Dogs facing starvation and abuse abroad are being found loving new homes in this country thanks to the dedication of a small, independent charity, run by two North East women. PETER BARRON reports

AS puppies Madi, Otis, Teddy and Georgie get to know each other again by playing in the sunshine on the idyllic English village green, it’s hard to imagine the hardship they’ve endured in their short lives.

Born last November, they were found by a policeman, dumped in a shopping bag inside a freezing dustbin in Romania, three with their tails cut off.

They'd been left to starve to death but now, thanks to the efforts of animal-lovers in the North East, working with rescuers in Romania, the dogs have found loving homes in this country after a four-day journey by road, covering more than 1,700 miles.

They arrived here in April, and it was a joyful scene last week as they were reunited in the picturesque village of Newby, home of Carol Hewett, chairperson of Dogs in Distress, a small, independent North-East charity.

“It’s beyond belief to see them so loved and happy,” says Carol. “The need to find homes is bottomless and this is a real success story.”

Jenny Laidler, who works alongside Carol for the charity, has driven over from her home in Guisborough for the reunion and she, too, is moved to tears.

“There’s so much inhumanity in the world and we do it for the love of animals. It makes it all worthwhile to see them happy like this,” she says.

Carol and Jenny met through the dog rescue world and founded Dogs in Distress 11 years ago. Carol is the proud owner of Rufus, a “puggle” – a cross between a pug and a beagle – and Jenny has a 16-year-old ex-racing greyhound, called Lucy, plus Katie, a Romanian rescue dog.

Since Dogs in Distress was launched, it has rehomed nearly 100 dogs as well as providing emergency treatment, care and temporary accommodation for many others until long-term care can be found.

The charity also gives financial assistance to other rescue groups to prevent healthy dogs from being destroyed, as well as providing neutering. In recent years, Dogs in Distress has also helped save around 20 dogs from a range of Eastern European countries.

The rescue of Madi, Otis, Teddy and Georgie began when Jenny made contact, through Facebook, with a group in Romania she felt she could trust. The four puppies had been taken in by animal-lover Daniela Mihaela, in a Romanian town called Targu Neamt.

Daniela has devoted her life to rescuing strays that are caught by dog-catchers and often face starvation or abuse. She keeps them in temporary foster houses until homes can be found and, thanks to the connection made with Jenny, arrangements were made for Madi, Otis, Teddy and Georgie to travel by road to England. The two other puppies in the litter were also found homes: Daisy now lives in Cannock, in Staffordshire, while Kima has been homed in Germany.

It costs Dogs in Distress £350 to transport each dog to England, plus vets’ fees on top. The process of finding new homes involves the charity displaying posters in veterinary practices and pet shops, and making appeals on social media. Visits are then made to prospective owners, home checks are made, and the dogs go on a two-week trial visit before official adoption.

The result of the latest rescue is that the four adorable puppies have now been adopted by families in the North East. Madi lives with Nicci Knight, her partner Maaz Rahman and their children, in Newby, near Middlesbrough; Otis is with the Elliott family, in Hutton Rudby; Teddy’s new owners are the Thomas family, in Stokesley; and Georgie has moved to the seaside to be with Graham Duncan at Redcar.

“We just couldn’t resist when we saw the picture of Teddy,” says mum Natalie Thomas. “We immediately felt sorry for him because he had wonky legs and sad little eyes. It’s lovely to see them all back together, having been found gorgeous homes and enjoying the lives they deserve."

Meanwhile, there are big plans for Madi, who has settled in well in Newby. Such is her gentle nature that she is considered to be an ideal candidate to become a therapy dog.

Nicci is operations director at Zizu’s Nursery, in Middlesbrough, and Madi goes into work with her to interact with the children. The intention is that she will also make visits to hospitals and care homes.

“She’s perfect for the role because she’s very calm, adores people, she’s very fluffy, and enjoys being petted,” says Nicci. “She's always excited about coming into the nursery – the children love her, and she loves the children, so it’s something we want to build on.”

There could hardly be a starker contrast: the dogs left to starve to death in a dustbin less than a year ago now find themselves surrounded by more love than they could ever need.

  • If you would like to support Dogs in Distress or consider becoming a volunteer, email or telephone 07864 054008.