When Pam Mansfield first started taking in abandoned and mistreated animals she never dreamt that 40 years on she would be running a dedicated sanctuary at her home in Deeping St James.
Over the years the Exotic Pet Refuge has given a loving home to thousands of creatures from alligators and parrots, to monkeys and snakes, racoons, porcupines and more – and 2017 marks its Ruby Jubilee.
Its story started back in the 1970s when Pam and husband Mel, who sadly passed away 13 years ago, began re-homing animals in need of some TLC.
Back then it was mainly cats, dogs, rabbits and birds, recalls Pam, but a chance encounter in a pet shop led them to re-home their first exotic animal – a snake.
“I love all animals,” says Pam, “I really don’t have a favourite. Mel was the same – animal mad. I remember going into a pet shop and somebody had bought a snake, but their wife wouldn’t let them take it into the house.
“He couldn’t get a refund so said he was going to throw it in the river – we offered him a tenner for it as we couldn’t let that happen. We didn’t have the money between us, so we borrowed it from the shopkeeper until the following week.”
The couple took the Burmese Python home and converted a sideboard into a snake cage. From there things snowballed as more and more people began turning up with animals for them to care for.
“At first it was fox cubs,” recalls Pam. “Then we had umpteen parrots and budgies and then we had our own son Darren and we’d completely outgrown our house.
“We moved and things continued to snowball. What started as a hobby went from strength to strength and in 1984 we made it into a charity. We moved here 20 years ago.”
The refuge in Station Road holds an exotic animal licence to keep its 250 inhabitants, while Pam says looking after them just takes a bit of common sense.
Sadly many of the creatures she takes in have been mistreated or have outlived their owners and she is urging anyone thinking about getting an animal to research it thoroughly and know what they’re taking on.
“People do not realise how long some of these animals live,” she adds. “Tortoises can live for up to 80 years – people need to make provisions for them in their wills.
“We never intended it to be like this, it was just a passion that my husband and I shared.
“We don’t want to be a zoo, it’s more important for us to be a sanctuary. It’s wonderful to have helped so many animals over the years.”
The Exotic Pet Refuge, Station Road, Deeping St James, is holding open days on Sunday, April 16; Sunday, May 21; Sunday, June 18; Sunday, July 16; Sunday, September 17 and October 22.
All will include refreshments, tombola, children’s entertainment and free parking and run from 10am to 5pm. Entry is £6 for adults and £3 for children.
Charity relies on public donations
The Exotic Pet Refuge has a full-time manager, five full-time volunteers, as well as other helpers, including work experience students and children plus two patrons, Steve Backshall and Warwick Davis.
As a charity it relies on donations, outside support and the help of volunteers to keep it going.
Pam and her team must raise around £80,000 every year to pay the bills and keep the animals housed, fed, safe and well.
They do this by holding six annual open days, and by offering animal sponsorship, birthday party packages, keeper experiences, guided tours and photography workshops. They also appeal for donations of food, building materials and enrichment activities for the animals.
To celebrate the sanctuary’s 40th anniversary it is hosting a gala night at the Marriott Hotel, in Peterborough, on September 9, which will include live music, dinner, a raffle and entertainment.
• To find out more about the Exotic Pet Refuge, its 40th anniversary celebrations and to make a donation visit www.exoticpet
To donate a raffle or auction prize for the gala email firstname.lastname@example.org