Biggin Hill's Foal Farm as important as when it was founded in the 1960s
It's hard to believe that a water buffalo was one of the first animals to be rescued by Foal Farm in Biggin Hill, 50 years ago.
The centre was founded in the 1960s by Carl and Penny Baker who came across a dog called Rex, chained up and in appalling health.
They were living on a barge at Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey when they took Rex in and made a decision that they would begin rescuing animals.
But as word quickly spread and animals began being dumped on the boat, the couple realised they needed to upsize.
On August 1, 1960, Carl, Penny and 18 of their friends met and agreed to form the Friends of Animals League (FOAL).Two years later, on May 23, 1962, the Bakers moved into Jail Lane, after selling everything they had.
Penny described the site as “an ugly, godforsaken place, well away from main roads and bus services and with no railway station” but it was a space they could use to achieve their aim – helping as many animals as possible.
Manager Jackie Sands says: “One of the first animals they helped was a water buffalo, amazingly. These days we still rescue all sorts of animals. Someone brought a pair of wallabies in, which had been kept as an attraction in a shop.”
But the majority of admissions are cats and dogs, some of which arrive in a “heart-breaking” state.
The centre never puts an animal down, which means they have to be very careful how many they accept.
“It can be a very emotional job,” says Jackie. “But if we weren’t here what would happen? They would all die.”
As well as cats and dogs, there are the larger animals which are not rehomed but live out their retirement on the 26-acre site.
One such creature is Clint the cow, who was a pub pet in Dartford before his owners emigrated.
The day starts early at Foal Farm as the animals are let out and fed. Then the overwhelming task of cleaning enclosures for up to 400 creatures great and small begins.
Describing the labour, Jackie says: “It’s incredibly hard work. You have to be dedicated but it’s very worthwhile. Many animals are traumatised when they arrive. As the months go by they are rehabilitated and rehomed. Watching that process is why we do it. It’s all about the animals.”
It’s a view shared by deputy manager Debra Taylor, who has also worked at the farm for over 20 years.
“We are crazy about animals. There are so many to help. We would take them all if we could. We all have the same goal here – to rescue as many as we can.”
Jackie adds: “There have been times when we’ve had to tighten our belt but we’ve always come through. We’ve been here for 50 years and we plan to carry on. People really care about this place.”