Pauline Leeson – Founder
From a very young age I have always had a strong passion for all animals. Learning of the atrocities endured by defenceless animals at the hands of human beings appalled and horrified me so much that I knew I wanted to help relieve their suffering in any way I could, and was determined somehow to make a positive difference for those who had no voice. At that time, all those years ago I had no idea of how I was going to achieve this, but I did have a vision – and a lot of will power!
It was an incredible journey of discovery, fuelled purely on love and compassion for animals. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way, with a roller coaster of highs and lows, and sometimes bouts of sheer despair because I couldn’t do enough fast enough! Mistakes were also made as this was a learning process for me and sadly no-one is infallible.
I began by hearing about dogs and cats who were no longer wanted, and taking them in to my family home, just a few at a time, ensuring they were neutered before finding caring owners. It didn’t take long for word to get around, and people would just turn up on my doorstep with animals they no longer wanted, some in a sorry state and needing veterinary treatment. Vets also began referring people to me, who brought pets in to be put to sleep, and everything was escalating at such a fast pace. Soon my home was full of rescues, some in rooms on their own, and thankfully, others just happily getting on with each other and having the run of the house. Help was urgently needed, so were more animal lovers to foster in their homes. At one point I was looking after 50 rescues – mums with babies, feral cats, adult dogs, puppies and cats and kittens of all descriptions. Thank goodness for my wonderful family who helped enormously and played an integral part in my being able to continue to help the animals – who were very much a part of their lives too.
The local newspaper printed an article hi-lighting the situation, and several kind people offered their facilities and help with raising funds. Because there was always a long waiting list of animals needing help, reputable boarding kennels and catteries also had to be used once a reduced rate was negotiated. This continued for years, and our dedicated little group decided to become a registered charity in 1986. At that time we called ourselves Animal Concern and were becoming more and more in demand and really struggling to accommodate so many unwanted and abandoned pets. Publicity was always a double edged sword and, although new homes were found, there were also more animals rang in desperate for help – so we just carried on regardless and rescued as many animals as possible. I could only dream that one day someone would believe in this little charity enough to sponsor purchasing our own rescue centre. So a handful of us muddled along from hand to mouth, sometimes not knowing where the money for the next vet bill was coming from – but we managed to stay afloat with the help of kind people who supported us.
It was a real stroke of luck that a wonderful lady called Esme Berni read a newsletter I had written, and made contact. This was the beginning of the most amazing support we could ever have wished for – her love of all animals knew no bounds and she became our saviour.
In January 1992, a boarding kennels we used for our rescues called Holly Hedge came up for sale, and the dream of a Sanctuary soon became a reality. Esme bought Holly Hedge because she believed in our work, and trusted us to continue to give the very best standard of care to our rescues.
So here we are today, Holly Hedge Animal Sanctuary, and no longer Animal Concern. Thousands of homeless animals have passed through our gates desperate for a safe haven. Seeing so many who arrived at Holly Hedge in an appalling state, some literally on death’s doorstep, flourish and learn to trust the human race, ready to face the world again, means everything, and is worth all the emotional heartache. To see them going off to their new homes is so heart warming and uplifting.
Massive improvements have been made since opening our gates in 1992, and are still ongoing for the well-being and enrichment of our rescues. Up to 800 pets a year are re homed, and given the chance of a new beginning, but we couldn’t have done this without our dear friend and benefactor, the late Esme Berni. This amazing lady will always be our Guardian Angel, and I hope she is looking down on us from above knowing she has saved the lives of thousands of animals because of her kindness and faith in us.
I have so very many people to thank for Holly Hedge being what it is today – a well established, well respected half way house renowned for the love, care and devotion to all our precious rescues – and this will never change – not even after my demise, which I hope will be a long time coming!
With dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters, as well as our great team of Trustees, Holly Hedge cannot fail to continue to provide a future and safe haven for animals in need.
So thank you – everyone involved in Holly Hedge who has helped us make a positive difference to those dear creatures who depend on us so much.
I couldn’t be prouder of our Sanctuary, and all the wonderful people who dedicate their lives to caring for our rescues. We can never contemplate letting the animals down, or our supporters who believe in our work – and especially dear Esme who made everything possible. I hope that she is looking down on Holly Hedge, and is very proud of what we have all achieved together.
It has been a privilege for me to have made this journey, and although I am now semi retired, 43 years on, this journey isn’t quite over yet – there is still much to be done .
I joined the Holly Hedge family in 2010 as a volunteer Cat Cuddler & Dog Walker and was instantly overwhelmed by the tremendous amount of love and care given to each and every animal in the Sanctuary. When I realised the huge cost implications to keep the charity going, I started to get involved with the many different aspects of fundraising – and what better way of making money than being saved from the murky waters of Portishead Marina by a magnificent Newfoundland Rescue Dog!
Building relationships with the wonderful animals is both humbling and life-enriching, and there really is no better feeling than bidding a fond farewell to our residents as they leave us for a bright new future in their ‘forever homes’, especially those whose stay at Holly Hedge has been a long one and whose wounds have been healed and faith in humanity restored whilst with us. The happiness and unconditional love our pets give us is immeasurable; my own two adopted Holly Hedge felines – Snugs & Murphy – have really made my home complete.
I always wanted to be a vet, animal mad from an early age an elderly jack Russell named Nellie was a great pal. However, it was not meant to be…..I was not clever enough and certainly not brave enough. My career took a very different path and I spent my working life with children and their families.
When the time came for me to “retire” I decided that I wanted to do some voluntary work with animals and chose Holly Hedge as I had been involved with the charity many years previously and had helped with fundraising. In my previous work I had always enjoyed working with people and felt that I could combine this with my love of animals. I now work as a volunteer on the reception desk, where every day is different and brings with it challenges and at the same time huge rewards. When animals in our care find their “forever” homes with loving families it is just great! There certainly is a lot of happiness but sometimes sadness, it comes with the territory.
Everyone who works at Holly Hedge is passionate about what they do and are committed to doing the very best for the animals in their care. This is why I so enjoy being involved with Holly Hedge and being a part of this great charity.