DoneDeal takes a trip to ASH Animal Rescue

A desire to help animals has turned into a full-time job for Helena and Remi Le Mahieu, who rescue some 700 animals each year and, as Linda Daly discovers, have seen some truly horrific things Being surrounded by seven dogs in a living room with a fox sitting in the corner would be a bizarre situation for anyone, but it’s exactly where this city girl found herself in October at the home of Helena and Remi Le Mahieu, owners of ASH Animal Rescue. ASH is located off the beaten track in Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, is well worth a visit and is open to the public every day except Friday. Elton at Ash Animal Rescue A warm welcome I was ushered into Helena’s home with a warm smile and a hearty handshake and immediately greeted by two of the largest dogs you’re likely to meet: a gorgeous black Newfoundland and a St Bernard. Both are elderly dogs, so there was no fussing, just a little welcome for the stranger and then back to their own business. Helena brought me into the sitting room where the seven barking residents and an excited fox quickly settled down and were soon snoring away. Helena and Remi For the next hour-and-a-half, I heard the fascinating tale of Helena and Remi. The couple moved from the Netherlands 20 years ago, have three grown children, two of whom live in Ireland, and also have grandchildren. They always intended to rescue animals but what started out as a small operation turned into a massive rescue mission, which now sees them save up to 700 animals each year. When I visit them, they have over 100 dogs, 80 cats, four foxes, a horse, a donkey, two pigs, a couple of rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks and hens on their six acres of land and a recently rescued ferret living in their bathroom. Helena and Remi are hyper-sensitive about cleanliness. All trays, cages and runs are cleaned out once a day and the huge pile of beds for the animals means that they put on at least four washes in their industrial-size washing machine each day. Feeding bowls at Ash Animal Rescue Horribly sad tales Unsurprisingly, Helena has way too many sad tales and I soon find myself welling up. There’s the story of Elvis, a little Shih Tzu, who was brought in by a woman who spotted him around her workplace. His eye had become so infected it looked like a golf ball sticking from the socket and he was immediately brought for emergency surgery. Before the vet could even remove the eye, he had to clip away the worst of Elvis’s matted coat so foul was the smell. But Elvis retained eyesight in his other eye and, under the care of ASH, began to thrive. His, thankfully, is a happy ending as he was recently adopted by a well-known Irish television presenter. Cuddles and Hardy Then there’s Cuddles, an eight-year old Westie who was cast out into her owner’s back garden after being knocked down by a car and having ‘accidents’ in the house. Four years later, the owner’s friend called ASH and asked them to take the utterly neglected dog. She hadn’t been vaccinated since she was a pup; she was emaciated, she had open wounds on her body and her collar was so tight it wounded her neck. While these stories are bad, there are also some truly horrific events, like the time a neighbour found a dog which had half his face blown off with a shotgun. Hardy, as he became known, had wandered around for three to four months before being found. So horrific were his wounds that you could see the bones in his skull. By some miracle, he survived and has since been re-homed. Helena says the physical injuries are easier to mend than the mental ones and this is something I see first-hand as Remi shows me around. A few of the dogs are truly terrified when they see a human approach. There are no tails wagging and they wince away from any human touch. It’s soul destroying. Growing numbers abandoned You’ll find every type of breed imaginable at ASH, from Jack Russells and Shih Tzus, to Labradors, Labradoodles, a Great Dane and an American Akita. “We have definitely seen a deterioration in the state of animal welfare in recent years,” says Helena. “The recession means that more pure-breeds are being abandoned.” The struggle for funding Outside are numerous runs for the dogs, some old and some newly built thanks to donations and bequeaths. There’s also a brand new heated cat enclosure. But the money has dried up and there are older areas that are in much need of renovation. “In the past we used to re-mortgage the house, which we did twice,” explains Remi, “but with the recession we can no longer do that.”

Every time I visit animal rescuers, I can’t help but notice how incredibly under-funded they are. Helena and Remi received just €12,000 from the Department of Agriculture last year. They have two full-time staff, a couple of part-time workers and have to feed 200 animals, heat, clean and pay vet bills. ASH is supported by fundraisers and after a hard day’s work Helena or Remi attend table quizzes or sell cards. Their latest idea is a perpetual calendar which Helena hopes people will put in their bathrooms similar to the Dutch tradition. Respecting animal rescuers Despite all their work, they still have dogs dumped in their car park – and on their doorstep – regularly. People even scold them when they are unable to take their pets. I leave ASH full of respect and awe for these two people yet, I feel angry that they have been put in this position by an Irish tradition of treating animals badly. When Remi tells me they get, at most, three days a year holiday, I ask him if it’s worth it. “It’s a very rewarding job,” he says, “and we really love doing it.”