Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Miscellaneous Animals - articles by Samantha David


Animal Ambulance Man

It's Monday morning: the fax is buzzing, a cup of coffee is cooling at his elbow, the phone is ringing non-stop and at his feet are three kittens in a cardboard box.

Tim David stays calm. "It's all about compassion," he says, sitting in his office. He reaches into the box. "Look at these. Cute, aren't they? Just a week old. I've been doing 3-hourly feeds all weekend, but I can't do that weekdays so I'll have to foster them today."

Known locally as "The Man in the Animal Ambulance", Tim's official job title is "Animal Rescue Officer" for the Worthing and District Animal Rescue Service (WADARS). Not that he spends much time in the office: every year the charity answers over 7,000 distress calls.

This morning, his colleague Billy is already out on the rabbit rounds. "There's always a lot of rabbits. You know, they get out, do what rabbits do, and we end up collecting the young ones for re-homing. Billy's been with us for a year now and he's practically taken over the rabbits which is great."

For ten years, Tim ran the ambulance service single-handed from a broom cupboard at home but now WADARS also employs Billy Elliot, his assistant, Sally Tanner, an administrator, and Pam Formoy, the shop manager.

A very local charity, founded in 1970 and funded by donations, legacies and the proceeds of the charity shop, they only cover the area bounded by Littlehampton, Shoreham and Ashington.

They run two ambulances and re-homed 266 animals last year but Tim's latest joy is the new £30,000 ambulance.

"It's the best-equipped animal ambulance in Britain. A 4-wheel drive VW with sophisticated special lighting, an inflatable two-man boat, wet-suits, ladders, ropes, dog graspers, nets, cat baskets, humane traps, protective clothing, first aid supplies, a sink... everything."

Billy and Tim grab lunch on the run. "The Litten Tree over the road gives us free parking, so we get teased about spending all day in the pub, but actually our feet don't touch the ground from one week to the next," says Tim. "We clock up over 26,000 miles a year.

"The police always call us out if there's an animal involved in road accidents for example - obviously if an animal is injured, but sometimes when dogs don't er... trust the emergency services. We either take them to the vet or into holding kennels - services which cost about £3,000 a month each."

But it's not all cats and dogs. Tim will rescue anything. "I had to go and catch a 9-foot python last week, and I once got called out to a black snake coiled up in a garage. It turned out to be the spring, which had fallen off the garage door...

"But we deal with hedgehogs, all reptiles, horses, squirrels, sheep, about a dozen tarantulas a year, foxes, lots of seagulls, rats, squirrels, deer, mice, badgers... in the last eleven years, I reckon I've dealt with just about everything. Even baby dinosaurs."

Everyone in the office laughs. This is a famous joke dating from the time Sally took a phone call from a man who said his wife wouldn't leave the house because there was a baby dinosaur on their kitchen windowsill. "It was an iguana, of course..."

The charity receives 35-80 phone calls a day, and has a monthly phone bill of £500. Vet bills average around £3,000 a month.

"Because unless the vet is sure that there's no hope for an animal, we treat and re-home all our dogs and cats. We once had a bill of £1,000, because we never just give up. But the results are worth it. You'd be amazed how happy re-homed animals can be. We all like to think our pets are special and personal to us and that they'd never be happy living with someone else, but they adjust very quickly. It's wonderful to see it."

Surprisingly, the thing that Tim hates most isn't finding animals in bad conditions. "The owners often aren't in a much better state themselves," he says. "It's people who ring up saying they can't pay their vet's bills that really annoy me. We had one the other day said she didn't even have £6 and I know her. She's got a beautiful house..."

Afternoon tea, morning coffee and regular hours are unknown at WADARS. The office is above the shop, which is where Tim and Billy tend to end their day: discussing cases, making decisions about rescued animals and writing endless lists of what to do tomorrow.

"The one thing I tend to avoid," says Tim "is taking people to court. Of course we do prosecute if it's a case of deliberate cruelty, or if someone won't give up a mistreated animal, but not often. Most people aren't deliberately cruel. They're just not coping with their lives, or they're ignorant or frightened of asking for help. You'd be amazed for example, how many people tell us that their dog just "got pregnant"...

"You go in to a house; there's a filthy dirty skinny bitch with eight dirty pups and everything's covered in dog excrement. But the people are living in it, too. I mean, what can you say? I can't see the point in prosecuting. Where I'm sure that someone won't immediately get another one, I prefer to re-home a dog rather than have it made a ward of court for months and months."

Sometimes Tim even leaves the dog in place. He re-homes the puppies, get the bitch spayed and cleaned up, and then teaches the owner how to look after their dog properly before returning it.

"You'd be surprised what good owners some of them make, with a few visits, a bit of support. A bit of compassion."

It's gone 5.00. Tim flicks the answer phone on and checks the announcement: his mobile number for emergency use.

The day is nearly over. A seagull has been freed from a wire fence, three orphaned kittens have been fostered, a brace of dogs collected from road accidents, a backlog of papers shifted, a dozen routine visits made, a dog re-homed, the rabbit rounds accomplished.

But Tim still hasn't finished his coffee.




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