A day in the life of an animal angel

Posted 17th June 2023

You might like the idea of switching that desk job to run an animal sanctuary; all the cuddles and cuteness, and that slower pace, right? You couldn’t be more wrong. It’s long hours, hard work and as draining mentally as it is physically. But, as Annie Marriott lets us behind the scenes, she tells Pulse’s Sammy Jones that she wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is no real need for an alarm clock at the side of the bed; Annie Marriott and her husband Roy have an alternative ‘clock’ with a combined leg count of 32!

Their eight dogs usually start stirring early, and by the time Annie shrugs off the duvet to click halt on the phone alarm which is set for 5.30am, she is already mentally preparing herself for another day at her ‘office’ where anything might happen.

Opening the kennels at Animals in Need
Opening the kennels…

“If it wasn’t for the dogs I could sleep through a crisis, but Roy sleeps lightly,” she says of AIN’s founder, “We are both awake before the alarms have a chance. I love the early mornings during the summer, but in wintertime? I struggle to get up and would be happier hibernating!”

On a good day, there is time for a quick bowl of porridge with protein powder and chia seeds for this vegan warrior, but not this morning. There is simply too much to do.

Skipping breakfast is one thing, but woe betide anyone who tries to get between Annie and her coffee.

“Roy is a gem, he gets up with me and gets the kettle on – I am largely powered by coffee!” she laughs.

First things first, and her own pack of pooches need their bellies feeding and then they need to step outside to take care of business.

And while they do theirs, Roy is checking the overnight phone messages and emails for anything that might demand a speedy response. Meanwhile, Annie is taking care of other AIN business – unlocking the shelters and waking the animals there to greet the new day. Living on site means it’s an easy commute.

There have been occasions when she opens the front gates to the centre to find a box or an old basket dumped there, with a terrified puppy or kitten inside. Or an elderly dog tied up. Alone, cold, scared and bewildered.

“It’s truly awful when that happens,” Annie says, “They are the exceptions and that doesn’t happen often, but every time it is devastating. When you walk up the drive to open up, you just never know,” she sighs, “We are here to help, and we’re not scary people – I always say come and talk to us directly if you can no longer care for your pet. Please don’t just throw him or her out like trash.”

Thankfully, the gates are clear today, and Annie makes her way back to the office to arrange the daily rotas.

“It’s so important to ensure the staff and volunteers know what’s what and who will be where during the day in order for things to run as smoothly as possible. Then I check on the rabbits and let the three continental giant rabbits out, while Roy helps organise everyone as they arrive at 8am.

“From there I can usually be found in the laundry area, which we call the dog wash, putting the first load of washing on. The washing machines are then on constantly all day. We have so much to get through every day. We are currently caring for 60 dogs and 40 cats. That’s a lot of bedding!

“Once that’s on, I let the ponies out and then the hens. They have roofed outdoor areas, because the current bird flu restrictions mean that they can’t just be let out freely.”

There’s a bark-load of stuff to be sorted for the canines, with three blocks of kennels to be opened and the residents checked and fed.

“The isolation block is where all our new arrival dogs are held under assessment, and they stay there while they are undergoing vaccinations and neutering. We have a retirement block which is home to those dogs we are unable to re-home elsewhere, so they have a permanent safe space with us. And then the main block, where all those in need of new homes are housed,” Annie explained.

“We have several runs, so I go through the kennels checking that all of the animals are ok, and put the first lot of dogs out. Some dogs kennel share, so there are usually around 16 dogs to put out first.”

Dogs at Animals in Need
Caring for canines during ‘ruff’ times: These cuties are three of the 60 dogs currently being looked after at Animals in Need

If you’ve ever been to the Animals in Need rescue centre in Little Irchester and you’ve felt the chill of a breeze as something passes, it’s very probably Annie, who racks up enough steps to hit 10 miles a day when she isn’t stuck behind the steering wheel picking up rescue animals, or assisting other rescue groups, which can take her across the country.

By the time the A509, which runs parallel to their premises, is bustling with people on their way to work, Annie has already done a day’s work – and Holly and Phil aren’t even on the TV screen yet!

Like Annie would have time to sit down with a little daytime television anyway. The mere suggestion is ridiculous.

Today, Annie will be on the road too; she’s heading out to collect much needed donations from AIN supporters, including the pet supplies retailer, Pets At Home. As a charity with no guaranteed funding, every sachet of cat food, every dog chew, every blanket and every penny donated by companies and individuals really does count.

“Our supporters go above and beyond to help keep the wheels turning here, and it’s difficult to verbalise just how grateful we are for their unwavering help,” Annie said, “Not least during these dire times. The financial strain is an ever constant worry, and the fuel bills here are simply astronomical.”

Collections made, Annie heads back to base with the haul, which won’t last long – the centre is bursting at the seams with all creatures great and small as people continue to give up their animals, and with the constant stream of wild animals and birds to care for too, this place is way busier than Noah’s ark. Granted they don’t cater for giraffes, but the animals don’t just come in two by two!

A sick badger
A lucky lady – this badger is safe after being attacked

Annie isn’t back at Pine Tree Farm for long before she is called off site to coordinate a badger rescue: “She had been attacked – quite possibly by another badger in a dispute over territory, or by a dog. We can’t say for sure which,” Annie explains, “She is now safe in our on-site hospital. Her wounds have been cleaned, she’s on antibiotics and pain relief and we have put her on a drip. She was rescued from a field in Poddington, after a member of the public called it in.”

Annie’s job is difficult; not just physically, but mentally too. Earlier this year she bravely shared the struggles she sometimes faces. Looking after herself is always way down Annie’s list of priorities, but she is trying to remedy that a little, and sprints off-site for a quick trip to the gym for a high-intensity workout session.

After that, you might think a nice spot of lunch would be in order, or a mooch around the shops, perhaps, but you’d be wide of the mark – she journeys straight back home to the rescue centre to do the afternoon stint in the dog kennels, before putting in a few hours assisting the visiting vet who is treating a variety of unwilling patients!

Assisting with the veterinary work
Assisting with the veterinary work

Today, Annie finishes work on the farm at 7pm. But she’s still not done.

“I came back to the house to sort our dogs out, and then cooked Roy’s tea who has been every bit as busy as me. I’ve done some housework and have just finished up a couple of hours of admin work, which has to be done, but is a real chore,” she says with a sigh of relief as the laptop lid is finally snapped shut.

Though Annie will snort at the mere suggestion, she is the superwoman of animal rescue – but she says she couldn’t do it without her best friend: “I honestly couldn’t do this without Roy,” she says, “He deserves a medal for putting up with me. He keeps me going when I lose the will to carry on.”

Annie and Roy at the wholesalers
Annie and Roy make a whistlestop visit to the wholesalers for cafe supplies

And, as the clock edges nearer to midnight after another manic day on the farm, all is quiet; the animals are fed, watered and cosying up for another night in their safe space.

Close-by, over at Annie and Roy’s place, there might just be time for a little look at the television before they attempt some shuteye.

Perhaps some of the small screen choices will come as no surprise though.

“I love animal documentaries like Blue Planet,” Annie smiles, although that does sound a bit like the tv equivalent of a busman’s holiday!

“I love the horror on Netflix too,” she says keen to show that there is sometimes an animal free moment, “The scarier the better,” she laughs, “But my all-time favourite is Ricky Gervais’ Afterlife. I would give a kidney to be able to see him on tour!”

But nights out are very much the exception for this couple – the work never stops or eases; before this week is out, AIN’s menagerie – which currently numbers around 600 animals and also includes pigs, mice, guinea pigs and a whopping 387 wildlife patients – will have grown and they will have taken in two Persian cats, two sheep, 11 dogs and one bearded dragon. 

With that many patients to care for, it’s a wonder that there’s even time for 40 winks!

Animals in Need logoTo find out more, adopt an animal or to donate visit https://animals-in-need.org/