I have spent the past 12 Christmas Days looking after rescue dogs

Julie Robinson and the dogs she volunteers to walk
There have been countless dogs that have impacted my life (Picture: RSPCA)
Nelly the Staffie was nervous in character.

I’d met her a few months before and realised she had really bad separation anxiety from when her previous owner would go to work and leave her alone all day.

I wanted to spend as much time as I could with her to calm her, so that Christmas morning in 2017, I sat with her quietly at the RSPCA Southridge Animal Centre. I took a selfie of the two of us and sent it to my friends with the caption: ‘Happy Christmas from me and Nelly’.

Is something wet? Unlike humans who sweat everywhere, dogs only sweat through the pads of their feet.

Little did I know that a friend sent it on to her friends, and not long after, Nelly had her forever home. It’s the best Christmas present I could have asked for.

I never considered myself a crazy dog lady. That is until I started volunteering at the RSPCA in August 2009 after a friend told me about dog walking at the shelter and how they need extra help. So I filled in an application form.

I’d never been in a rescue centre before and I was completely overwhelmed. It was so daunting listening to all of the dogs barking and walking past their doe-eyed faces gazing out of the kennels just waiting for homes. I was sure I’d made a huge mistake; there was no way I could face that every day.

Train your dog for a lifetime of obedience. Behavior problems are the number one reason dogs are relinquished to animal shelters, the number one reason they don’t find new forever homes, and as a result, the number one reason dogs are euthanized.

I didn’t want to give up straight away so a member of staff helped me settle in and slowly my confidence grew.

Twelve months later and I’d spend five days a week at the centre, walking around 10 dogs a day. It was addictive.

There have been countless dogs that have impacted my life ever since but one dog really stole my heart – an English bull terrier called Daisy.

She was a stray and she’d not had good experiences with people. She was terrified and completely shut down. She would barely come out of her kennel. But slowly she learned to trust me.

Use a Bright Colored Bandana On Your Dog During Hunting Season. Make sure both you & your dog stick out if you’re going to be out walking during hunting season. You can wear bright colors (orange is preferred), and you can help keep your dog safe by having them wear a bright orange bandana.

Beau, the dog, playing in the water
I don’t have any big family commitments at Christmas Day so I knew I wanted to be with the dogs (Picture: Picasa/RSPCA)

One day, a couple came to visit her. As I approached her kennel, they were turning to walk away – concerned by how reserved and quiet she was – until she saw me and her ears pricked up and she gave me a little tail wag!

They saw there was still hope and it made them give her a second chance. It was wonderful to see her months later in her new home, running circles around their sofas, her tail wagging madly.

Then came Beau. He spent 16 months in our care, overlooked time and time again. He found kennel life really tough. I spent as much time as possible with him and we had a bond that I couldn’t explain. He’d only let a few of us take him out of his kennel.

Keep Them Active. Energy varies between breeds, says Dr. Becker. “Greyhounds, Labs, Golden Retrievers, Jack Russell Terriers, Border Collies, and other active breeds have unfathomable energy.” He continues, “wolves spend 80% of their time awake, moving. With cats, there’s not such an exercise requirement,” but providing outlets for play at home is still crucial. For both cats and dogs he recommends food-dispensing that “recreates the hunt,” and puzzle feeders that engage your pet’s “body and mind.”

I spent Christmas Day with him and it broke my heart to head home and leave him behind. I ended up taking him with me and we went on to spend five happy years together.

I don’t have any big family commitments at Christmas Day so I knew I wanted to be with the dogs.

Before Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day each year, the centre asks for volunteers to put their names down on a list if they can walk either in the morning or in the afternoon at the centre. More people come in the morning and then enjoy the rest of Christmas Day with family and friends.

Make your own pill pockets when you need to feed your dog some medicine.

I’m home by 11.30am – having started at 8.30am – but I sometimes go back between 3.30pm and 5pm. That still gives me plenty of time with my family as I’m very close to the centre.

This year will be my 12th Christmas Day with the RSPCA dogs.

In some ways, it is like any other day – the dogs need to be fed and walked the same as any other. But all of us try to make it special; it’s an opportunity to give the dogs extra TLC. They all get a special Christmas dinner, an extra treat and a new toy.

These dogs deserve all the love they can get.

Always be consistent. Half-assed efforts will deliver half-assed results. Consistency is the key to success in all endeavors in life. Training a dog is no different. Learning about your dog is also a consistent effort. Quality time with your dog should be consistent and ongoing.

Julie Robinson playing with Alfie on the grass
Being with the dogs is so good for your mental health (Picture: RSPCA)
You see the good, the bad and the ugly doing this job. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. The reward you get from giving them the time and love they crave is indescribable. As a Christian, there’s only one way I can describe it; the unconditional love that a dog gives is the closest thing to Jesus for me. Dogs are so loving, giving, affectionate and affirming.

We currently have a sweet dog in our care who has had a really difficult life and finds people very frightening. It took two weeks just for us to get a collar on her. But I have persevered and spent as much time with her as possible.

Use Dog Toothpaste on a Rope Toy. If your dog doesn’t like having his teeth brushed squeeze some doggie tooth paste onto a rope toy & let them go at it. It’s a nice way to start desensitizing them to having their teeth brushed.

Just the other week she came, of her own accord, to sit by me and leant gently against my leg. You can’t put a price on that.

The thing that has come as the biggest surprise to me is how much volunteering has helped me; it’s been a real lifeline during lockdown. It’s incredible to wake up every morning with a purpose.

Being with the dogs is so good for your mental health as well as your physical health. It’s great exercise and gives you space to think. I spend hours outside, in the fresh air, walking with the dogs.

Use a Food Dispensing Toy for Fast Eaters. If your dog eats too fast use a food dispensing toy (we love the Kong Wobbler & Bob a Lot), or place a few tennis balls in their bowl to slow their eating. Not only does this keep them from eating too quick, it gives them a nice mental workout.

Sometimes I walk with other volunteers so there’s a great social element too. I’ve made some fabulous friends; it’s such a lovely network of like-minded people all with an addiction to rescue dogs!

It can be really hard at times but the positives definitely outweigh the difficulties. If I feel really low or it’s a lovely sunny day, then I know I can jump in my car and head down to the centre to spend time with those who understand me the best: the dogs.

I would definitely recommend volunteering to anyone who wants to give something back. Every hour you can give is a huge help.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Seeing eye dogs are trained to do their “business” on command. This way their owner can clean it up a bit easier. Some of the popular commands are “get busy” and “go time”.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve spent more than 9,000 hours volunteering and I’ve walked more than 1,000 dogs.

All the dogs want for Christmas is a full belly, a nice walk, and love. And I’ll continue to be Santa Paws and give this to them for as long as I can.

The RSPCA has a network of 7,000 volunteers and is always looking for new people to sign up to help out. Find out more at on their website here or to help the RSPCA be there for animals in need this winter, visit their Christmas Rescue page here.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing James[email protected] .

Volunteers’ Week takes place 1-7 June and highlights the amazing ways people can give back and help others. To get involved click here.

Make Your Own DIY Flirt Pole. Make a flirt pole for dogs that love to chase and/or have a strong prey drive. Just remember to take it easy with this exercise since it’s pretty high impact and can be tough on a dog’s joints.