainting fun hosted by CBeebies presenter Sarah Jane Honeywell and an absolute host of other fun activities and events. Call (01895) 453 951 for more information.