Nine to Fido: Canine Welfare Trainer for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home


Many of you will have watched the debut of ITV’s latest series Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs earlier this week, which delves into the world of Britain’s most famous animal rescue centres - Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. In our latest Nine to Fido interview, we catch up with Helen Stone, one of their Canine Welfare Trainers, to find out more about what it's like to work for Battersea.

Describe a typical working day
I arrive at work at 8am, check through my emails and work on training presentations for staff and volunteers. I’ll then head up to the kennels to help staff working with particular dogs. This may involve taking some dogs down to our on-site paddocks to assess how they interact with other dogs or to teach them some new commands. Often I then go off-site to help with education talks or events in the local community. 

Have you always been a Canine Welfare Trainer?
I’ve been with Battersea for nearly two and a half years. I started out at one of the charity’s satellite centres in Brands Hatch, Kent, as a Rehoming and Welfare Assistant before coming to the London site for my current role. Other than Battersea, I’ve always worked with animals - it’s been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I’ve previously worked in veterinary clinics, with moon bears at Animals Asia in China and at The Donkey Sanctuary in Cyprus. My only non-animal related job was a role as a security officer at Wimbledon Tennis and the Golf Open but even then the highlight of my day was watching the Police spaniels search the courts!

What made you decide to become a Canine Welfare Trainer?
Working at Battersea has always been a dream of mine – they do so much for animals and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to help improve animal welfare in any way I could so this role was perfect, as I teach people both at Battersea and across the UK how to do the best for our nation’s dogs.

What training or qualifications did you have to get for your job?
I have a 1st class honours degree in Animal Behaviour Science from Lincoln University and a lot of previous experience working in animal welfare related jobs. I think the best way to get the right knowledge for a job like mine is to really spend time with dogs and to watch how they behave. Volunteering at a kennels is a great place to start to see if it’s right for you. Here at Battersea, we regularly recruit for new volunteers to help the dogs and they are all given extensive training to help them to do the best that they can for the animals.

What are the highs & lows of your job?
Like a lot of people who work with animals, you sometimes feel under a lot of pressure to do so much for them and it can feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do as much as you’d like. However, like the rest of the team here at Battersea, it only takes the wag or a tail or seeing the dogs happy and relaxed to know that all your efforts have been worthwhile. 

What do you find the most rewarding about your dog-job?
Without a doubt, it’s when we receive photos and letters from people who have re-homed dogs from us. I recently hand reared two Rottweiler puppies, who required round the clock care before they could be re-homed. Their new owners sent me some photos of them playing in the park and spending time in their new home, which was great to see. A lot of the dogs who come into Battersea have not had the best start in life so to see them improve here and then move on to be happy in permanent, loving homes is nothing short of amazing.

What has been your biggest challenge?
The Brands Hatch site is very rural and on one occasion, we got snowed in for four days. There were only three of us there and it was down to us to take each dog on a walk every day in snow up to our thighs and to spend time playing with the cats. We were working ten-hour days and staying overnight on site but we still managed to keep weary smiles on our faces. It was a huge challenge but I am so proud of the level of care that we still managed to provide for our animals under such tough conditions.


What is your proudest moment?
The new ITV Show with Paul O’Grady. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him during filming. We talked about some of the dogs that I had been working with and how we do things here at the Home. He was lovely and obviously really cares about our animals. It’s going to be really strange to see myself on TV but I can’t wait for the whole of the UK to find out more about what happens here – both the happy and the sad times.

What has given you your biggest sense of achievement?
A lot of people who work at Battersea have worked with dogs for years and years but that doesn’t mean that we’re not still learning. I love it when someone with lots of experience tries out a new technique, which I have taught them and sees just how effective it is. Every dog is different so it’s useful when those of us that may know the most are also those who are willing to learn from each other.

What advice would you give to someone interested in doing the same job as you?
I would say that they should go for it! Working with animals is so rewarding but does require lots of patience and compassion. Also, I think it’s vital that you really know your stuff before you start advising other people on the best methods of training. Here at Battersea, we only use positive reinforcement methods based on how much research has been done into what works best. As with any career, it’s important to follow what you feel is right for you – that’s what I did as I focused on a subject that I loved. It took a lot of work but I got there in the end!

You can catch Helen and her colleagues in aul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs on Monday nights on ITV1 at 8pm. To find out more about Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, follow them on Twitter at @BDCH or log onto Facebook.com/battersea or Battersea.org.uk.

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