Dog lover Amanda Leask is on a mission to rescue street dogs from brutality in Romania and those destined for the dinner plate in China.
How did you become involved with dogs?
It first started about 20 years ago when I took on a rescue dog while doing voluntary work. But I had always loved huskies and after doing a lot of research, we got one. Then one became two, two became three – they are extremely addictive. We were actually very lucky with our first husky, he turned out to be a natural born leader and any dog that came into our kennel over the years, he would teach them – he would be up front with them, teach them from young pups and then we would just let them fly.
So, when did you start rescuing dogs?
It was about four years ago. Once you see the graphic images on social media you want to know more, so I started doing some research. I knew there was a dog meat trade in China and was also well aware of the street dog crisis in Romania – the first dog I got was from Romania. That same year, three years ago, I had two dogs join us from Thailand, one from the Soi Dog Foundation and one from the dog meat trade.
Soi Dog Foundation is a great charity, it’s at the forefront of campaigning against the trade – not just the dog meat trade, there’s the skin trade as well. The foundation actually has undercover teams on their payroll, so there’s a big difference being made. You no longer get the trips like my dogs Coco and Miracle were on – a load that had seven or eight hundred dogs on board.
My other dog Bliss, the BBC covered her coming in and she was on the back of the equivalent of a pickup and the crates were towered high with just a tarpaulin over them. There were up to 200 dogs on board. They’re packed into these cages – you’ve even got mothers giving birth. It’s just horrific.
How many dogs have you rescued?
Ten that I’ve kept. I’ve got dogs in Romania at the moment that are with foster carers. You really can’t preach about something unless you’re actually doing something about it, so I’ve been to Romania, seen it with my own eyes and experienced the smell, the sounds. Going there absolutely shredded my heart to bits. I went to visit a friend who has over 300 dogs in her care. She has a dog that has no eyes because somebody beat it so badly they actually popped out. I mean it when I say it’s brutal – imagine the worst and triple it.
Which of your rescue dogs won the Eukanuba Friends for Life competition at Crufts?
It was Miracle. We’d not long rescued him from the meat trade in Thailand and I had contacted the Kennel Club about microchipping. I was chatting to the girl on the phone and she asked how many dogs I had. I told her I’ve nearly 40, and then said, ‘I also have a son, sorry, I forgot to add that!’. We were giggling and she asked how Kyle got on with the dogs. I told her they get on well and how lucky we are that they appreciate the fact Kyle has disabilities and that they sense they have to be very gentle. She told me about the competition but I didn’t think it would be suitable.
However, one day one of the many health professionals who help Kyle was fitting a piece of equipment and Miracle lay in between them. He’s so passive he couldn’t fi ght his way out of a paper bag, but it was almost like he was trying to say ‘just keep your distance from the pup’. We then started to notice little things – Miracle would welcome Kyle when he came home from school, and if Kyle was upset he would walk up and Kyle would pet him, forgetting about whatever it was that had upset him. The most poignant thing is the fact that a child who is on the autistic spectrum won’t give you eye contact, Kyle does this even with us, but he’ll look the dog in the eye. So we decided to enter the competition and Miracle and Kyle won the public vote. It was incredibly emotional.
So what are your plans for the future?
There are lots of Miracles around the world, dogs who are suffering beyond belief, and I’ve got a list as long as my leg where I need to try and help. It’s about highlighting the problem and just seeing how much help I can actually generate.
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(This feature was originally published in 2015)