CAROLYNE Poulton is a remarkable woman, warm-hearted, kind and invariably smiling. She and her husband live a few miles to the north of Lyth amidst the wild moorlands that are the heart of Caithness. Carolyne is also at the heart of a vibrant Scottish charity, Labrador Retriever Rescue Scotland (LRRS) and for more than a decade she has found homes for more than 5,000 rescued Labradors throughout Scotland and the north of England.
I saw their work at first hand when I dropped in to the organisation’s annual fundraising event and gun dog demonstration in the local community centre and adjacent playing field.
When I arrived, the hall was busy with LRRS’s many friends and supporters setting up sales tables and others in the kitchen preparing home-made cakes and other baking. And, served surreptitiously under the table, of course, treats for man’s ‘best friend’, and there were a lot of them in the hall – well-behaved, biddable and, like Carolyne, invariably smiling. Carolyne opened the event by awarding rosettes to special owners with special dogs, all of the animals having been re-homed by her. She introduced us to one old, comfortable, grey-muzzled dog that had such a hard life that he had been named ‘Nelson Mandela.’
Carolyne explained that the dog had come to her in 2007 when it was six years old because its owners had died suddenly.
"We found a loving home for him but, sadly, the new owners also passed away and we had to find foster-carers for him," she said. "Happily, the foster-carers fell in love with the dog, adopted him and re-named him Nelson Mandela because he had so much in common with that enormously decent man.
"Nelson is happy in his new home and with his new companions: horses, two other dogs, chickens and sheep to name but a few. I feel that I can never repay Nelson’s owners for what they have done for him and can’t thank them enough," Carolyne said.
Carolyne is constantly astonished by the generosity of those who, as she does herself, adore labrador retrievers. Carolyne told me, "I recently had an eight-year-old labrador, Holly that had been ‘used’, basically, as a breeding machine. She had tumours and severe dental problems and I knew that treatment would cost at least £1,500 – money which I could not afford.
"So I put my pride in my pocket and appealed on my Facebook page for donations of £1 to see what I could raise. I was overwhelmed by the response from the UK and overseas and raised £2,500! Holly was operated on a month ago and the tumours removed and in six weeks when she is fully recovered, she will have her dental treatment. There are a lot of good people in this world and I am eternally grateful to them – and so is Holly."
Later, in the playing field, I renewed my acquaintance with other friends, four utterly beautiful labradors: Caley, Brad, Pippa and Ross. The dogs are owned and trained by Stan Payne MBE, a former regimental sergeant major and then commissioned officer in The Highlanders. Caley, or to give her her Sunday name, Rimouski Caley Oakstan, is one of the top dogs in Europe, starring at the Kennel Club’s International Retriever Team Event at Chatsworth earlier in the summer.
Caley was the ‘Retriever from Scotland’ on this team of four dogs and was also selected for the Scottish gun dog team for the second consecutive year.
Watching Stan and his dogs in action was mesmerising, almost unbelievable. The crowd roared their approval, particularly when one the dummies Stan fired from his launcher landed in deep woodlands and Ross, the ‘learner’, managed to successfully retrieve it. Ross and Caley came to Stan from the Rimouski Kennels of Sutherland’s well-known ‘dog whisperer’ Ann Duncan, another remarkable woman who is a great supporter of Carolyne’s LRRS. Stan told me, "When we came up in 2011 to do a demonstration for Ann, she said that I had to have a look at a litter of puppies. I didn’t really want another shooting dog but I agreed. Ann asked me, ‘If you took one, what would you call it?’ I replied, ‘Ross’. Almost immediately this puppy trotted towards me. I put it back with the others and said again, ‘Ross’. Out it came again. And it did it a third time, so that settled the matter. He was mine."
I felt honoured and privileged to be in the company of such dedicated and hard-working people, and such dedicated and hard-working, wonderful dogs.
If you want to help or become involved in Carolyne’s work, check out the LRRS website at http://www.Irrss.co.uk and/or log on to http://facebook.com/LRRCS