Face to face: Jane Amiger

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Jane Amiger, who founded Animal Care at Swanton Abbot after saving an unwanted mongrel dog from being put to sleep.

In her latest Face to Face interview, KAREN BETHELL talks to Jane Amiger, who founded Animal Care at Swanton Abbot after saving an unwanted mongrel dog from being put to sleep. The centre, which went on to offer sanctuary to thousands of animals, last year celebrated its 30th birthday, while a fortnight ago, Jane marked a second important date - the 50th anniversary of her wedding to husband and right-hand-man Albert . . .

After a spell at Hethersett Old Hall School, Norwich-born Jane was sent away to boarding school at Felixstowe.

An animal-lover since early childhood, she then took a job working with great danes at a Surrey kennels, before returning to Norfolk to marry Albert - a cowman on a neighbouring farm.

The couple, who went on to have 3 daughters and a son, lived at Stratford-upon-Avon, later moving to a house on the edge of Newmarket racecourse, where Albert was a stockman for the Jockey Club.

They decided to head back to Norfolk after Albert, now 77, became seriously ill with brucellosis and, in 1971, bought Sandfield Cottage at Swanton Abbot.

Animal Care was founded in 1977 after Jane offered to temporarily take in Holly, an unwanted crossbred Alsatian destined to be put down.

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The dog arrived at Swanton Abbot with 6 newborn puppies in tow and, just a few days later, Jane took in a neglected Labrador named Trixie and Wilbur, a piglet that had taken a tumble off the back of a farmer's lorry.

Desperate for cash to pay for animal food and vets bills, Jane took a cleaning job, but local people soon offered their support - helping look after the animals and making donations of cash and food.

The centre went on to house and rehome thousands of unwanted pets, from rats and chinchillas, to dogs, cats, ponies and goats.

Over the years, a kennels and cattery were added and support grew, with Christmas donations last year amounting to nearly £2,400 and the centre, which costs around £14,000 a year to run, also benefiting from donations and fundraising events including a sponsored dog walk, a quiz night and a coffee morning.

Now 68, Jane hopes to cut back on the number of animals she looks after, but Animal Care is still home to 20 guinea pigs, 10 rabbits, 14 cats, 30-plus budgerigars, a one-eyed goat, 4 ponies and 2 dogs waiting to be rehomed.

Jane also looks after a handful of dogs unsuitable for rehoming, including blind collie Simba and 15-year-old springer spaniel Heidi, whose elderly owner was no longer able to keep her.

Jane and Albert, who run Animal Care with the help of daughter Julie and volunteers Sheila Taylor and Louise Maw, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with a family party on September 26. They have 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.

For more information about Animal Care, or to make a donation, phone 01692 538385.

What is the best thing about your job?

When I see an animal in its new home - it is wonderful to see them happy and loved. We are only very small compared to other animal sanctuaries like PACT and Faith, but we have always done things properly and it is nice to just have a few animals at a time and really get to know them.

And the worst?

The winter! I feel the cold terribly now and sorting out the rabbits and guinea pigs when there is ice in the water bowls - it's freezing! I do worry about the cat situation as well, it is getting worse all the time, all the sanctuaries are full and we get calls from people wanting me to catch wild cats or take others in nearly every day.

What is the one possession you would save if your house was on fire?

My family photographs, I've got boxes and boxes of them.

Where do you go to unwind?

Just walking in the fields around where we live is just so peaceful and beautiful and I feel really close to God, who, I just know, has a hand in what we do.

What is your favourite Norfolk building?

Norwich cathedral as it is God's house, it has a wonderful history and it's just so beautiful.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I'd perhaps be a bit more patient, or maybe go back 30 years as I definitely don't like growing old. Mind you, since I had both my hips replaced, life has been much easier. Before that, even walking down the road to the school was agony.

What is your proudest moment?

When I had my son Matthew - after having 3 little girls, I desperately wanted a boy.

And your greatest achievement?

My family - I love them to bits and they are all so good to us.

Who do you most admire?

Audrey Hunt, who runs the Wesleyan reform chapel in our village even though she is now in her late nineties.

What makes you angry?

People who abuse animals. We have seen some terrible, sad things and I just wish people would think before taking on a pet.

Favourite book, film and TV programme?

My favourite film has to be Gone with the Wind, I've been meaning to re-read The Children of the New Forest, which I enjoyed as a teenager, and, on television, I like watching the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

How would you like to be remembered?

I suppose for the little bit I've done to help animals.