Hilltop Haven Animal Sanctuary is rather tucked away out towards Tamar Lakes (I predictably got slightly lost finding it) and has always been a pretty low-key, no frills kind of place. That was the way that the owner of the sanctuary, Charles Bingham, a much-loved man and something of a character, wanted it. The charity was set up for the rescue and permanent care of elderly, sick, and abandoned animals and birds made homeless through the illness or death of their owners or a change in circumstances which makes them unable to continue caring for them.
Charles set up the sanctuary in 1986. At the time, he and his wife were taking cats for the Cats Protection League, but then they started taking various other animals. Some were referred through veterinary surgeries. Animals were Charlie’s passion, and he quietly got on with the job of caring for them, rarely asking for help. He also never re-homed the animals. They became as pets, and lived with him in sanctuary until the end of their days. Older animals or ones with health conditions are not easy to re-home, anyway.
Sadly, this year, Charles, 76, died, and Jonathan and Sammy have pledged to keep the sanctuary open in loyalty to their friend. They are both also very attached to the animals, as is Natalie who works with the equines, Donna and Matt (partners of Jonathan and Natalie) who help out voluntarily. Jonathan’s children love to come and visit the animals, too.The current team is small. Sammy worked for Charles from 2001, having started her work with animals dog grooming. Jonathan also works part-time for the charity, and is trying to raise its profile. Sammy says she is the ‘pills and poo’ end of the work; certainly she is the 24/7 carer.
All do much more than they are paid for, but want to continue in the spirit with which Charles started the charity; however, they realise that they need to start asking for help in order to maintain it and to keep the animals as Charles set out to do. The property is in disrepair, having had little done to it for many years, but the animals, the priority, are very well cared for. It’s a slow process dealing with all the paperwork following Charles’s death.
Sammy says she can’t imagine doing anything else and wants to do Charlie proud. The sanctuary is her life and her home. Charles unfortunately had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and died in hospital at Barnstaple on February 9th of this year. His friends were stunned by their sudden loss, but they had been increasingly helping him out over the years. They miss his presence but are now in the position of moving the charity on in his memory.
Jonathan said: “I’ve never met a man like Charlie. He was very generous and really fun but also strong-willed. He was everything good that you could have in one person”. Sammy described him as like “an adult two-year old, a rare breed”. She had been asked to take over the care of the animals at the sanctuary when needed and doesn’t feel she could just walk away.
Sue Gear, who nurses injured wildlife back to health, posted on Facebook back in February:
It is with a very sad and heavy heart that I am posting this. In the early hours on the 9th of Feb our dear and close friend and founder of Hilltop Animal Sanctuary, Charles Bingham (Charlie) passed away.
He had been poorly for some time but never gave up caring for the sick and elderly animals at the sanctuary, they always came first, even before his own health.
It’s going to be a very sad place at Hilltop without him, but I would like to ask Hilltop friends to support Sammy, Jonathan and Natalie who are going to do their best to keep Hilltop running, just as Charlie wanted them to. God Bless you Charlie, I’m going to miss you.
Now, Jonathan has taken over the reins of administering the charity and realises how much of a shoestring they have been operating on. There get local support, such as from our sponsoring advertiser, Mor Kitchens, who provide wood shavings for animal bedding, but now they need more help from the local community to help with their animals, which currently amounts to 15 cats, 3 Cockatiels, 3 sheep, 3 goats, 12 horses/ponies (many rescued from the appalling conditions of the meat lorries), and 1 magpie, plus 2 dogs.
How can you help?
The sanctuary receives some help from the pets’ corner at Wyevale Garden Centre. and local vets (Tamar and Penbode) have been helpful, for which they are very grateful, but they need more.
The obvious answer is donations. All are welcome. Jonathan and Sammy are looking into ways to fundraise such as days where people come and meet the animals, etc. He has been placing collecting boxes with local businesses but if you’d like one, please get in touch with Jonathan (Facebook message or mobile).
Wood shavings or shredded paper are always useful as animal bedding – and Jonathan can collect.
If anyone has cat boxes, dog beds, pet food (especially for cats and horses) that would also be useful.
If you have recently lost a much-loved pet and have leftover food or bedding, then please think of the sanctuary. If they can’t use something, they will try to sell it on to raise money for the charity.
During my couple of hours meeting the lovely staff and the beautiful animals, I was really taken by their perseverance, and hard work, plus their love of these creatures who would otherwise have met very different ends. They now need a higher profile. Please keep in touch with what’s happening via their Facebook page. Jonathan is also trying to create a website, and some leaflets so watch this space.