Woodside celebrates 40th year of saving animals in Plymouth



A grandmother at the forefront of animal welfare in Plymouth celebrates 40 years of saving unwanted and stranded animals.

In 1977, Carole Bowles first opened her arms and door to a flood of unwanted animals that would otherwise have been slaughtered as charities struggled to deal with the scale of the problem.

Carole remembers the day she saw dead kittens stacked on top of each other when she first started volunteering, and couldn’t bear to see another animal give up.

Working with a group of like-minded friends, Carole began her pioneering work to end unnecessary animal destruction through an ambitious spay and neuter program, while rehousing unwanted pets.

Carole bowles

Within a decade, she had founded Woodside Animal Welfare Trust, a charity that was instrumental in controlling the Westcountry’s unwanted pet population and placing tens of thousands of unwanted animals.

Among the many animal welfare cases she has been involved in are those that Carole will never forget – the house in Cornwall where a ‘cat buyer’ had hid 70 cats in the attic; the Westcountry farm where Carole’s blue pants were blackened by thousands of fleas; the Great Dane dog was so malnourished that he could no longer stand.

Then there are the incredible stories of the dog who needs a new home because he doesn’t fit on the owner’s couch, and the big-bellied pig living in an apartment bathroom.

Despite turning 78 this year, Carole remains at the forefront of animal welfare in South Devon and South East Cornwall.

Dog Walk in Woodside
Dog Walk in Woodside

During the busy Christmas season, the Grandmother and her dedicated team of staff and volunteers will work tirelessly to find loving homes for the animals in their care and prepare for the anticipated wave of unwanted animals in the city. during the new year.

And when the closed sign goes up during the festivities, this dedicated team will continue to work tirelessly, looking after more than 100 dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, goats and ponies.

“On Christmas Day and Boxing Day we work in shifts so that everyone has a Christmas party off,” Carole said. “The animals are looked after like any other day, but with some special Christmas treats.”


She added: “This has been an extremely eventful year. The internet and social media have made it easier for us to connect with people, which helps increase our awareness and profile. However, as a result, we are busier.

“The number of emails we receive is increasing, we can receive up to 30 per day and we take about 40 phone calls per day. We receive inquiries on relocation, sterilization, volunteering, work experience, referrers, donations, behavior issues. We are facing a growing problem of people selling animals online.

“It’s good that people are thinking about getting in touch and that means what we do is having an impact. “

Over the past few weeks, the finishing touches have been made to Woodside’s first dedicated on-site sterilization clinic.

Carole bowles
Carole bowles

For Carole, this development, funded by £ 30,000 in grants and donations including £ 15,000 from The Gerrick Rose Animal Trust and £ 10,000 from a supporter of the association in memory of her parents, is the realization of a dream she has carried since her beginnings. her pioneering work.

“I always had the ambition to have a clinic here, but there was always something else we had to do first,” said Carole. “Grants and donations have enabled us to do this.

“Sterilization and sterilization are fundamental to our work. If you don’t prevent the birth of unwanted animals, it causes huge problems. “

It was seeing with her own eyes the devastating consequences of letting animals breed uncontrollably, that inspired Carole to begin her animal welfare work.

“When I started working for an animal rescue charity in the early 1970s, I saw all these dogs and cats asleep with their bodies piled on top of each other. I left after about six months because it was too upsetting, it was horrible. Of course, this is not happening now and it is because of sterilization. “

Carole Bowles and her late husband David in 2000
Carole Bowles and her late husband David in 2000

In 1977, while running a kennel in Plymouth with her late husband Dave, Carole and a group of like-minded friends started Thornbury Animal Group.

Carole and her young daughter Helen, now a manager at Woodside, walked the streets, knocking on doors and asking for donations for a pilot program, which made spaying and neutering affordable for low-income pet owners.

In the first year, 30 animals were spayed or neutered, with owners making small installment payments.

Around the same time, Carole was approached by the Plymouth branch of the RSPCA and asked if she would agree to take in two abused dogs.

It quickly snowballed and by the early 1980s Carole and the local branch of the RSPCA were working together to welcome and relocate hundreds of unwanted animals.

In 1985, with 550 animals rescued, Carole and Dave sold their home and kennel and moved to Elfordleigh, where they founded Woodside Animal Welfare Trust.

Woodside Animal Welfare Trust
Woodside Animal Welfare Trust

Each year, the association welcomes more than 1,000 unwanted animals. In addition to its work on site, the work of the charity in the community is equally important, which includes welfare and rescue projects as well as educational work to promote responsible pet ownership.

At the heart of this community work is a subsidized means-tested sterilization program.

So far this has been managed from a part-time clinic in the charity’s shop in Wolseley Road where, in conjunction with the Plymouth branch of the RSPCA, Woodside has neutered around 300 cats and 200 dogs plus dozens of other small animals from some of Plymouth’s most deprived area this year.

In addition, this clinic operated on all animals requiring sterilization in Woodside.

However, transporting these animals from the base of the sanctuary on the outskirts of Plymouth to the city has proven to be difficult for some animals, as well as for the staff.

The opening of the new on-site clinic in Woodside will prevent this.

Lisa Darcy and Dawn Cornish
Lisa Darcy and Dawn Cornish

“Every animal that leaves here is sterilized,” Carole said. “You can imagine what it is like if you have cats carried with dogs. Although they are in cages, it can be quite traumatic for them. It is also labor intensive.

“We do more sterilizations and sterilizations because it works. We were pioneers when we started. The public is finally listening to the importance of sterilization and sterilization.

As Carole looks back on 40 years of animal welfare work, Woodside celebrates 20 years since work began on her new sanctuary buildings in 1997.

At that time, the sanctuary was threatened with closure following a noise complaint. However, thanks to a major fundraising campaign, tens of thousands of pounds were raised to replace dilapidated sheds with specially constructed kennels, catteries and small animal shelters.

The development also included the construction of comfortable units for aging and long-term residents. However, Carole’s long term vision is to provide an offsite pet retirement home for the elderly.

“Eventually, I would like to have an awareness for older animals,” Carole said. “An old animal house away from the hustle and bustle of the sanctuary.”

Woodside founder Carole Bowles with one of the puppies to be housed in 2009
Woodside founder Carole with one of the puppies to be housed in 2009

Achieving this goal will not be easy. With each passing year, the work of the association increases, as does the financial pressure.

Raising puppies and over-breeding dogs as some suffer from debilitating health issues puts great pressure on Woodside.

And while Carole welcomes the recent introduction of tougher sentences for those convicted of animal cruelty, she believes the changes don’t go far enough.

“Our staff are conscientious and will stretch as much as possible,” said Carole. “Many have been with us for a very long time, it’s a bit like family. We support each other and this makes our work easier.

“I have a really supportive committee that has been really good over the years. Forty years later, we still have many original directors and fundraisers. We thank all of our supporters and volunteers who give of their time to make a difference.

Woodside Animal Welfare Center
Woodside Animal Welfare Center

“Our work is always expanding and we have continued to grow so that we can help more and more animals.”

Despite the continued pressure, Carole isn’t one to give up – even when most of her age is enjoying a relaxing retirement.

Carole, who was named MBE in 2000 and most recently honored by the RSPCA, said: “I think I must be crazy.

“A lot of people my age don’t have much to do, I have a little too much to do sometimes.”

To sponsor an animal or for more information about the association, please call Woodside on 01752 337552, visit or find the association on Facebook.


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