People have helped drive the SSPCA’s work for 180 years

Hands-on...Superintendent Sharon Comrie (60) has worked for the SSPCA for an incredible 47 years. A love of animals saw her volunteer from the age of 13 and she's never left since!
Hands-on...Superintendent Sharon Comrie (60) has worked for the SSPCA for an incredible 47 years. A love of animals saw her volunteer from the age of 13 and she's never left since!

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will toast its 180th year in 2020.

Founded by the good men of Edinburgh on December 18, 1839, its original aim was to help get working horses in Leith back on their feet.

The society quickly expanded to cover 50 counties in Scotland by the early 1900s, working closely with its counterparts in Aberdeen, Glasgow and the west of Scotland.

Today, the SSPCA has nine animal rescue and rehoming centres and a world-leading wildlife rescue centre at Fishcross in Clackmannanshire.

Sadly, no-one from those very early days is still around to share their story.

However, the society continues to be staffed by people who truly care about the animals it helps.

Sharon Comrie is a prime example of the dedication evident at every SSPCA centre in Scotland.

She was just a slip of a girl when she pestered the local inspector at the Dundee centre in Rosebank Street to give her a job.

Sharon recalled: “Every Friday after school, from the age of 11 for two years without fail, I would go to the centre and ask to volunteer.

“I was always told that I was too young and to come back when I was older.

“Eventually, in 1973 when I turned 13, the inspector Eric Craig told me to come back the next day to start volunteering. I think I finally wore him out!”

Sharon was tasked with cleaning out cages, the floors and vans.

“They gave me all the dirty jobs to try put me off, but it didn’t work,” she said.

A year later, she worked at the centre every weekend and during the school holidays, earning her first wage of £5 per fortnight in February 1974.

She has remained with the SSPCA ever since, albeit moving up the ranks!

But Sharon never ever wanted to become an inspector; for her the job was all about working with the animals in their care.

She said: “I’ve always had a love and passion for animals but didn’t just want to have a pet; I wanted to work with and help look after them.

“Originally, I thought of becoming a vet but when you start having boyfriends, that goes out the window!

“I already had a job with the SSPCA which I loved anyway so I just decided to work there instead.

“I never wanted to be an inspector, though, because to me the best bit of the job is helping animals that come in to us and then seeing them rehomed.

“That to me has always been more fulfilling than dealing with what the inspectors have to tackle.

“They don’t have much contact with the animals once they take them to the centres so that was never going to be my job.”

After leaving school, Sharon became a kennel maid at the Rosebank Centre.

In 1992, she became the manager and three years later she oversaw the move to bigger premises at Petterden where she remained at the helm until 2007.

She then moved to the SSPCA’s HQ in Dunfermline as the superintendent.

She now oversees all the centres across Scotland which, while involving a lot of paperwork and staffing issues, still enables her to build relationships with the animals in their care.

For it is a love of animals that has led Sharon (60) to devote the last 47 years to the SSPCA – and she plans to continue for a few years yet.

She joked: “I’ve told my husband David that I’m going to retire in three years’ time, once I’ve worked with the SSPCA for 50 years. If I get to 63 that will be it.

“But if I still have my health, I might just carry on for another few years...”

It’s clear that leaving the SSPCA would be a huge wrench for Sharon so I wouldn’t put bets on her leaving in three years!

During her time with the society, Sharon and David have had two boys, Ronnie (40) and Greg (38). They also have a grandson, Ronnie jnr who is now 16.

But Sharon also brought her work home with her and the couple are now also “mum and dad” to three dogs, two of which Sharon hand-reared, and three cats.

“There’s always one or two that pull at your heart-strings,” she said, by way of explanation for their very own menagerie!

However, there’s one dog which she didn’t adopt which also brings a tear to her eye.

“A wee puppy came in with PAVO virus whom we called Paddy,” she recalled.

“He was a wee black and white lurcher type who was at death’s door.

“I stayed in the kennels with him for three or four nights and, at one point, he did actually die.

“We resuscitated him though and after about eight weeks we got him back on his feet and rehomed.

“Seven years later, I was doing my shopping in Dundee when I heard this commotion.

“This dog squeezed itself out of a passenger window, ran across the road and jumped right into my arms.

“It was Paddy; the police officer who rehomed him was on the opposite side of the street from me but the dog saw me, remembered me and was determined to come and say hello.

“It was amazing that he remembered me after all that time – they don’t forget the kindness you show them.

“A lot of the animals we care for are more than happy to come back for visits with us. They realise its a sanctuary for them so they are more than happy to come back and say hello.

“I’ll always remember that day with Paddy though in 2000. He’s now long gone but I’ll never forget him.”

Sharon has witnessed many changes over the years and longs for the day when people finally stop being cruel to their animals.

However, she knows that, until that day, the SSPCA will be there to help them.

She added: “Behind every animal, there’s a human story too.

“The biggest problem, other than cruelty cases, that we see is people with mental health issues.

“They love their animals but maybe start with a pregnant cat, keep all the kittens and then end up with 30 or 40 in their home.

“They can’t bear to be parted with them and end up in a difficult situation.

“It’s heart-breaking to hear some of those human stories but, at the end of the day, we are here to look after the animals.

“Over the years, I’ve seen thousands and thousands of animals who have been nursed back to good health and rehomed.

“I’m really, really lucky. Not many people can say they’ve worked in their dream job for 47 years but I still wake up every day and feel blessed.”

SSPCA could not operate without generosity of the public

Today, the SSPCA has nine animal rescue and rehoming centres and a world-leading wildlife rescue centre at Fishcross in Clackmannanshire.

The charity receives no government funding and relies on donations and grants to continue its work.

The public funds the SSPCA’s £16 million budget annually.

That covers the cost of 360 employees, including 64 inspectors, 70 ambulance drivers and the 170-strong team at its centres across Scotland and its wildlife sanctuary.

The SSPCA is the only animal charity in the UK able to report animal cruelty cases to the Crown, with reports sent to the Procurator Fiscal Service.

In 2018, it found homes for 5068 rescued animals, helped more than 9600 wildlife casualties and spoke to more than 245,000 children through its educational programmes.

For every pound it receives, 82p is spent on animal welfare, 10p on fundraising and promotion and 8p on administration.

So you can rest assured that the bulk of any donation you make will make a huge difference to the animals in the SSPCA’s care.

Last year, its animal helpline received almost a quarter of a million calls, the inspectorate attended more than 85,000 incidents and more than 19,000 animals were cared for across its nine rescue and rehoming centres and at the national wildlife rescue centre.

To find out more or donate, visit www.scottishspca.org.