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Sarah Murray of Sean Murray Car Sales, The Square Sixmilebridge, at right, presenting the keys to a Ford S Max to Catriona Lowry of Hilltop Sanctuary in Scariff watched by Pat Tobin, sanctuary provider. The car will be used in the rescue, transfer and welfare purpose of animals at the sanctuary. Photograph by John Kelly

Animal rescue charity can motor on after car donation

A FASHIONISTA turned animal rescuer has been left “speechless” by the generosity of supporters, after the donation of a car to enable her vital work to continue. 

Caitríona Lowry, who runs Hilltop Sanctuary, alongside Pat Tobin, turned her back on a love of fashion and shopping, around a decade ago to respond to the needs of abandoned animals. “I was all about the clothes and shoes and socialising at one stage,” she said. “It’s funny how priorities change. Now, every penny goes towards the work we do.” 

Caring for 103 animals, including donkeys, horses and abandoned household pets, certainly racks up the expenses. An operation for a sick mare, for example, was €5,000 and badly injured and neglected animals need huge levels of ongoing care, which can be costly. 

Crucial to the work of the East Clare organisation is a reliable car. “The Gardaí get in touch with me and I might have to collect an animal if they can’t bring it out,”

Caitríona explained. “You never know what kind of call you’ll get and I’m taking animals to the vets on a regular basis, as well as transporting fodder. My car started breaking down and that left us with a big problem because every penny that we get goes into looking after the animals.”

Like many small animal welfare organisations, Hilltop doesn’t qualify for State support. “People are very good to us and support the fundraisers that we run, including the sale of our annual calendar and our ‘Hay for Roses’ initiative where we ask people to spend the cost of a bunch of roses on buying hay for us,” Caitríona said. “I have a blog which was turned into a book, Loving the Loveless, and that’s available on Amazon.”

“Everything that we raise is for the animals and I couldn’t consider spending any of it on the car.”

That’s where one of the organisation’s stalwart supporters, John O’Callaghan entered the picture. He explained Caitríona’s plight to car dealer Seán Murray and his daughter, Sarah.

The company, which operates in Kilmurry and Sixmilebridge, was so moved by the situation that they have donated a Ford S Max to Hilltop Sanctuary. “John was totally instrumental in this,’ Caitríona said.

“We’re so grateful. The car will have space for animals’ crates and what Seán has done is to remove a major stressor for us. I’m just speechless. We have never been gifted anything like this and only for Seán and John, I don’t know what I’d have done. Transport for the animals is essential.”

The generosity of the donation has also helped to restore faith in human nature after the cruelty and neglect that Caitríona witnesses day in and day out.

“There is a bit of a tug of war going on,” she admits. “When you see humans through the eyes of an animal, you could almost begin to lose hope. On the other hand, you have so many people who love animals and want to do all they can to help them.”

“Before I got involved in this, I was very naive and blissfully ignorant about what goes on. I though that if you saw an animal in distress, you just called a number and it got sorted out.”

“For me, it all started when I was working as a Guidance Counsellor and decided to get involved in some charity work. I did window displays for a charity in Ennis and I couldn’t believe that people were coming to give up their pets. I got involved in walking greyhounds and everything changed. Pat saw the work I was doing, feeding horses and he offered the farm in East Clare as a place to bring the really neglected and abused animals.”

The very first animal Caitríona ever rescued, a foal tied up along the roadside in Ennis, is now a prize-winning show jumper.

“Lots of animals don’t get to reach their potential like that,” she says. “It’s when you see the difference that the sanctuary can make, and the generosity of people like John and Seán, it keeps you going.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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