Giving dogs a Second Chance

Ena and Frank Conyon with their dog Alfie
Ena and Frank Conyon with their dog Alfie

Dexter first came into my life while I was having chemotherapy.

Feeling sick and sorry for myself as I watched my hair drop out in clumps, I was browsing the Second Chance Kennels website - for no particular reason other than curiosity - when his massive ears hove into view.

My last rescue dog had died at the grand old age of 17 and I had no intention of getting another. From now on, I would live in a hair-free house, without having to contend with walkies in the rain, muddy paws and picking up poo.

But there was Dexter.

Described as a ‘Scotty mix’, he was an odd-looking little fellow with those inordinately large ears, and by the following day, he was running happily around my living-room.

Over the following months, Dexter was to prove to be the best possible antidote to the misery of chemo, and when I returned to work I decided he needed a little chum.

So it was back to Second Chance again - and there was Jack, half Jack Russell, half chihuahua (allegedly). The pair hit it off immediately and now the three of us live happily together in a hairy house covered in pawprints.

Dexter and Jack are just two of more than 3500 dogs that have been re-homed by Second Chance Kennels since it was opened in 1999 by Ena Conyon and her husband Frank.

They come in for all sorts of reasons - some sad, others depressingly spurious.

Some owners hand in their pets simply because they can’t be bothered with them any more; some because they’ve had a baby and the dog gets its marching orders as a result.

Other dogs are rescued, usually starving, from puppy farms, and others are picked up off the streets; still others found abandoned and even just dumped at the Second Chance gates.

But in almost every case, Ena believes they have the potential to be loyal, loving pets. Only on extremely rare occasions does a dog have to be put to sleep, usually when it’s aggressive and can’t be trusted not to bite.

Among those for whom the future seemed pretty bleak were ‘multi-pedigree’ siblings Larry and Wanda, aged 14 and 16, who arrived at Second Chance after their owner sadly died.

“They were lovely, gentle old dogs,” says Ena.

“But we never thought in a million years anyone would want to give them a home at their age. However, they found a lovely quiet home in which to live out their days. Larry lived until he was 19 - and Wanda is still going strong.”

Amazingly, Ena remembers almost every dog that’s passed through her doors over the years - among them Rags, who became something of a celebrity after appearing in the Fife Free Press, having been found wandering alone on Randolph Industrial Estate surviving on discarded takeaways.

She had a wonky leg and a squint face as a result of what was thought to have been a car accident, and her underside swung back and forth after several litters of pups.

After she appeared in the paper, Ena was swamped with people wanting to take Rags in - but it was my daughter who was finally chosen as her new ‘mum’, and the dear old girl stayed loyally by her side until the day she died. She never lost her taste for takeaways, though.

Ena and Frank take the re-homing process very seriously, carrying out home and garden checks before allowing a dog to go in order to avoid as far as possible the heartbreaking business of it being returned.

My family and I have been fortunate enough to have had several Second Chance dogs over the years, and they’ve all made wonderful companions.

From our own experience, far from coming with ‘issues’, rescue dogs tend to be so grateful to have a secure ‘forever’ home that they’re just eager to please.

The idea for Second Chance Kennels came about in 1994, when Ena’s friend Phyllis Carter and her late husband, George, were taking in strays and unwanted dogs at their home in Balbeggie Avenue, Thornton, next door to where Second Chance is now.

Ena got involved by contacting the local papers to help publicise the dogs looking for homes, and for many years afterwards the weekly ‘Give a Dog a Home’ slot was a much-loved feature of the now-defunct Fife Leader.

Then George and Phyllis donated a piece of ground and the daunting task of fund-raising began with the aim of building what was originally to be called the ‘Waiting for God’ kennels.

“We held car boot sales, dances, coffee mornings - you name it,” said Ena.

“We also got money from the lottery fund and eventually we had enough to get started.

“We even bought Ladybank Chip Shop for £1800, and had it dismantled and re-built with the help of people performing community service and the TA in Kirkcaldy.

“We later added more kennels and a food preparation area as well as installing central heating.”

Quite a number of dogs over the years have found their ‘forever’ home with Ena and Frank themselves, while others are rehomed with the help of rescue centres dedicated to particular breed.

The couple have a small army of volunteers who help them with the day-to-day care of their canine charges and they rely on donations from generous dog lovers and fund-raising events such as last weekend’s ‘Bark in the Park’ to keep them going financially.

A number of veterinary practices in Fife are also on board, offering free castration and micro-chipping.

‘Bark in the Park’, which is held at Lochore Meadows Country Park, is the major fund-raiser of the year but there’s a ‘mini’ version of the event to be held at Silverburn Park, Leven, on August 30.

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