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Laura Santini at Holbrook Animal Rescue Centre

Published on 1st September 2019

As we sit down for an interview at Holbrook Animal Rescue, Laura Santini is feeding a tiny squirrel. It was found under a tree and brought to the rescue centre on Old Holbrook, where it’s being delicately nursed back to health.

While the centre predominantly focuses on caring for and re-homing domestic animals - mainly dogs and cats - members of the public regularly arrive with hedgehogs, deer, birds, rabbits or other wildlife found injured or abandoned.

In 2011, the rescue centre attracted enquiries from across the world when a fawn and rabbit in its care became best friends. The odd couple even made the cover of AAH! The pair were eventually relocated to a sanctuary in Norfolk, where they remained inseparable for far longer than expected until each gradually started to prefer the company of its own kind.

“We do see a lot of wildlife animals, even though we're not a wildlife sanctuary,” says Cliff, who runs the centre with wife, Laura.“Often, people come across an animal, call a charity like the RSPCA or Care for the Wild, but cannot get through to the right people, particularly at evenings or weekends. As local people know where we are, they will turn up on our doorstep and we’ll do what we can for any animal.”

“Small animals, especially birds, will die if you don't feed them within a few hours of them being picked up. So, we give them a chance to survive. This squirrel is typical in that it was blown out of a tree in Forest Row and picked up by a member of the public. We were the only people they could get hold of.”

“A few months ago, someone came in with a box full of netting from his pond. Inside the netting was a bird, which we spent half an hour cutting free. This man put up a nice review about us as he contacted a charity first but they wouldn’t help. Laura is so passionate about animals and will do anything for them. Once, she was up a ladder, her hand deep inside a tree, trying to find a baby woodpecker that was in obvious distress. It took a while, but she saved it. Who else would do that?”

“There is legislature regarding the release of wild animals, so whilst we do what we can, we make regular trips to Brent Lodge Bird & Wildlife Trust in Chichester, where wildlife can be rehabilitated before being safely released.”


Laura and Cliff, assisted by a team of volunteers, have been running the rescue centre for 26 years. Initially, there was just a handful of dogs and cats in their care, with an occasional rabbit too. Now, at any given time, there are about 30 dogs, 10 cats, several horses and ponies and a variety of other residents being permanently cared for or seeking a good home.

Many come from across the Horsham and Crawley too, often arriving as pets that are no longer wanted or cannot be cared for. Laura also takes in some dogs from Europe that are in desperate need of better care. New homes are found for many of them, with owners and animals gently introduced and sharing dog walks before being adopted.

Some animals never leave the centre. Those with special health needs or too old for re-homing  become permanent residents. And there’s always one that needs walking, feeding or demands love and affection...
Laura said: “We have a few cats and dogs that are old or poorly, as well as a couple of goats that we hand-reared, sheep, several horses and ponies and even a pig. In some cases, it’s best an animal stays here so we can keep them safe. However, that does mean that we spend more on vet bills then anything else.”

“Until recently, we funded everything ourselves, Cliff mianly through his removals company. We’ve been boosted by occasional donations too. Recently, we secured charitable status, which has given us more credibility and presents the chance of applying for grants and funding. But little has changed in terms of our day-to-day operations. We still do this out of love for animals. They’re my life and although it’s hard work, I love it!”


Holbrook Animal Rescue Centre is under threat. The centre is been located on land, owned by Laura’s mother, which falls within the area designated for a major new development, known as the North Horsham site. This will see 2,500 homes built, alongside a business park and schools. Like other properties on Old Holbrook, an agreed purchase was made on the land about 15 years ago. When the time comes to vacate, the price agreed wil not provide the Santini family with the funds to establish a centre of a similar size elsewhere, with fields for grazing animals.

“We've been lucky to be able to use this site for as long as we have,” says Cliff. “When it is sold, money will be divided several ways and it’ll be difficult to start afresh. We’re not even sure how long we can stay here. Horsham District Council say it could be years, but the developers reckon it’s months away,. We’ve guessed at 18 months!”

“When development work begins, we have no idea what the disruption will be. If they build around us, it’ll be difficult to run a rescue centre, as animals will be unsettled. When the bulldozers move in, we don’t know how they are going to react. One of the benefits of this site is that it’s quiet, with open fields behind us, even though we are just off the A264.Now, we’re having to make plans for the future by organising a fundraising campaign to save the centre.” 


With a fundraising manager in place, Holbrook Animal Rescue hopes to raise £1.5million to buy property with enough space. That’s a tall order in any economic climate, but Laura and Cliff believe they can secure the charity’s future, one way or another.

“Ideally, we need someone with land that we can either use or rent cheaply for an animal centre,” says Laura. “We do not need much ourselves. Just a small dwelling for us to live, with fields and buildings that we can adapt for the animals. It would be ideal if there was somewhere as a meet-and-greet area, which we’ve never had.”

“With fields included, we would require about 10 acres. We know there are places that could accommodate something like this and it would be a wonderful way for somebody to be involved in something so worthwhile as the caring of animals. We hope that local companies are willing to support us too, but even individuals organising a cake sale or doing a fun run for a few pounds makes a significant difference to us.” 

“Currently, with development looming, there is a real danger of this ending. That is what we’re most worried about. I'm not sure what I would do if I didn't have to get up to care for animals every morning.”


For more about Holbrook Animal Rescue Centre, email holbrookanimalrescue@outlook.com or visit the website at www.holbrookanimalrescue.co.uk