ANIMAL sanctuary supporters must work out how best to spend tens of thousands of pounds after being overwhelmed by donations.
An online fundraising campaign in aid of the repossessed Rainbow Ark Animal Sanctuary, in Willington, initially set a target of £10,000 to cover the cost of rehoming its 350 animals.
But within 24 hours of bailiffs moving onto the site, on Wednesday, the Save the Animals of Rainbow Ark campaign had smashed its target and by this afternoon (Friday, January 31) 2,000 people had donated more than £38,000.
Fundraisers set a new £50,000 goal but, as potential free homes had been found for all the animals, it is unclear how the money will be used.
Paula Campbell, who founded the sanctuary at Milkup Bank Farm, which was also her home, said: “We have been overwhelmed by the response and never expected so much.
“Rehoming costs of transport and vets bills will run to thousands, but whatever is left out of the amount raised, will be shared out to those who have helped.
“Following legal advice I can also say I intend to keep fighting to go home.
“We may have to ask people who have given money what they want us to do with it.”
Web support: more than £35,000 has already been donated
Hillside Animal Sanctuary, near Norwich, is prepared to take on every animal from Rainbow Ark if necessary and other animal organisations have offered to help.
John Watson, from Hillside, said: “We would rather take all the animals than see those that have formed attachments split up from friendship groups or go to people who don’t know what they are taking on, when they can live a long safe life here.”
The Wear Valley and Darlington branch of the charity Cats Protection has said it can call on a dozen active volunteers and around 100 supporters to round up, transport and foster cats on site.
Marion Maychell said: “We have plans to help in crisis situations so can get together and fund the vans, volunteers and veterinary needs and find them foster or permanent homes.”
It is understood that around 330 animals remain at the property after the RSPCA took terrapins, tortoises and a dog with seven puppies into care when the power went off on Wednesday night.
The charity also removed a cat and two Shetland ponies because of concerns about the state of their health and a guinea pig was put to sleep following veterinary advice.
An RSPCA spokeswoman said the three seized animals are now the subject of an RSPCA investigation and will be cared for and treated on the charity’s behalf.
Officers from the charity have been onsite to offer welfare advice to bailiffs who are currently responsible for the animals, which still belong to Ms Campbell.
The spokeswoman added: "We are satisfied with the conditions we have left those animals at the scene in."
Ms Campbell and sanctuary volunteers said they have been frustrated at being refused access to the site to tend to the animals or begin rehoming them.
Jonathan Proctor said: “We have homes found for all the animals but cannot get on to arrange specialist transport and vets to start moving them.”
Caring: Paula Campbell with one of the animals she looked after
He said they will continue to attempt negotiations with bailiffs but ultimately hope to reopen Rainbow Ark.
A spokesperson for money lender Redstone Mortgages said: “The eviction was very much a last resort for Redstone.
“However over the course of the past seven years Ms Campbell has consistently shown that she cannot afford her mortgage.”
The company said she was given sufficient notice of the eviction date to make arrangements to leave and that it takes its obligations to ensure the safety and welfare of animals seriously.
Hillside animal sanctuary - what is it?
Set up in 1995 by animal-lover Wendy Valentine, Hillside is now home to over 2000 animals, including 700 horses, ponies, donkeys and mules.
The sanctuary also investigates allegations of animal cruelty and works with the media to increase public awareness.