Army of volunteers descend on dogs home to help celebrate big day

While most of the UK is tucking into a turkey on Christmas Day, residents at one of the country's most famous rescue centres have not been forgotten.

An army of over 50 volunteers descends on Battersea Dogs Home on Christmas Day sporting festive jumpers to show all the cats and dogs still waiting for a new family what Christmas is all about, and sometimes to greet a few new arrivals.

Last year, the home welcomed nine strays on Christmas Day, who arrived to find the home full of festive cheer.

Staff and volunteers spend hours decorating the vast complex, which houses around 130 cats and 150 dogs, to make the day special.

Becky Fisher, rehoming and welfare manager at the home, said: "People like to donate their time.

"Volunteers come in, some daily, certainly every week if not several times a week, so the dogs are just as much a part of their family as they are of our family, especially those volunteers who live nearby.

"People like to come in to make Christmas special for the dogs and make sure they have a lot of time with people at Christmas."

A big part of the day is the walk to Battersea Park with many of the dogs in their Christmas jumpers donated by members of the public.

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The animals are played carols and Christmas pop songs, and festive scents such as frankincense and nutmeg are sprayed around the buildings.

All the fuss is not just for fun, it also serves a practical purpose in helping dogs in particular get used to a family setting and the upheaval that goes with the festive season.

Many dogs, often former racing dogs, sometimes struggle to adjust to life in a home after spending all their time either in kennels or on the track.

"Scent enrichment", experimenting with different scents, is also a big part of the dogs' rehabilitation, and Christmas is an opportunity to try out some new varieties.

Becky Fisher with seven-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier Queen
Becky Fisher with seven-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier Queen

Ms Fisher said: "What we have is a whole variety of scents. We will have it sprayed around the kennels, something like lavender, something that's quite calming to try and keep the general kennel environment as stress-free as possible."

She added: "Then we also do general scent sessions with the dogs, so we offer them up different scents, we might offer them mint or rosehip or ylang ylang and see if they like the smell.

"Some of them they won't like and they're not bothered, but sometimes they'll really like a particular scent and they'll be asking for more of it and if they're trying to smell more of it then we'll put that on to a little bit of cloth and we'll put it in to their kennel for them so they can have that if we know they like it."

The home has several mocked-up sitting rooms to help dogs, who may have been strays or grown up in a kennel, get used to a new environment.

Plaque marking the rehoming to Downing Street of Larry the cat
Plaque marking the rehoming to Downing Street of Larry the cat

At this time of year, these rooms are complete with fairy lights and a Christmas tree, and volunteers spend time with the dogs to help them learn that the decorations, however alluring, are not giant toys.

Although less impressed by the prospect of a Christmas jumper, the home's feline residents are also spoiled at Christmas.

Each of the cats get a new knitted mouse and a special turkey dinner and lots of attention from volunteers.

Again, the activities are not just for festive cheer but also a big part of helping the cats get ready for new homes.