Leyland woman's Christmas shoe box appeal to help abandoned cats and dogs
Loretta Whiteley (54), who created a Facebook group called Animal Issues Leyland, has asked its members to donate shoe boxes filled with items like treats, toys, blankets, collars and bags of food.
She will collect them until early December when they will be given to cats and pooches living in rescue centres, as well as military dogs serving overseas.
Loretta, of Moss Side, said: "At Christmas we make a big deal of it in my house and our dogs are running around like kids playing with wrapping paper. There are more presents for the dogs than the humans!
"But in the shelters, there are dogs and cats that deserve to be loved and have a home. I couldn't live with myself knowing they were in rescue centres without the kind of enjoyment my pets have on Christmas Day."
Colin Johnson, business development manager of T. Forrest & Sons Ltd, Salmesbury, has pledged to donate items to help meet Loretta's target of 100 boxes.
"They have been amazing," she said. "It's mind-blowing how this little town comes together."
Loretta is running the appeal through Animal Issues Leyland, which celebrated its first birthday last month.
"I think how the community has pulled together online is brilliant, I really do. You see so many things on social media like 'a scumbag has broken into my car' and I think people can be too quick to criticise online. I'm guilty as charged - I've been there and done that too.
"But I think the animal group is a true reflection of the community spirit in Leyland. The town is filled with absolutely amazing people."
When a puppy was found buried alive in a field off Shaw Brook Road behind Worden Park in April, the group rallied round to support a fund-raiser in aid of Shiloh's Appeal. They, along with members of The Leyland Hub, smashed Loretta's £200 target to plant a memorial tree in honour of the puppy, who later died of his injuries.
The fund-raising total was a fantastic £1,300, with the leftovers being split between 11 good causes, including Homeless Hounds, Leyland Hedgehog Rescue, Chorley Hedgehog Rescue, Rochdale Dog Rescue, Harvey's Army and Winston's Wheels (a national charity making wheelchairs for disabled dogs). Donations were also given to individuals who needed help to cover huge vet bills or end-of life care for fostered pets.
"The case of the puppy buried alive was a genuine horror," Loretta said.
"My Yorkshire Terrier Cross was sitting on my knee when I read that report and it was so emotional. He looked up at me and it broke me. I was inconsolable. My dog was found in a shallow grave with tape around his mouth and paws and I thought, that puppy could have been him.'
Loretta, who also has a rescued snake and two more pooches, said the group had exceeded its target within 48 hours of launching the mission.
She added: "The generosity of people in the town blew me away. A pensioner gave me money and she shouted at me as I said I wouldn't take it at first!"
The animal lover set up the page to help tackle dog issues in the area and it now has more than 700 members, some of which are professional groomers, dog trainers and dog walkers who can offer general practical advice on topics like flees, worming and nutrition.
"It's grown from there into quite a little family, with people helping to look for lost cats and dogs," said Loretta, who has previously volunteered for the charity Dobermann Rescue Ltd while living in Surrey.
"I think social media is a wonderful thing but it's also dangerous because of trolls and keyboard warriors. But we police posts quite well and always verify charities we support by making sure they're registered.
"It's a powerful tool and allows us to reach a lot of people. If we are asked a question, we have a lot of resources and can direct people towards support.
"If we do put a shout out on Facebook, say about a lost pet, my phone goes ping, ping, ping. It's banging away as soon as an appeal goes live and my husband says, 'Oh you must have put something on social media.
"I didn't expect it to take off as much as it did. We struggle to keep up with the number of member requests and half expected people to have a noisy and then leave the group but it's surprising how people stick around, so I say, let's as a community get out there and do some good.
"Quite a few people have made friends through the group and go for walks with their dogs. It's not just about animals, it's about people too and friendships have blossomed."
Members even support each other when someone's animal dies and Loretta is now looking to find a pet bereavement counsellor to help members of the group when they lose a pet.
"If someone doesn't have one, they often don't understand the grief you can feel. I have my dogs' ashes and a gallery of photos of them in a corner of the house. People think I'm bonkers," she said.
"You can tell when someone has bad news, or their pet has had to be euthanised. I've seen men on their knees sobbing. It breaks my heart and I don't know how to support them. It's such a personal thing: the bond between a person and their pet. It's completely different emotionally to the bond between a person and their family.
"I look at my dogs and all I can see in their eyes is pure unconditional love. As long as you feed and walk them, they don't want anything else but love. They don't recognise borders or countries. I look at them and think, 'what have I done to deserve you?'"
If you would like to drop off a shoe box or donate items in your area, please contact the following people on Facebook: Moss Side - Loretta Whiteley or Myerscough Vets Dunkirk Lane; Farington - Bev Louise or Laura Swarbrick; Broadfield - Lisa Hocking or Sam Bentzen-Villaggio; Mendip Road - Ruth-Daisy; The Golden Ball pub, Longton - Chris Wilson; Penwortham - Annabel Cookson.