I became involved in the work of the Sanctuary in 2008 when I started looking after the rehoming centre at Salisbury. Although I don’t look after the dogs personally, I visit often and do get the chance to see how they are doing.
The Sanctuary was set up as a trial in 2002 with the aim of providing an alternative living environment for dogs with a certain behaviour problem! The dogs that are selected for residency in the sanctuary are all dogs that have a problem with people. They will all have had a previous negative experience in one form or another imposed on them by a person or people. If the experience is negative enough to affect the way the dog feels about people then the dog will very likely learn to react in a certain way towards people to avoid the same thing happening again.
In some cases the dogs have learnt to run away from or avoid people but in others, the dogs have learnt to show aggression to them. With all the dogs that have lived in the Sanctuary since it’s creation we will have tried to overcome the dogs fear through training and tried to find a home where the new owners were prepared to manage the behaviour. Where this has failed and the dog is likely to spend the rest of its life in our care in kennels, we will do whatever we can to give that dog as happy a life as possible.
The whole idea behind the Sanctuary is that without putting the dogs through the stress of having to come into contact with people every day we can still maintain the companionship and group living that ALL dogs need. The dogs still get human contact from the strictly limited group of staff who care for them each day but they live in a group of other dogs that become their “family”.
Since opening its doors, there has been a fairly constant group size of 15 to 25 dogs that share a 1.5 acre secure paddock. The paddock has been landscaped to provide environment enrichment with a wooded area, raised mounds to give them a view over the fence at the activities in the rehoming centre. They have concrete tunnels to run through or shelter from the sun/ rain and there are sand areas for digging in & pools of water are provided during warm weather.
The dogs have overnight accommodation provided by converting three stables each with raised sleeping platforms and beds at floor level. Heating is provided during the colder months. The stable block is surrounded by an inner compound courtyard which we can close off when we need to get into the main paddock for maintenance. There are hatches linking all the different areas so that staff do not need to go inside the sanctuary to move the dogs between one area and another. The dogs obviously sleep, eat & spend their whole day in a group environment.
The dogs are given regular health checks and veterinary treatment when needed though they are usually muzzled for these given the dogs issues with strangers. All dogs are groomed and bathed as needed though we tend to leave their coats full during winter months as they spend most of their time outdoors.
In short; the Sanctuary is a place where we can allow certain dogs to “just be dogs”! There are no external pressures put upon them – they are not asked to do anything that they may find stressful and they are allowed to develop their own group relationships in a stable environment.
To see some of the dogs in the Sanctuary, please watch the video, "Six months in the life of Dogs Trust Sanctuary" below.