Willows Animal Sanctuary – Scotland

Willows Animal Sanctuary is the largest, ethically managed, equine, farm and domestic animal sanctuary in Scotland and will try to help any animal in distress. We operate a strict no-kill policy and only euthanise an animal on veterinary advice. We look after over 450 animals including over 100 horses, ponies and donkeys, approximately 65 cats and dogs and many reptiles as well as over 200 farm animals and birds. We are very dependent on donations, legacies and grants from benevolent organizations to keep the sanctuary running. Unlike larger charities we have no reserves of money and are always desperately short of funds. We specialise in helping elderly or more vulnerable animals that have already been refused help by well-known large national charities, but we can only continue to help needy animals with your support!

https://www.willowsanimals.com/
Old Sammy at Willows

There are more cats than you can count and by the looks of it, they sleep in the stables opposite the horses. They have a large almost bookshelf like construction along the wall with individual cat-sized pods and a cushion in each one. Cats are everywhere – friendly cats that wrap around your ankles and purr like an engine. Cats that climb into your car when you open the doors to leave. Cats that jump on your lap and take you hostage ironical in front of the sign that read do not pick up the cats.


Willows Visitor Attraction open Thursday, Friday,
Saturday, Sunday & Monday 11:30 to 15:30

Admission: Adults £5.00, Children £4.00, Senior Citizen £2.00

Willows is located on the B9093 road between Strichen and New Pitsligo,
approximately 1.4 miles from New Pitsligo and 1.6 miles from Strichen.

Do NOT trust your SatNav!


21 years

Willows Animal Sanctuary is the largest, ethically managed, equine, farm and domestic animal sanctuary in Scotland and will try to help any animal in distress.

They operate a strict no-kill policy and only euthanise an animal on veterinary advice. They look after over 450 animals including over 100 horses, ponies and donkeys, approximately 65 cats and dogs and many reptiles as well as over 200 farm animals and birds. As a very dependent on donations, legacies and grants from benevolent organizations to keep the sanctuary running.

Unlike larger charities, they have no reserves of money and are always desperately short of funds. We specialise in helping elderly or more vulnerable animals that have already been refused help by well-known large national charities, but they can only continue to help needy animals with your support!

Angel’s Story

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My name is Angel and this is my story. I was orphaned as a lamb and my owners bottle fed me. Things weren’t too bad, it was summer and I had lots of friends. When winter came, my owners placed me and my friend out in a field and pretty much forgot about us. We had little water or food and the grass wasn’t up to much. One day when I was looking for food, I punctured my eye on an old piece of wire that had been left lying around. The pain was so bad and I felt so ill. I waited for help but weeks passed and none came.

My eye was now very badly infected and the infection had started to track down my face. Christmas came and went and I was feeling so terribly ill and with battling the cold winter I had started to give up on life. My friend disappeared, I didn’t know where she went and I was all alone. Then suddenly, this lady leapt over the fence and scooped me up! I was so weak I didn’t put up much of a fight. She carried me into her shed and put me on a warm bed of shavings and put a heat lamp on me. She told me that she had seen how unwell I looked and that she couldn’t leave me where I was. She’d asked my owners if she could take me and they’d said yes! She called out a vet that night who said my eye had gone past the point of being saved and I would have to have it removed.

I was dehydrated and I had chronic pneumonia. The vet gave me lots of injections and left lots medicine for me to have. The next day, the lady who rescued me took me to Willows Animal Sanctuary and I was given a lovely stable bedded with golden straw and there were friends in the stall next to me. A few weeks later, when I was stronger, I had the operation to remove my eye. I felt a lot better after it was removed as it was causing me great pain. I am all recovered now! I just love the people who look after me, I get lots of fuss and scratches on a daily basis and my tummy is always full! I know now that I am loved and safe forever and I will never be forgotten or neglected again.

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Toto: this little soul has suffered unimaginable neglect in his time. He was found by some kind people on their way home. They were driving along when they saw this matted tiny dog running up and down the road in terrible distress and a few cars had to swerve to avoid him. They pulled over and managed to catch him and they were so upset by the state of him as he was so matted, he couldn’t even see. They immediately cut the mats away from his eyes and drove him straight up Willows. We examined him on arrival and we were absolutely appalled by his condition and we had a vet examine him immediately. He was completed matted, all of his teeth were completely rotten and he was extremely thin and absolutely petrified. After observing all the correct protocols with the dog warden and he had gained some strength, the vets gave him a much needed dental. Sadly no teeth could be saved and they all had to be removed as they were just so rotten.

This was an immense ordeal for such a tiny dog and we had to provide him with a huge amount of TLC to get him through. He also has arthritis in his back legs and requires on going treatment to manage it. We are glad to say that he has gained a lot of weight and he’s becoming a very happy and loving little chap! We don’t know where he came from but it’s clear that he was denied a lot of much needed veterinary attention, food and love.

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Janet and Poppy: we were contacted in August 2015 by a lady who had been left to take care of these poor animals (12 sheep and 5 goats) which had been heartlessly abandoned by their owner. Animal health advised that they be fattened up and sent to market! Many of the sheep were found with fly strike (when a bluebottle fly lays eggs on a live animal and they hatch into maggots and starting eating the flesh) and the goats had rotting feet. They were immediately seen by our vet and received medical attention.

The sheep began producing lambs in February and are all doing well. They are all happily settled in the sanctuary and will stay here in safety for the rest of their lives. One of the Jacob ewes who we named Janet had a very difficult birth and needed an assisted delivery. When her little lamb, Poppy, was born, Janet tried and failed to feed her. Our vet discovered that her udder was full of scar tissue and recommended that Poppy be taken away and given artificial colostrum and milk. Heartbroken by the situation, we removed Poppy and poor Janet cried and cried for her.

The heartbreak this sheep was feeling was one of the saddest things we’d ever witnessed but Poppy needed urgent nutrition as she was becoming weaker by the moment. Next day, Poppy was looking much better and although we knew Janet couldn’t feed her she could do all the other things like cuddle her and love her. If Janet would accept her back, we could bottle feed her and hopefully the two could be reunited. We made Janet a pen among her fellow sheep and brought Poppy into the stable and carefully introduced them. To say Janet was thrilled to have her baby back is an understatement! We worked out a careful rota and took it in turns to feed little Poppy. She’s now grown into a strong sheep and they are both doing really well!

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Ginger: I started out life as a racehorse. Although I was well cared for, I was subjected to great cruelty by my trainer. He decided to teach me a hard lesson when I didn’t understand what I was being asked to do one day. Instead of showing me in a gentle way what he was wanting of me, he got immensely angry and beat me until I was black and blue and I felt as if my spirit was broken. The day came for my first big race and I galloped as hard as I could whilst being lashed with a whip. I gave it my all but I didn’t win. The racing world is a hard and cruel industry and horses that don’t win (or even the ones who do) either go straight to the knackers yard, a sale or the lucky ones go to a rehab charity. Many horses are bought up and sent abroad for slaughter. I was very frightened that this cruel fate would be mine but I was incredibly lucky and I was saved by a very kind lady. She took me home and loved me and I actually started to like people again! But, sadly it wasn’t to last. She became unwell and she said she had found me a kind loaner to care for me and I would be better off. So I was loaded up again and sent away to a new livery yard. When I arrived, I didn’t like it there. I wasn’t allowed in with the other horses and they all looked ill. There was rubbish all over the fields and no stables or shelters.

To start with, my new human came up every day to care for me but as the weather got colder her visits started to drop off. My feet became painful as I hadn’t seen a farrier in months and there was no food to speak of. She just seemed to have lost interest in me and I was very lonely and hungry. My rugs were torn and wet and I felt myself becoming weaker. I heard that I was being put up for sale, but I felt so low I no longer cared. A woman came up to view me and I heard her telling my loaner “You will never sell a horse in this kind of state! I’m going to talk to his owner!” A few days later when the wind was howling and the rain was beating down hard and I was standing alone in the field shivering, I saw a horse box pull up. I was taken over to it and the driver insisted that I should have an appropriate rug put on (My loaner thought my torn and soaked rain sheet was okay for me to travel in!). When I was ready I was loaded up and we set off!

Six hours later, we came to a stop and the doors were opened and I stepped out into this wonderful new world! I was led into a nice warm stable with lots of hay and I looked around at all my new friends and I saw lots of contented horses, ponies and donkeys happily munching at their hay with shiny coats and peaceful expressions. A sense of calm came over me as I thought to myself “I’m home now”. After I’d had something to eat, I was groomed, given new rugs and the vet came out to examine me. She said that I needed to gain a lot of weight and left a gentle wormer for me and treated me for lice. The Farrier then came out and made my feet much more comfortable. People were constantly popping in and giving me pats and reassurance and telling me that the worst was now over and the best of it is, I believe them! A few weeks later, I felt strong enough to have a good gallop across the field! As I tore across the field with the wind in my mane and my new friends by side I felt something mend that had long been broken – my spirit!

Please sponsor us! Follow this link to find out how.


Donate to Willows and support vital work

You can support Willows in many different ways. Sponsorship is a great way to support an animal and costs £25.00, but there are several other ways. Willows needs your help to pay for essential bills such as veterinary care, feed, hay, straw and other crucial running costs.

Read more: https://www.willowsanimals.com/


Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Willows support an AAT programme. AAT is a type of therapy that involves an animal with specific characteristics, becoming a fundamental part of a person’s treatment. Animal-Assisted Therapy is designed to improve the physical, social, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning of the patient, as well as providing educational and motivational effectiveness for the participant.

AAT can be provided on an individual or group basis. Many kinds of animals are used in therapy, including dogs, cats, elephants, birds, dolphins, rabbits, lizards, and other small animals. AAT with horses is known specifically as equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP), and is one of the many options we offer at the sanctuary. Willows has run the AAT Programme for people with severe mental health difficulties, for approximately 15 years.

This started out as a pilot scheme but soon came to be regarded as useful alternative to day/hospital care by social workers, psychiatrists and employment officers. We then entered into a service level agreement with Aberdeenshire Council for people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties. Since starting the programme we have identified other client groups who would benefit from using our service. After running several pilot schemes for client groups with learning and physical difficulties, people who suffer from substance misuse, homeless people we have expanded our services to assist these groups too..

Willows is situated in a rural and relatively deprived area. We are fairly central to Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banff. This region has a high amount of people suffering from substance misuse, mental health issues and unemployment. Willows acts as a life line for a lot of vulnerable people, and in many cases it is the only programme particular clients are willing to try. We work very closely with Employment officers, Social workers and back to work programmes etc. This helps us to maintain the high standard of service that we provide. Over the years we have helped many people back in to work and further education. Jenny Gray, manager of Willows What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Judith’s Story

Judith (not her real name), has suffered unimaginable abuse from a young age. She was sexually abused and beaten by her father, who then locked her in a cellar and left her there until she was eventually found by police. She was so traumatised that she was unable to leave her mother’s side, and until recently things looked very dark for her indeed. Now aged 16, she was brought to Willows, and now volunteers here each week. Judith has a deep love of animals, and the interaction with them in the safety of the sanctuary has changed the world for her. We are asking all caring people to help Willows to continue to support Judith, and the many other vulnerable people. They rely on their weekly therapeutic visits to the sanctuary, which help them recover from their experiences, and supports them as they move on in the world.

How the Animal Assisted Therapy Programme Works

Our AAT programme is client led. When first introduced to a new client we will have an informal interview in order to discover their particular interests. We also ask what he or she hopes to achieve through being on this programme.

Commonly, client responses range from wanting to improve their confidence, to learning new skills to do a college course or seek employment. This is also an opportunity to find out any relevant medical information, for example, asthma or back problems, so that we can then adjust the kind of work they will do around them.

Our programme is tailor-made for the individual, and this can range from grooming cats, to learning about horse management, or learning DIY skills and basic horticulture as well as many other opportunities and courses being made available. Our main client group is people with severe and enduring mental health issues, but we also help people with brain damage as well as schizophrenics.

Goals are different for everyone mostly we are supporting people back in to education and then on to employment. With helping the most vulnerable of our clients, getting to Willows is an achievement for them and in a lot of cases the only place they will go to. We also have clients that travel for nearly two hours to get here.

For example we had one client called Susan who had mild depression due to a marriage break up. She wanted to go back to college and do a small animal course but it turned out she was terrified of animals! She was with us one day a week for eight weeks, in that time we taught her various skills that would be used in her course and we found out why she was so scared. It turned out that she thought she would hurt the animals If she picked them up.

The eight sessions helped her build her confidence up and she went on to complete her course and went on to the next level. Another example is Mike, the nature of Mikes illness is that he has attended Willows for around 8 years. His recent quote is “ coming to Willows sets me up for the week, I feel lost without it. Willows has helped me become more confident, I can now walk my dog again and go fishing, something I have not been able to do for years”.

This is a most rewarding programme to be part of as it is wonderful to meet someone and watch them become more confident and part of them team. This unique bond between

Our Objectives

  • We want to expand our services to more volunteers and vulnerable people in the community.
  • We wish to develop more links with other organisations throughout the NE of Scotland. Together we are trying to improve opportunities for people‘s personal growth and development.
  • We aim to improve the quality of life choices for volunteers and vulnerable people. This unique project delivers opportunities for vulnerable people making a stronger community. W

People doing Community Service are often involved on projects like fencing and work on the nature trail. Everyone involved seems to enjoy the outside work, and benefit from learning new skills which can then go on their CV.

We have been approached by private carers, hoping we can offer AAT to the person they look after, so far we have been able to offer free placements to those who have no care package. Please donate toward this, thus allowing us to always have free placements for those who need them.

Since starting the programme we have identified other client groups who would benefit from using our service. Currently we are experiencing an increased demand for places from young people and especially school-phobics and troubled teenagers. More people than ever are looking into alternatives to assist with anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties.

Our AAT programme has boosted confidence, helped overcome anxiety, taught new skills and opened doors for employability and further education. Our therapy programme is run by a team of experienced staff (some of whom have personal experience with mental health issues themselves).

Willows acts as a life line for many vulnerable people, and in many cases it is the only programme particular clients are willing to try. We work very closely with employment officers, social workers and back to work programmes etc. This helps us to maintain the high standard of service that we provide. 

‘I feel being at the sanctuary has helped me move forward and I am feeling more confident’ – Julie is now considering seeking paid work, the fact she is thinking about this shows how far she has come!

‘Being at Willows is a chance to escape from reality!’ – Jill has suffered with depression for a long time and has really blossomed since being at Willows.

‘Being around all the wonderful animals has made me feel useful!’ Taking part in the AAT helps people to put animals first and this can help with resolving issues at home.

Mary looks forward to her time at the sanctuary it gives her ‘time out’.

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‘I now feel like a different person, I can now cope with people, in the past I would have tried to avoid people by crossing the street if necessary or not going out’ – Brian now feels so much better he is now helping others at Willows!

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Jemma feels that attending the Willows AAT programme has helped her enormously with her depression and panic attacks. She feels the animals need her to feed them and being at Willows makes her feels happy and free. Jemma also said the she ‘enjoys this the most’ out all of her activities.

‘Coming to the Willows on a Monday kick starts my week if I don’t attend my whole week doesn’t feel right’ – John has suffered with severe depression for years. Willows AAT is the only activity he attends.


Read more: https://www.willowsanimals.com/pdf/aat%20website.pdf

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