Steve Penistone has always loved and looked out for gundogs. He remembers arriving at The Game Fair in 1999, held at Harewood House in west Yorkshire, to open what was the country’s first dog crèche with his wife Caroline and subsequently spending a lot of his time walking round the car park to rescue dogs that had been left in cars instead.
Thankfully, things have changed. Steve doesn’t foresee that being a problem when he returns to run the dog crèche for the 20th consecutive year at The Game Fair, being held this year at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire from Friday 27 July to Sunday 29 July.
“When we first started we were taking dozens of dogs out of cars at every show,” he recalled. “But we have educated the public about heat exhaustion by putting notices up in the car parks, so we’ve got that down to virtually zero. People are far more aware.”
The Yorkshire couple can take the credit for that. They’ve been looking after the welfare of working dogs since setting up their Samsalin Dog Rescue in east Yorkshire in 1994. Now based in Little Holtby, north Yorkshire, it provides a sanctuary for older working dogs to see out the rest of their lives in comfort.
“I’m interested in shooting and there weren’t any rescue centres for gundogs in the area, so I set it up for working gundogs”. “There are a few others now, but there were none back then.” said Steve, 63.
Steve is proud of his rescue centre and the crèche he has now been running at The Game Fair for two decades. The two go hand-in-hand, with any money generated at The Game Fair going towards the not-for-profit rescue shelter. The dog crèche has grown enormously since starting in 1999. It is now staffed by a team of 18 and includes a mobile operating theatre and X-ray unit.
“It was the first dog crèche of its type at any event in the country,” said Steve, recalling when it all began in 1999.
“There wasn’t such a thing before that. It was a lady on The Game Fair staff who came up with the idea actually. She approached me and I thought it was a good idea” .
"At that time I manufactured dog runs, so I brought some down with me. I had a stand for the gundog rescue centre as well. All the money from the dog crèche went to the rescue centre. The dog crèche has been going strong ever since. I’ve retired from work now, but I still run the rescue centre along with Caroline and we still run the dog crèche at The Game Fair every year. It’s amazing to think this will be our 20th year".
“For the last three years we have vets, three nurses and a mobile operating theatre and mobile Xray unit alongside the crèche. That has actually saved dogs’ lives. A couple of years ago we had a dog with a severed artery. He would have bled out if we’d had to take him to the local vet, but we were able to deal with it and save a life. Cuts, bruises, bites and all sorts of general veterinary queries come up when we’re at The Game Fair.”
Steve and Caroline run their crèche at various shows across the country, but nothing can compare to The Gamer Fair for scale. It is by far their biggest event of the year.
“If you think that there are about 120,000 people there and about half of them take a dog,” added Steve.
“So that’s 60,000 dogs, or 20,000 a day walking round The Game Fair each day. That is a lot of dogs in one area. We do the crèche for up to four hours at a time and we charge £3 an hour. It’s always been £3 an hour. The price has never gone up since we started in 1999. It’s the equivalent of a pint of beer an hour. We also have a little shop where we sell things to raise money for the dog rescue as well.”
The crèche is housed in a 60-foot by 40-foot marquee which is kept cool by fans. Each dog has its own pen, which is four-foot square and six-foot high and the dogs never mix unless there’s a specific request from the owner.
“There is no other dog crèche in the country like ours that uses full-size dog runs,” added Steve.
“We do it for the dogs, but it is a lot of equipment to transport and set up. I must say that The Game Fair are very good. When I send a wagon over filled with metal pens, they send some lads to help unload and get set up. I don’t have to do that on my own now, which is a relief. The Game Fair is the only show in the country where that happens.”
The Game Fair takes place at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire from Friday 27 July to Sunday 29 July. For more info visit www.thegamefair.org