Charity status isn't everything

19th April 2017




Last week a shocking story hit the papers about a reptile rescue charity in the north of England that was raided by the police and RSPCA.  Animals were removed due to concerns for their welfare and volunteers were not allowed into the premises.


It did not take much research to find a web of unsavoury history, bad practise and terrible advice pouring from this establishment.  Here are the key facts.


The founder of the charity is a young man who has been convicted for animal cruelty offenses and BANNED from keeping animals for a number of years.


The offence in question involved the amateur diagnosis and treatment of an injured cat with a homemade “remedy” that made the wound worse.


The rescue came about because the founder’s family had a large number of pets.  Confused?  Me too, I don’t understand that logic either.  No information is available as to their fate or whereabouts given the ban order.


The founder claims that even Barn Owls make “amazing pets”.  We would respectfully disagree with this statement (please folks don’t buy an owl as a pet; we all love Harry Potter but it’s not real!).


The rescue ran/is run from a retail unit from which they also sell dry goods AND exotic animals!  We would deem this to be a severe conflict of interests (since the selling of exotic pets is simply adding to an already swamped market) as well as a potential disease risk between sick incoming rescue animals and healthy livestock.


The charity has run under three different names (it is not clear why) and is soon to be branded to include the founder’s name.


The charity was attempting to crowdfund for highly specialist diagnostic veterinary equipment so that they (or their unnamed “specialist”) could use it to self-diagnose complex conditions and illnesses in their rescue animals supposedly saving them money.  No one except a qualified veterinary surgeon (or in some cases a veterinary nurse) can legally make a professional diagnosis and prescribe/perform treatment to an animal unless in very limited circumstances.  This is made clear in the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.  Therefore even if they had been successful in acquiring this extremely expensive equipment they would have still had to take the animal to a vet to have the same diagnostic tests performed or have a vet come to their premises thereby still incurring a cost in one way or another.

Despite all of this the rescue’s founder wrote a piece detailing how to spot a fake rescue!  At the risk of this blog entry turning into an essay I feel that I need to right some wrongs in that frankly false piece of information.  I have paraphrased their original work here to keep my piece short and sweet but I have linked the original post at the bottom of the page.


1) “Knowledge of the animals they claim to rescue”

Honestly I am not sure what point they are trying to make here other than double-check all advice given by calling their help-line or by asking a “specialist” (there’s that word again).  Apparently these people are called “freelancers” (I have no idea why) and they rescue for a hobby and not for the profit (does that mean that legitimate rescues should be rescuing for profit?!) presumably meaning that they could be fraudsters.  My concern with this statement, apart from it being very confusing, is that anyone could be labelled as such in the original post author’s eyes.


2) “Insurance”

Whilst insurance is seen by any sensible business owner or charity administrator as a necessity it is by no means a legal requirement with the exception being employers liability insurance where paid-staff or volunteers are involved.  The types of cover mentioned in the original post are sadly lacking too.  It is not a legal requirement to have insurance for damage, loss or theft of your equipment (whether or not to have this cover is completely up to you) neither is it compulsory to have health/life insurance.  However it would be extremely foolish not to have public liability cover (in case a member of the public is injured by you, your staff/volunteers, your property, your premises or your animals).  It is also highly recommended that you have professional indemnity cover if you are offering any sort of advice or guidance to clients; this is essential for any animal rescue that is offering care advice for instance.  Additionally you really ought to have products liability cover if you are selling any type of product be it home-made or bought in for resale.  FYI Grace’s Rest holds public liability insurance for £5m, professional indemnity for £500k and products liability across two policies for a combined £10m.  We are well covered!


3) “Quarantine & Observational periods”

My problem with this section is that yet again the charity is claiming to diagnose every problem an animal has (presumably in-house without a vet) during their quarantine period, a time scale which they do not specify.  They also point out that quarantine vivaria should have their temperatures controlled by a thermostat.  To make things abundantly clear ALL vivaria heat elements should be controlled by a thermostat and shielded from the animal by a suitable guard to prevent burns.


4) “Record of Health and Feeding”

Yes every rescue should keep these records but there is no obligation for any establishment to hand them over to a member of the public unless you are adopting the animal to which they relate.  All animals adopted by Grace’s Rest leave with a full medical and feeding/shedding record as appropriate.


5) “Veterinary or specialist confirmation”

This point claims that some “legitimate” rescues do not use a suitably qualified vet but instead use a “specialist” (there it is again!).  This is extremely worrying as the said specialist cannot legally diagnose, prescribe for or treat a sick animal if they are not registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; it is illegal for a layperson to do this (see previous point regarding specialist diagnostic equipment).  We are happy to provide details of our vets to prospective clients and we often do just that.  However if you think that this will provide some sort of verification into the work of a rescue do not be surprised if the surgery staff refuse to tell you anything.  They are duty-bound to data protection rules and client confidentiality so are very limited in what they can disclose without said client’s permission.  This point also claims that if a rescue does not have a vehicle (I’m assuming that they mean a branded one) they cannot be legitimate.  Grace’s Rest does not have a branded vehicle; we think that at this point donations are better spent on running our very cost effective car rather than on a gas-guzzling van.


6) “Registration with other organizations”

Apparently this is another way of checking legitimacy; ask for the rescue’s trade account details!  No business or charity is obliged to give you any details pertaining to their inner workings although some may voluntarily offer this information on request.  Again as in the case of asking the establishment’s vet no supplier should give out client details to a random caller due to client confidentiality and data protection.  If anyone wishes to know where Grace’s Rest acquires stock from you only need to ask…although I don’t know why anyone would be that interested!

Proper nutrition is vital for life-long health - this is an example of a standard meal for a Bearded Dragon here at Grace's Rest.

supporting information

In summary it sadly feels as though this sorry tale has been a case of the blind leading the blind.  There are SO many well-meaning individuals and groups out there who are trying their best to make a difference but without essential prior knowledge and forethought there are likely to be some casualties along the way.  All too often, as in this case, it is the animals who suffer the consequences.  As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


Again and again we are met with shock when we reveal that Grace’s Rest is a non-profit enterprise and not a charity but I think this case goes to show why registered charity status is not all it’s cracked up to be.  In the case of animal rescues charity status does not guarantee high standards of welfare or care.  It does not guarantee that staff are suitably experienced or qualified nor does it mean that one establishment is more “legitimate” than another.  It is also no guarantee that your precious donation will be well spent.  Just look at the scandal surrounding Kids Company and you’ll know what I mean!  Registered charity status is simply an administrative structure for the organisation and nothing more.


Occasionally I still hear something akin to “you seem to know what you’re on about” uttered in relation to our services.  It is always outwardly greeted with a smile but accompanied by an invisible rolling of the eyes.  Allow me to take this opportunity to make my level of expertise abundantly clear.


  • I have worked with exotic species for almost 20 years (writing that makes me feel so old!).
  • I have a bachelor’s degree (with honours) in conservation biology and animal behaviour.
  • My dissertation was on reptile and amphibian genetics.
  • I am a research scientist and PhD student studying wildlife conservation.
  • I am a member of the Global Amphibian Biodiversity research team.
  • I have lectured at university level and been published in journals.
  • My CPD endeavours are never-ending.


I do hope that this will put some minds at ease as to the level of care an animal can expect from Grace’s Rest!


If you would like to read further into the tragic story highlighted here please follow these links.  Stay safe friends and be alert to the tricksters!


Police shut down reptile rescue centre in Oxford Street, Bolton

(Local newspaper coverage)


Bolton animal charity volunteer defends charity

(Local newspaper coverage)


Charity worker banned from keeping animals after doing DIY medical treatment on cat's wounds

(Local newspaper coverage)


'Barn owls make great pets': Accrington animal charity with everything from reptiles to raccoons in funding plea

(Local newspaper coverage)


Charity Commission Register of Charities

(Official public domain details of the charity in question)


Treatment of animals by unqualified persons

(Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons guidelines in relation to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966)


How to tell a Legitimate Rescue Center from A Fake one

(Original "guidance" note from the charity in question)


Kids Company closure: What went wrong?

(Details of the Kids Company scandal, a government funded charity that lost millions of pounds)


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Meet the Owner-Operator, Clare Barnard BSc.(Hons)


Clare is a research scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln where she is studying wildlife conservation and the direct impact of the exotic pet trade on wild animal populations.  She will be working from the Laboratory of Evolutionary Ecology of Adaptations.  Clare has also been honoured to become part of the Global Amphibian Biodiversity research team.


Clare has almost 20 years professional experience in the husbandry of exotic animals a specialism in the genetics of British herpetofauna.  She has worked with wild Adders (Vipera berus) and endangered Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita) under Natural England license conditions.  Clare has worked as a zookeeper and within private collections including her own.  She lives in rural North Warwickshire, on-site at Grace's Rest, with a whole host of animals!

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