Reporter's Experience: I toured RSPCA's Stubbington Ark - and ended up holding a chicken called Penelope

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As an absolute animal addict I knew I had to pay a visit to RSPCA's Stubbington Ark - and the entire experience was brilliant - until a chicken was thrust into my arms like a rugby ball.

In the weeks building up to my trip to the rescue centre, I had been bragging like no one's business - I was so excited to see all of the gorgeous animals and the work being done to get them loving homes. I would say 'guess where I'm going?' to kick off the conversation and with that opening, I proudly informed everyone that would listen, with a fat grin on my face, that I was going to Stubbington Ark. And the visit was nothing short of incredible.

The behind-the-scenes experience started off with a tour of the facilities in a bid to get an insight into the vast amount of animal areas that have to be managed. Immediately, I was in awe - the amount of work that the army of staff and volunteers have to undertake is mind boggling - but the moment we saw some of the animals, it was clear why they work so hard. Unfortunately, it was a very drizzly and cold day, so I felt dreadful making Becci and Harry (team members at the centre) traipse around in the rain - but it definitely didn't dampen our spirits - just our hair.

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We looked around the rabbit building and my heart burst with happiness to see that the bunnies all have their own little toys. We then ventured back out in the rain to say hello to Penelope the chicken who took an interest in my jeans - Penelope decided to nibble at the bottom of my trousers in the hope that they were secretly made out of something delicious. After realising that they tasted of nothing but washing detergent, she backed away and retreated back to her bed.

We then ventured over to the reception area where I eagerly awaited Acorn, the shepherd cross greyhound. We weren't allowed in the kennels as to avoid overwhelming the dogs - but we were allowed to meet Acorn who has stolen my heart. She bounced out with excitement and she greeted us with cuddles and kisses - I was instantly the Cheshire Cat with a grin from ear to ear. As a dog lover, this was one of my favourite moments during the visit. After a lot more cuddles, strokes and a few treats, Acorn was ready to have a rest.

RSPCA The Stubbington Ark, Stubbington 
Pictured: Acorn 

Picture: Habibur RahmanRSPCA The Stubbington Ark, Stubbington 
Pictured: Acorn 

Picture: Habibur Rahman
RSPCA The Stubbington Ark, Stubbington Pictured: Acorn Picture: Habibur Rahman

With the rain getting heavier, we got an umbrella and wandered over to the small training field which is where we had the pleasure of meeting Beau. The three-year-old bulldog galloped over to me with the cutest expression on her face and I knew instantly that she was going to put on a show for us. Buffy, a trainer at the centre, showed us how the team work to integrate equipment into the dog's daily lives without making them feel uncomfortable - And Beau definitely knew the drill. She sniffed around some of the harnesses and muzzles and Buffy used positive reinforcement - and treats - to get her warmed up to the equipment. Beau enjoyed some cuddles and very nearly had me over in the mud after deciding to roll over playfully.

After our very fun interaction with Beau, we headed back over to the cattery where I fell in love with Luna and her two kittens as well as Larry. I'm definitely more of a dog person but I have to say that I warmed up to the cats living in the cattery, and I was lucky enough to play with Luna. She was not that bothered by me - but she set her sights on securing cat treats.

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RSPCA The Stubbington Ark, Stubbington 

Pictured: Reporter, Sophie, with Luna the cat at the cattery. RSPCA The Stubbington Ark, Stubbington 

Pictured: Reporter, Sophie, with Luna the cat at the cattery.
RSPCA The Stubbington Ark, Stubbington Pictured: Reporter, Sophie, with Luna the cat at the cattery.

We then met with Fiona and her variety of animals which included guinea pigs, mice and rats (which utterly creeped me out). Of course, our videographer, Habbs thought it would be good to up the ante by suggesting that I hold a rat. After protesting and feeling sick with nerves, I cautiously stepped up to take one for the team - but, thankfully, the rat in question was as fond of me as I was of it and we decided to retreat without holding her. Not happy with me getting an easy way out, Habbs and Fiona thought it would be a brilliant idea for me to hold Penelope the jean-nibbling chicken. I knew I wasn't going to be able to leave without being pushed out of my comfort zone at some point so I obliged. I was very very uneasy - what if Penelope took a dislike to me? What if she unexpectedly pooed on me? What if she pecked me into an oblivion?

Fiona took hold of Penelope and she seemed quite calm - I was told to hold her like a rugby ball (I had never held a proper rugby ball) - but I took hold of her and it went smoothly. Unease and caution were continued feelings despite Penelope's kindness to me and I have to admit, I was relieved to hand her back over to Fiona. Walking out of the pen, I did possess a sense of accomplishment and relief that I held Penelope rather than Jasmine the rat.

The chicken-holding experience rounded off the behind-the-scenes experience which was filled with excitement, happiness, nervousness, caution and relief as well as a lot of rain and mud. After seeing the work done at the Ark and meeting the animals, I continue to be in awe. The centre does incredible things for the animals in their care and I have to take my hat off to them - It was an absolute privilege to visit the Ark.

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