Animal shelter

Platform: Denise Donnelly from Bright Eyes Animal Shelter in Enniskillen

The story of Bright Eyes Animal Sanctuary is truly Pat Nolan’s story. He established the sanctuary in 1989, but before that he was already rescuing and caring for the animals. From a council house in Enniskillen, with people all complaining about cats and people insulting him, he built it and became well respected in the community.

Pat’s vision was that animals have the right to live and to live free from suffering and hardship. It all started for Pat when someone brought him a kitten called Dinky and he took care of it, and then people started bringing him more animals. Then he rented a cottage in the country where it was better to offer a sanctuary for dogs and cats and he obtained charitable status.

People started to look at him differently and to realize how great a person he was; a very human person.

He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2005. Pat passed away in 2013, but everything we do with Bright Eyes Animal Shelter is his legacy.

He kind of neglected himself for the animals. He had the half-abandoned cottage for the animals and an old trailer for himself.

Then, in the mid-90s, he got a mortgage on the cottage and he began to involve more volunteers. When he died, the mortgage was paid off and the management of the shrine was handed over to the trustees. I am a director and chairman of the trust, and between us we have continued Pat’s work.

I first met Pat when I moved to Fermanagh in the early 90s and got a little dog from him. He was then a one-man band. I helped him from there. He did not know how to drive and sometimes rode his bicycle with dogs and cats. So I would be one of those who started giving him ski lifts, and then, before I knew it, I was part of a group of volunteers who grew up around him.

We save dogs and cats, and rehabilitate them; relocate them. We are fortunate to have a lot of new young volunteers since the pandemic, but there are also a lot more animals that need us.

We now get a lot of two year old dogs from when people got them in the first lockdown. They have a lot of issues that we never would have seen before like they are so far removed from other dogs that they are not properly socialized. Plus, people had puppies that they didn’t know how to care for or train.

We also take the dogs from the local pound after they have been there for five days and our goal is to relocate them. We operate a strictly no-kill policy. If an animal is to be asleep, there must be a very good reason for it. Whether they are really old, or without quality of life, or sick or simply impossible to relocate. We are very pissed off every time.


Denise Donnelly, Bright Eyes Wildlife Sanctuary

Denise Donnelly, Bright Eyes Wildlife Sanctuary

With the rescue kittens, we sterilize and rehouse them. It’s more difficult with feral cats, but it is possible. If you take enough time to work on calming them down, they can find a home.

We have a colony of feral cats here, which is unusual. We have just built a new sanctuary for them. They lead a good life, with fresh water and food and a secluded shed. They come for their treat in the morning if you’re late, but they live a life of their own. Some get pretty friendly, or sometimes a farmer takes one.

All our animals pass a veterinary check. Our vet bill is approximately €1000 to €2000 per month. We do our best for every animal, which is probably why the costs are so high. When you become a volunteer animal, you become a professional beggar, but the people are so good.

I don’t know how I got so deep into this. This was done gradually, from street collections. I just retired as a trauma nurse after 47 years but have always loved animals. I would beg, borrow, or steal for these animals, and I do for Pat.

Bright Eyes Animal Sanctuary has been rescuing dogs and cats since 1989. It operates a no-slaughter policy and practices sterilization instead. For more details on his rehoming policy and more information, see his Facebook or Instagram page: @brighteyesanimalsanctuary

In conversation with Sarah Caden