SHEILA Stewart was just four years old when her affinity with animals began to show itself as she hand-reared a rook.
So it was no surprise to her bridegroom Tom when she turned up on her wedding day with a kitten in her pocket!
‘I found it on New Year’s Eve in the snow at about 11.30pm, it had just been born,’ said Sheila, of Capricorn Animal Rescue, Padeswood.
‘It cried all the way through the service. It had to be fed every hour.
‘He [Tom] knew what he was in for! We had the oddest wedding ever. It was on New Year’s Day in the snow. I was freezing.’
Sheila spent her youth working with animals, taking up jobs as a dog trainer, in a poodle parlour, volunteering at animal rescue centres in Manchester, fostering animals, finding them homes and fundraising, working as a veterinary nurse and in boarding kennels.
In 1983 she opened Capricorn Animal Rescue at a site just off the A5104.
She takes in all kinds of creatures from kittens and ferrets to owls and hedgehogs from a huge area spanning from Conwy and Shropshire to Liverpool, Chester, Wrexham and Flintshire.
‘We’ve got three kittens pulled out of the river in Ruthin in a carrier bag. We never know what’s coming in or when,’ said Sheila.
‘I have got a seagull on the way in from Prestatyn with a broken wing. It’s a constant shuffle to reorganise.’
The charity is currently looking for new premises after Flintshire County Council refused planning permission to open a new centre on a 30-acre site in Moor Lane, Higher Kinnerton, on Wednesday.
The application was defeated by only two votes.
Sheila said: ‘We don’t want to get bigger. We know we can cater for the numbers we have now and that’s our limit. We want better facilities for the animals and for the volunteers. It will be a lot easier and better all round.
‘Everything that comes in is nursed, it’s loved, it’s cared for in the best way we can. With better facilities it’s easier.’
She added: ‘The alternative is to shut down and I don’t consider that an alternative but I don’t know what to do now. That site was perfect. I sincerely hope we can find a new one soon.’
They need a site which is accessible, but not too close to other properties.
But another challenge facing the centre is cats and kittens.
‘We have had a cat explosion and they are coming in from everywhere,’ said Sheila. ‘Last week I had phone calls to take in more than 60 kittens. We did what we could. Our foster homes are overflowing. It’s down to the late season.’
‘It makes me angry that people will just dispose of them [animals] in this way as if they are an old toaster or a pair of shoes,’ she said.
The centre receives help from about five foster carers who take in and look after some of the animals when the centre is full, rather than turn them away. Volunteers also walk the dogs and ferrets.
The menagerie this week includes several dogs and cats, hedgehogs, baby pigeons, 14 ferrets, guinea pigs, chinchillas, grey squirrels, ducks, geese, goats, owls, parrots and more.
They also have five horses which are kept elsewhere.
It’s hoped the animals can be re-homed or eventually released back into the wild.
‘We get more than 100 calls a day from 7am to midnight – the other day there was a call at 5am,’ said Sheila.
‘We raise all our own money. Last week we did a collection in Mold and we had a book sale and raised £206. This Saturday we have a jumble sale at the Daniel Owen Centre in Mold.’
‘We have constantly got to be out there to bring the money in. We have to raise funds to feed the animals.
‘We are open every day, even Sunday, and it’s not often we have to shut.’
The centre’s vet bill is a massive £1,500 a month and Sheila needs to raise £100,000 a year to remain open.
‘I work with 12 different people groups, people with special needs, those children who have been thrown out of school come and work with us, youth offenders, NACRO [National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders].
‘We work with the homeless places in Chester quite a lot.’
Sheila added: ‘We don’t lead a normal life. Every day is a challenge. There’s not two days the same. It’s just constant, you never know what you are going to get on a phone call.’