Tipp-Off Animal Rescue

As part of her new blog for Petaware.ie, Linda Daly heads to the Tipperary-Offaly border to meet with Tipp-Off Animal Rescue owner Christine Plunkett. And she soon discovers that caring for animals is more than a job to Christine – it’s a lifelong labour of love. Fiva, after the operation Tipp-Off Animal Rescue is the first of our rescue centre visits. It’s so called after its location; in a village straddled on the border of Tipperary and Offaly. We arrive at a bungalow at the entrance to the village on a blustery, grey August day with all signsof summer having disappeared. What we encounter is far from grey, however, as we are greeted by owner Christine Plunkett and six inquisitive kittens. Tipp-Off Rescue is a one-woman show. Christine is an animal lover, who has owned more than one animal for as long as she remembers. She started the centre in earnest over a decade ago. In recent times, her services and dedication to rescuing stray, injured or abandoned animals have grown enormously. On the day we visit her, she has 16 dogs, 11 kittens and five adult cats in her home. She takes them from dog pounds and privately, when people cannot keep them anymore. To the left of the house is an under-construction large cat enclosure. When completed, it will be kitted out with climbing frames and enough space for the cats to sprawl out on warm summer days. To the right and back of the house are a number of runs for the dogs, as well as space to play. Christine immediately takes us to meet the larger dogs. There are a number of German Shepherds, a couple of black and white Collies and a shaggy fella. Next, she leads us into a shed with four kittens, two who were found in the middle of nowhere and two who were taken to the vet to be put to sleep. One of the abandoned kittens is deaf and pure white, with one blue and one yellow eye. He comes forward for a rub but is wary of strangers and quickly backs away when Rachel and I approach unaware of his nervousness. A lifelong vocation On entering the house, I immediately realise that Christine dedicates her life to these animals. Apart from three bedrooms, her home is open to her four-legged guests. What’s immediately striking when we enter is the type of dogs who come to greet us – two Cavalier King Charles, a Bichon Frise Shih-Tzu cross, a Westie and a cross-breed. I’d naively imagined rescue-home dogs to be large, cross bred or not traditionally attractive. I certainly didn’t expect so many pure breeds. Christine explains that she got the two female Cavalier King Charles, who she calls the Teletubbies, from a puppy farm. Both had been used as breeding machines for five years. They were treated like cattle. As a result, they have holes pierced into their ears for tagging. The ginger-haired one, Ruby, continued giving birth despite needing operations on both legs. Jemima, the black and brown King Charles, is a placid five-year-old who looks up at me, tail wagging,waiting for a rub. I oblige for the next hour until Frankie, the Bichon Frise cross, jumps on my lap and grabs my attention before falling soundly asleep. Some of the stories of how these animals were found are heartbreaking. One of the German Shephers was found tied up, weighing just 19 kilos. “Another 24 hours and he would have died,” recalls Christine. “My vet said if it hadn’t been invented, he would have made the phrase skin and bone because that’s exactly what he was. He had no flesh at all. I cried for about three days with him. He couldn’t walk. I was feeding him six times a day.” Fiva the cat was found on the side of the road with his leg snapped at the knee joint. He had to have an operation costing €400. “There’s a lot of rehabilitation with rescue dogs and cats,” says Christine. “I don’t do conveyer-belt rescuing. It’s not the case of taking them in, sorting them out and finding a home. They’re with me as long as they need to be. Then I find them not only a good home but the right home.” Christine stresses that over-breeding is a major contributing factor to the number of unwanted dogs. “Over 45,000 unwanted dogs were killed in the dog pounds in the last five years. Accidental litters could also be so easily stopped by neutering or spaying of people’s pets. Microchipping your dog or cat would help in returning lost pets to their rightful owners but people need to make sure that the microchips are registered.” Our conversation eventually turns to the topic of money, and how Christine funds the centre. To feed the cats costs €60 a week alone, with costs for operations, neutering, vet visits and general licensing on top of that. She receives an ex-gratia grant from the Department of Agriculture each year (the maximum so far has been €3,000), but there is no financial support set in stone. “We are lucky if there is any money dedicated to animal welfare and normally the larger organisations get the bulk of it,” she says. Her remaining funds come from an annual bag pack at Tesco in Birr, Co Offaly, the loose change box from the local shop, donations when animals are adopted, and sales of calendars provided by All For Animals, the National Animal Rescue Support Group. And her savings. “I, as well as every other rescue centre, am constantly desperate for donations,” says Christine. An incredible commitment The animal lover shows incredible commitment and you can’t help but respect a woman who dedicates so much of her life to helping creatures who can’t help themselves. After a couple of hours, we leave Christine to get on with her Trojan work. Despite Rachel’s pleas to ask for Jemima, I just about resist. Just about. Please feel free to contact Christine through the Tipp-Off Animal Rescue Facebook page