Les Amis des Animaux
From foster to forever home

The power of community

10 years on – Interview with Lynn

As we have quite a lot of new members, we wanted to ask our President, just a few questions so that we can get some insight into Les Amis des Animaux then and now!

Lynn Hull

1. How did Les Amis des Animaux start?

I think it’s safe to say – “not intentionally”!  I saw a shared call for blankets and covers for the local refuge.  I responded and discovered that the person (Dolores Precious) was also a dog exhibitor with her beloved Dallies and we’d been showing our top dogs around the same time.  We got in touch with the lady who originally put out the call and met up.  I got some advice from another association to not get affiliated to any one refuge and to start an association.  Bear in mind that at this point while we knew about dogs, we knew nothing about the French system at all.  A bit arrogant of us, but we just started and learned on the job!

What we knew was that all dogs have a home somewhere . . . there was a huge risk taking an unknown dog from the sort of refuge we were dealing with – no systems, no sterilisation, no vaccinations and dodgy identification.  It had served its purpose in the 20th century but was grossly inadequate for the 21st.

Every time we visited we were having several dogs foisted upon us just to get them out of the way!

So in 2014 the Association was launched in April, zero money in the bank until our first event and boy we thought we’d done really well raising a few hundred euros!  And indeed we had.  We soon had our first few fosterlings – a puppy with a broken leg; a setter who had pyometra and needed urgent sterilisation; a bitch whose puppies had been put down at birth because they were not allowed to be born in the refuge; a labrit (Berger des Pyrénées) in a terrible state – matted down to the skin; a puppy with nerve damage to a leg; a terrified ariègeoise and so we started.  All of these came from the refuge – the same refuge with which we have continued to work over the years, and which itself has been transformed.

Cats at that time did not really figure largely but we had a couple of cat aficionados, one of whom was Valerie West, that we met through the refuge and little by little cats became an equal element of our work. Our main focus at that time was to try to ensure that cats in the refuge were all programmed for sterilisation prior to adoption in order to prevent history repeating itself.

The rest is history!

2014 Maxi, my first foster, after clipping
2015 fete - first corporate colours!
2015 fete fun class

2. Les Amis has grown hugely in the last ten years.  Why do you think it  has touched so many and encouraged them to become involved?

I’m not altogether sure as we’ve never done the research but I think it is probably a multitude of different things.  Strength at the centre has to be one of them and I’m grateful to Louise Virnuls who stepped in on Dolores’ retirement just one year in and she has kept the Les Amis boat on a steady financial keel throughout.

The principle of No Force has to be another and this I hope is written like the writing on a stick of rock throughout everything we do.  So volunteers are volunteers – life happens, people come and people go.  That’s the way it is and there is no point in using force either to persuade people to join or indeed to stay when they are ready to leave. As you can imagine, over ten years we have had a myriad of volunteers without whom we could never have managed.  We thank each and every one of them. What we do is endeavour to appreciate everything that a person does and the skills and abilities they bring during the time they are with us.  In so doing we have, for instance, moved from a totally paper-based admin to a virtually paperless one; our approval system (thanks in large part to Covid) has moved to a detailed application form, followed by discussion until we are as sure as we can be that there’s a good match. If for whatever reason we feel it is not a good match, then we discuss and try never to say a bald ‘no’!  This comes back to the fact that we believe there is a family for every dog and cat if we can find them.

Then there is openness, honesty, willingness to change and develop, and a very strong “No blame Can do” philosophy.  In this sense our descriptions of dogs and cats available for adoption are described honestly, their progress is chronicled.  We are not geographically limited and while covoiturage was a novelty to us, we have taken it under our belt where it is needed in order to help move animals around either to a vital foster home or adoptive home.

Within all of this is our community of fosterers who are literally our lifeblood.  We do not have a refuge, a kennels or a large home which can house several animals all at the same time.  We rely utterly and absolutely on the skills of our fosterers – and these skills come in many shapes and sizes.

At one end of the spectrum we have fosterers who are willing to take neonates – orphans abandoned without their mother when their mother should still be with them.  These fosterers are their guardian angels – getting up in the middle of night to feed and help them toilet; monitoring progress – many are what we say “poo experts” knowing when a poo change indicates a possible problem.

Moving on from there are our older puppy fosterers who can give the boundaries and experiences that a growing puppy needs to have a balanced future life.  This can apply to kittens too when they have not been snapped up during the “kitten season” and are rapidly heading towards maturity.

Next, and possibly applicable 99% to dogs only are those dogs who are abandoned back to the refuge/put up for re-home or simply endeavoured to be given away because the humans find them (insert in here any excuse you can think of) – and there has inevitably been a let down on the part of the humans – very rarely intentionally but usually through lack of willingness to take advice AND put it into practice with patience and time.  So we have the fosterers who work to decompress a dog, show it boundaries to make it feel much more comfortable, work to break habits that have never been checked thus making the dog anti-social.  In many ways these fosterers have the hardest job – it’s usually a longer term commitment but boy are they proud when their protégé starts to make progress and moves on to its forever home.

And finally we come to the lifetime fosterers – those caring and selfless people who are prepared to take on a dog or a cat with a chronic condition, or those who are simply in their twilight years and will not be around for years and years. We try and ease the financial burden by covering vet fees, but these are the ones who offer a great, undemanding life to our seniors – and have the strength and resilience to put their pain behind them and see the love of the oldie when their time comes.

I think we make a big difference by knowing the skills and expertise of our fosterers and making the most of them; by being there constantly as a support network – Every fosterer has their own messenger group for immediacy of contact – and giving these wonderful people the sense that they are not walking the path alone.

Of course running parallel with the “spending side” of the association is the fund-raising aspects and we are blown away by people’s generosity in so many different ways.  Our Auction (again thanks to COVID when face to face events were impossible) has gone from strength to strength – and again it comprises volunteers bringing their expertise to this vital fund-raising activity.  There are also those who generously donate monthly and so ease cash flow worries – and as part of that just lifting off we have our Be My Friend initiative to support the lifetime fosterlings in our care.  Others like to DIY an event in our honour; people respond marvellously to specific appeals when justifying a spend out of general coffers is difficult.  We are also indebted to several fund-raising associations who value the work we do to gift us significant donations periodically.  Without these gifts of funds from so many sources, we absolutely could not make the great decisions about an animal’s welfare that we do.  So it really is a balancing act.

And finally I think the fact that we believe in community makes a difference.  We do not wave a thankful goodbye when an animal is adopted.  Our conversation threads remain open – some like to use them thoroughly others are not bothered, and all stages in between, but knowing we are there is very important . . . and we are genuinely delighted to have updates.

Attempt at a fundraiser weekend
Fete promo - how we've improved
Fete winner
Fete 2019 Estrirac fun agility with Michelle

3. Biggest achievement in 2023?

This is perhaps the hardest question of all other than a blanket answer of “remaining successful in doing what we do – helping cats and dogs in need”.   We have had so many ups and downs – moments of great joy, moments of sadness; seeing a dog just “fly off the shelf” into the arms of the perfect family, or seeing a dog or cat who has been in foster for months with no-one apparently interested,  find their perfect forever home; having the fearlessness and ‘can do’ attitude that allows us to keep saying yes to animals needing extremely expensive, specialised and life-changing operations.

There is a feeling that comes to me that is sheer joy – and that is when it feels like we are operating like a well-oiled machine.  Remembering that every single person involved in whatever it is we are doing is there voluntarily giving of their time, expertise, energy, all of us facing that same stake in the ground – making life better for the animals in our care.

Looking to the future, we have submitted our application to become an Association Reconnue d’Utilité Publique – that felt like a huge mountain to climb in a bureaucratic sense, hours and hours of work . . . and still no word or notification.  It will be what it will be.

Fete, Ladeveze with Tytti
Pop Up Shop - Lianne at her best !
Fete Judge Shona, prizes sponsored by Pyrenees Canin
Fete, happy child winner

4. How do you believe we can try to reduce the number of abandoned animals?

This feels a bit like a question about painting the Forth Bridge as we say – it just never ends.

As an association we definitely have a responsibility to do the very best we can to reduce abandonment, but perhaps first of all it may be useful to define “abandonment”.  I think in people’s minds when we say the word abandonment we see potent images of dogs tied to motorway bridges, left alone in a scary wood as the so-called “owner” drives off in the car; or of cats shut out of their homes struggling to survive, unsterilised with hundreds of weak kittens.  This is the extreme of abandonment in that it falls short of cruelty which is another matter altogether.

To me, the reality is anyone giving up on a dog or a cat is abandoning that animal.  We can use euphemisms that sit more comfortably with a human – re-homing; putting up for adoption; giving a new opportunity – whatever we want – but to the animal it is just ‘abandonment’. That said, in extreme cases it is absolutely unavoidable and we work closely and hard with the family where necessary. My focus here is on non-extreme cases.

Abandonment also spills over into neglect which is its precursor.  Not having the time, energy, wherewithal to give to the animal that that human has CHOSEN to join their life and their family.

So just how can we reduce the number of abandoned animals?  The list is long and includes the obvious one of sterilisation because we don’t trust humans to take care of their males and their females and not let them mate willy-nilly.  It is the easiest and most global way of preventing unwanted pregnancies.

However to me there are two crucially key words – MATCHING and EDUCATION.  These I think are critical to people consciously not only taking on a dog or a cat that is right for them but also, through understanding and application, recognise the bonds they are creating and the commitments they are making.

Let’s look at MATCHING first of all – and I hope to develop a deeper article about this as it involves so much human psychology and attitude.  In many ways the dog or cat is the innocent bystander.  They have no side to them, no pretensions – they do what they do in order to survive.  Their behaviours are not posited on meanness or revenge.

So it is our duty as a rescue organisation to try the very best we can to ensure that we have a good match – that the family concerned understands what their choice of animal needs both now and in the future and that their lifestyle now, or how they are going to adjust it, makes for a happy partnership.  We have a duty of care to that family to ensure that we are there to help if difficulties are encountered.  By that I mean they are faced with behaviours from the animal that they are not understanding.  The problem is ALWAYS the human resisting to make the changes necessary to help the dog or cat.  Many, many do take help, make adjustments, make it work – and these are the successes.  These animals do not end up “abandoned” and so are not part of the statistics.

Then there is EDUCATION in its broadest sense – yes classes for younger dogs, yes learning commands, etc.  But it goes well beyond that.  Understanding your animal, its personality, characteristics, comfort and discomfort.  As parents we anticipate that our kids are going to be different despite coming from the same pairing.  And yet there is a general expectation at worst that all dogs and all cats are going to be the same; next level – all dogs of a similar breed type (spaniels, shepherds, hounds) are going to be the same; then there is “dogs that look the same as my previous dog are going to be like it” . . the then the best of all we get to the real understanding – “this dog that I’m taking on is unique.  And that’s the baseline from which I’m going to work”.  THAT is EDUCATION and would reduce abandonment a thousand-fold.

First worst case - found in a field
First worst case - after clip

5. Roughly how many Les Amis “chat” groups do you contribute to?

I do occasionally out of curiosity see how many messenger groups I’ve been on during the course of a day and it usually adds up to around 50-60 but that’s not counting the number of times I’ve popped in and out of the same conversation!  I’m very lucky – I did touch typing when I was very young – and my French has improved no end . .  . . .

2018 Calendar
2019 Calendar

6. How do you see Les Amis developing, going forward?

We have been saying for years that we are at our limits and yet we have continued to grow and get better at what we are doing – working smarter, attracting more wonderful people.  By the same token, holding big dreams, big goals leads one into forceful methodology which is truly not our style.  No matter size, no matter spread I hope Les Amis will remain in its essence what it is today – an open, trustworthy, caring and above all compassionate association, for animals and people alike.

7……IF you ever get time to relax, what do you like to do?

Love your sense of humour!

THANK YOU so much, Lynn, for doing this. We all know how hard you work and how busy you are

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