Founded in 1958 by Bernard Cuff, Pine Ridge Dog Sanctuary Ascot was created to save and rehome homeless dogs with terribly bleak futures, providing them with a safe, happy and loving environment.
A pioneer of dog rescue, once Bernard passed away his widow Connie continued his legacy and took full responsibility of the shelter, working tirelessly night and day with her team to ensure these dogs would get a better future.
CommunityAd had the pleasure of speaking with Principle, Trustee and Custodian Connie Cuff to find out more about the phenomenal Pine Ridge…
Can you explain how long you have worked at Pine Ridge Dog Sanctuary and your earliest interaction with dogs?
My first real involvement with dogs was when I had my own Labrador in 1960. I then started volunteering at Pine Ridge in 1963, having met Bernard a year earlier when he was advertising for representatives for a dog food company that he had started in Bracknell.
Initially, of course I was trained alongside Bernard and when I eventually joined Pine Ridge permanently in 1974, I learnt the skills of interviewing and knowing what sort of questions to ask, and, finally, matching people to a suitable dog for rehoming.
Has the process of interview and selection for rehoming dogs changed over time?
Oh no, we still follow the same principle when interviewing people. We’re obviously going into their background and enquiring about their day to day routine. We need to know whether they have any children or if they have any other pets and what animals they might have had in the past and how long they had them.
You used to get people come along and say “oh yes, we’ve had lots of dogs” but that doesn’t mean they are a suitable choice because in some cases, you realise they aren’t of an age where they could have had six or seven dogs already, unless they kept them for a short period of time and then got rid of them. That’s not what we’re about and not the type of home we’re interested in.
We want permanent homes for our doggies, to go to people that are real dog lovers who will care for them. It does take years of training and learning to find the right dogs for the right people which, of course, I had all that with Bernard.
How stressful a period was COVID for you and did you have any cases of people returning dogs to you once lockdown restrictions were lifted?
Fortunately, we didn’t have to close through COVID, we introduced an appointment only scheme which we do still stick to presently.
We only had one person come on the premises and they were given an hour slot so they didn’t feel rushed and we found that worked very well. Our dogs were still able to get rehomed and we only homed, in the main, to people who lost their dogs to old age as we knew they were going to permanent homes. Sometimes the only way to be able to grieve over losing your dog is to take a new dog into your home and heart, knowing you are giving them a new chance of a happy life whilst also helping you through your loss.
For most people, a dog is their life and they depend on them for company and companionship so as stressful of a period that COVID was, we were still able to make sure our doggies found their forever homes. I can also confidently say without fear of contradiction that we did not have any dogs returned to us during this period.
We did have an open day earlier this year as well, which had been the first open day since COVID as, unfortunately, the restrictions meant we couldn’t hold any events. We had a very, very good turnout which was lovely to see and the people and their dogs all settled into their new homes and looked so happy and healthy.
Where do the dogs you rescue come from?
My dogs all come from Spain, mainly from the Almeria region because there are no strays in our areas. We’ve had to go further afield so we’ve been taking strays in for the last 12 years from Spain. Prior to that, we were working with the Caerphilly Council in Wales for nearly 25 years taking in their dogs.
There are very few strays in our own immediate and surrounding areas and we were contacted by colleagues in Spain to ask whether we could help with their doggies because unfortunately they are overrun with unwanted dogs.
The dogs get driven over, it’s a two day journey and we take in as many as we can sensibly cope with. Everything is legal and documented. We have also had dogs come to us from Cyprus and France, we don’t mind where they come from as long as they’ve got nice temperaments. We will not accept any dogs with aggressive history. We decide whether a particular dog or bitch is going to be suitable and home-able, which of course most of them are.
It’s incredibly hard to choose sometimes or to say no to some dogs, but we are sensible because we don’t want dogs to be lonely here just sitting in kennels for months on end.
The dogs have a rabies shot and a gentle vaccination from the vets and they are also chipped, spayed and neutered before they come to Pine Ridge. We raise the funds to make sure that all gets done as well as paying for their transport costs so they get here safe and sound.
What would you say have been your most memorable moments at Pine Ridge?
I think just being here and working with the dogs and seeing them go to homes where they get the love and treatment they deserve is incredibly rewarding.
A lot of the dogs that come to us can occasionally be nervous, wondering what on earth is happening. I can’t explain how lovely it is to see the dogs get rehomed and begin to trust, gain confidence and, from this, fully blossom.
Every day is different, of course, and you never know what to expect but there are generally more highs than there are lows.
Pine Ridge has been going strong for 65 years, do you have any future goals for the sanctuary?
Of course, we would like to see Pine Ridge continue into the long term and hopefully that will be something that the trustees and I will be talking about in the not too distant future.
Fortunately, we have had one or two very kind people that have left a legacy to Pine Ridge over the years and that is obviously the backbone of any organisation to be able to keep going.