This is Jac Prosser, a fun and energetic Glaswegian who, according to her Facebook page, studied brain surgery at Harvard and is a government trained assassin. However, there is more to this lady than her bright pink overalls and cheeky sense of humour imply. Jac is one of the new wave of volunteers who have started to work at their local animal refuges throughout France and for Jac, this is a serious business.
The Brits in France are generally well known for their compassion for animals and many are upset by the large numbers of stray animals roaming the countryside and the sight of dogs on chains or confined to pens – something very common, especially in the more rural areas of France.
The animal welfare refuges are full to bursting, due to supply way overpowering demand, and the needless breeding of dogs due to reticence to sterilise, breeding for the chasse (hunt) and breeding in puppy farms, amongst other reasons. Cats have a very tough time too. The feral cat population in France is out of control and it’s not uncommon for cats and kittens to appear at people’s houses asking for food and shelter.
In November 2013, Verity Lineham, one of the volunteers at the refuge of Mornac, Angouleme, organised her 40th birthday party with a twist. The twist was that her party was held at the refuge and that rather than dress up, all friends had to arrive in walking gear, equipped with dog leads and a smile.
The party was so successful that every single dog (of 200) was walked. Those who didn’t want to walk dogs cuddled cats instead. Shortly afterwards, a group of Verity’s friends formed the idea of an online group, whereby more people could get together in this way at shelters across France. Slowly but surely the idea has taken off with some 600 members of LAARF (Les Amis des Animaux en Refuges de France) as at April 2015, and growing.
The idea is that you join LAARF in order to find a buddy or five and make your introductions at your local SPA or refuge. Some of the refuges in France are already “infiltrated” with LAARFers, some not so. Sometimes it can be a challenge to persuade the managers of the refuges that you are genuine and / or reliable. After all, nobody wants to welcome in volunteers who are flaky, or who could present a risk to the welfare of the animals. Building up trust is key.
Jac and her colleagues volunteer at the SPA of Bergerac, who at first were not open to the idea of allowing a bunch of strangers to take their dogs out. With determination and persistence, they are now an accepted and respected team with one of them even sitting on the Conseil D’administration and having a say in how the refuge is run.
The LAARFers are a positive, energetic, determined and above all, compassionate bunch. They welcome newcomers with open arms, so if you’d like to join them, their contact details are:
Facebook: LAARF SPA Volunteer Network
Thanks to Jane Hunt for words and pictures, and to The Good Life France for publishing the article. Our numbers are going up as a result!