Secretarial: Life in the dog house

I Work For: Sarah Ruff works for Lt-Col Duncan Green, Director General of Battersea Dogs' Home
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The Independent Culture
I worked as a secretary for the NHS for over 10 years but I always felt something was missing. I love helping people, but all the bureaucracy and red tape prevented real job satisfaction. With a name like mine I guess I was fated to end up at the dogs' home. I saw the ad in the paper and sent my CV the same day. I knew that the competition would be fierce so I researched the job thoroughly.

I was very nervous before the interview, expecting Col Green to bark questions at me in a military manner, but actually he had a friendly face and was very relaxed. His two springer spaniels sat in on the interview and the office cat purred beside me whilst I did my typing test, which immediately made me feel at home. Then the Colonel gave me a questionnaire containing questions like "do you prefer dogs or cats?" and "what aspect of secretarial work do you most hate?" and I left the interview knowing that I had never wanted anything as much as this job.

I've been here now for two years in a far from normal secretarial role. My first job of the day is to feed the three office cats, Tiger, Poppy and TC, who is so grossly overweight that slimming her down is one of my duties. After clearing the litter trays I attend to the mail, most of which comes from owners telling us how their re-homed cat or dog is getting on. Co-ordinating Lt-Col Green's schedule takes up a lot of time because the work in the animal welfare world is never ending.

Another aspect to my job involves helping out at shows, and this year I manned the annual re-homed dogs' reunion at Battersea Park for over 1,500 dogs. I also accompany Col Green to talks at schools and institutes and occasionally take visitors around the kennels, including schoolchildren and representatives from animal shelters in other countries. We also have a BBC team on site at the moment making 30 programmes about the dogs' home, but so far I have escaped being filmed.

At the moment there are 700 dogs, 121 cats and 100 staff here. We have a no-destruction policy so all the animals are eventually re-homed. For example, when the TV programme Pet Rescue recently featured Desmond, a Rottweiler cross who had lost his confidence and needed a happy home, he was immediately snapped up. All kinds of people bring dogs and cats in for re-homing, including animals made homeless as the result of a marital break-up. I have even found two cats and a rabbit left outside our front door and I have seen some really sad cases of neglect over the years. But I have also seen many people in tears as they were reunited with a dog or cat they thought was lost forever.

I love looking out from my window and watching happy owners walking away with their new dog. A lot of famous people come to Battersea looking for a dog or cat, for example Kevin Spacey recently got a dog from us, and Chris Evans and Bob Geldof took cats home.

The staff are very positive and although we can all get soppy about the animals we do not get over-emotional. We are allowed to bring our own dogs to work and in our office alone we have eight dogs and three cats. I can't eat my lunch in the office because I am immediately surrounded by eager faces and I don't wear a suit because it would be covered in fur and hair in no time.

If a dog gets depressed a member of staff will take it under his or her wing, and I always walk one of the dogs in the park at lunchtime. This is like a second home to me. I put in a lot of hours and have even worked over Christmas. I used to be slightly frightened of dogs, but I soon realised that once they know your smell they usually become your friend for life.

I can easily see myself here for the next 20 years and I know how lucky I am to have my dream job.