Singing the praises of our UK animal heroes at the House of Lords

Animal Action Week winner, Haatchi and his owner Owen, with Queen guitarist Brian May, IFAW UK Director Robbie Marsland and other VIPs.There is always a certain amount of stress and pressure as the International Fund for Animal Welfare UK office finalises preparations for our annual Animal Action Awards ceremony at the House of Lords.

After months of sifting through nominations and the difficult job of picking around a dozen unsung heroes of animal welfare to travel to London for the prestigious ceremony, we also need to juggle the diaries of celebrities, other VIPs and politicians to make sure the event runs as smoothly as possible and that our hard-working winners enjoy their special moment – for many it is their first day off away from animal care in many years, or even decades for some, and we want to make it as memorable as possible.

But despite the best laid plans, sometimes the unexpected can happen.

This year, our ceremony was delayed when our celebrity presenter had to dash off for a while – but when I told our assembled audience why, no-one minded at all, in fact they cheered and clapped.

The reason was, we heard this morning that the UK Government was due to make an important announcement on the planned badger cull at 12.30pm today – the exact time our ceremony was due to start.

Given that our awards were being presented by Queen legend and campaigner Brian May, this posed a potential problem.

Brian is the public face of the very high-profile campaign against the planned cull of thousands of British badgers. IFAW is among many other animal welfare groups standing together on the issue as part of Brian’s Team Badger coalition. So it was only right and fitting that Brian should dash out from our ceremony to hear the Government’s statement in the House of Commons.

Fortunately this was only next door, so our winners and guests were happy to patiently wait half an hour or so, particularly when we were able to tell them that the announcement concerned a delay in the start of the cull until next summer.

We will of course continue to fight plans for this cruel and unnecessary cull of an icon of British wildlife until they are shelved completely. But in the meantime, we were then able to get on with the business of honouring our award winners.

This year’s winners included young vet Vikki Fowler, from Lancashire, for rescuing and rehabilitating neglected horses and Julie Hinks from Hampshire, who cares for and rehomes tortoises, many of which are rescued after being smuggled into the UK illegally.

Also honoured was former Olympian Fiona Oakes, from Essex, who runs a sanctuary for 400 rescued animals, 365 days a year without having taken a holiday or even gone for a meal out in 16 years. Sadly Fiona could not attend in person due to an emergency at her sanctuary.

We also honoured Kate Williams, a volunteer pet foster carer with Bolton-based Paws for Kids, which provides specialised support for women and children pet owners in the North West who are fleeing domestic violence. Helen Griffiths, from Dorset, received an award for her tireless rescue of animals, particularly dogs, over the last 20 years, while Grace Yoxon, from the Isle of Skye, was recognised for her global work in otter conservation.

Campaigner of the year award went to Lorraine Platt from Surrey for her work encouraging Conservative Party members to speak out in favour of the UK ban on hunting with dogs and other animal welfare issues through ‘The Blue Fox: Conservatives Against Fox Hunting’. Sheila Stewart from Mold, North Wales, received an animal rescue award for rescuing thousands of birds and animals over more than 30 years. An international campaigner award was given to Sigursteinn Masson, for his work publicly opposing whaling and encouraging whale conservation in his native Iceland.

And finally, there was hardly a dry eye in the house as this year’s animal of the year award was announced. It went to Haatchi, an Anatolian shepherd dog who suffered horrific injuries after being tied to a railway line and hit by a train. Haatchi survived the amputation of a rear leg and his tail and was adopted by Colleen Drummond, her fiancé Will Howkins and his seven-year-old son Owen, in Hampshire. After forging an amazing friendship with Owen, who suffers from a rare genetic condition, the family decided his gentle nature would make him an ideal Pets as Therapy dog to work with amputee soldiers and seriously ill children.

I always say that the awards are my favourite IFAW event.

Most of the time we go to the Houses of Parliament to complain or encourage but at the awards we come together to celebrate the great animal welfare work of unsung heroes across the UK. 

That’s how the world ought to be.  


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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