FEATURE: Fins, paws and more – the unwanted animals rescued by aquarium

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It’s not just cats and dogs that need a helping hand – Sunderland animal charity Pawz For Thought has spent 10 years working with Blue Reef Aquarium and some very unusual creatures.

Alison Goulding and photographer Corrina Atkinson meet the gang.

THE monkey kept in a parrot cage and fed on marshmallows, the iguana that kept on growing, an unwanted pufferfish – all have found a home at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Tynemouth.

Lucy the Californian sea lion with her trainer.

Lucy the Californian sea lion with her trainer.

 Every year, Pawz For Thought rehomes hundreds of unwanted pets, but when the staff come across something more unusual, it’s the aquarium they turn to.

 And now it has teamed up to open a new unit at the aquarium for sick, injured and abandoned seal pups.

 The Marine Rescue Centre was completed two months ago after a year of careful planning and has already taken in its first stranded seal.

 Pawz For Thought treasurer Mary Carruthers explained: “At one time the seal pups were being shot because mammals die when you transport them long distances and there was nowhere local to take them for treatment.

 “When the aquarium was taken over by Blue Reef in 2001, I asked if I could have a portacabin on site and look after them myself and it’s grown from there.

 “I did it because I’m bloody-minded, and because no one else was doing it.

 “In the season it’s very hard work because they need feeding every three hours. The unit makes it much easier to clean them out, though.”

 Over the past decade Mary has saved hundreds of seals.

 When they are healthy again, they are transferred by the RSPCA to their wildlife centre in Norfolk.

 Mary said: “They look like toys but they’ve got a serious bite. It’s really important to keep them as wild as possible.”

 Sometimes healthy seal pups are brought in by well-meaning members of the public.

 Mary said: “When they’re healthy they lie in a banana shape and people think they’re injured.

 “Also, when their eyes water people think they’re crying and distressed. Often they are fine but sometimes they need help.”

 As well as seals, wild otters, degus, clams, pufferfish, terrapins, pacu fish, turtles and iguanas have all been taken on by the aquarium.

 Retired teacher Mary believes many animal welfare cases stem from greed and ignorance.

 She said: “It’s money, money, money that causes the problem. There’s been a relaxation in what people can sell so they breed all these animals for money.

 “They look cute but it’s very expensive to run a heated tank for something like an iguana – yet it’s essential for their wellbeing.

 “People buy terrapins and turtles when they’re tiny and cute, not realising they live for years. They grow and they need lots of space and sunlight.”

 Blue Reef’s Anna Pellegrino said: “One of the most important things we do is work with charities like Pawz For Thought. The support we get in return is amazing and we are really lucky to work closely with them. People come to reception with all kinds – seals, rabbits, ferrets. It works both ways. Pawz will take animals that we can’t rehome and vice versa. If we get something we can’t look after, we call Mary straight away.

 “If the animal fits well with the aquarium we can give it a permanent home. So our rescue monkeys are part of our Amazing Amazon area.

 “We also have a few rescue hens and their eggs help feed the otters and monkeys.”

 Lynne Ebdale, who lives in Sunderland, is one of the original founders of Pawz For Thought, which started 13 years ago.

 She said: “We’re a small charity, but we bat high. A lot of that is down to Mary, who is an amazing treasurer.

 “It is hard sometimes and it gets very wearing but at the end of it we get some amazing results which drives us on to do more. We do get some lovely happy stories.” Lynne works full-time for the family business, Ronbar factors Ltd, in Washington, and then spends every spare minute on the charity.

 She said: “If we can help, we will. It’s different every day. Yesterday we took in a goose, now we’ve reunited him with his owner.

 “It’s a huge, huge benefit to have a partnership with Blue Reef and we’re really proud to work together. Sunderland doesn’t have an aquarium and the Blue Reef team really cares about animal welfare. Lots of their animals are rescued.

 “At Christmas they had two full grown turkeys left with them and we took them in.”

 Pawz For Thought is run by 70 dedicated volunteers. Lynne said: “Some do a little, some do a lot, but they’re all equally important.”

•To find out more, visit www.pawzforthought.org.uk or www.bluereefaquarium.co.uk/tynemouth