When Brian Wheelhouse gave up being a car salesman, his life went to the dogs – quite literally.
For the last 20 years, he has dedicated himself to saving dogs on ‘death row’. Last year he was given an award for community engagement by Leeds City Council. He runs Whitehall Dog Rescue in East Ardsley. He spoke to Neil Hudson about how the touching story of a neglected dog changed his life forever.
As a youngster I was always car mad, I was always making go-karts with pram wheels and used to go washing other people’s cars to earn some extra pocket money but I would spend half my time just looking at the cars they had. Then, before I could even drive legally, I got a job at my local car auction, driving the cars through the auction. I was still at school at that point. It was back in the days when they weren’t as concerned about health and safety and because it was private land, you didn’t need a licence. Working at the auction, I quickly learned how much cars were worth and I got to know the auctioneer – he let me buy a car on credit, it was an old Vauxhall Viva HB, which I bought for £100 and sold for £120, so I paid him back and made £20 profit. My association with cars just increased from there.
My first job was at a sheet metal factory off Whitehall Road called Metal Formers. I joined there after leaving school at 16 and was paid £12.99 a week. I hated it, I despised every minute of it. We used to start early and finish late and it was a hard job. I really wanted to be a joiner and shop fitter and so I left to take up an apprenticeship with Leeds City Council, which I did and earned my City and Guilds qualification. I remember going for that job and there being about 150 people also applying and they gave jobs to just three and I was one of them.
Throughout that I was still working at the car auctions and there came a point when I had to decide what to do and so I carried on with the cars and took on a garage at Middleton, buying cars and selling them on for parts. I built up some money from that which allowed me and a mate to buy another garage. I ended up owning three, including one which specialised in importing American cars, like Corvettes, Trans-ams and Stingrays, which back then were worth about £10,000 each but now would be worth about £30,000.
My life changed when I saw a news report on Calendar about an alcoholic who had fallen asleep in his chair with a cigarette and set fire to his house – he’d let his dog out to roam the streets beforehand and eventually it returned home.
There was this picture of it on the news sitting on the doorstep, I will always remember it.
I rang Calendar straight away to see what would happen to it and got told it was at a dog pound. I contacted the pound and said I’d like to take the dog on but they refused, saying it was vicious and would be put down. I remember pleading with them but they still refused. The poor little dog was probably just very frightened. The experience changed my life.
I discovered that the pound had several other dogs due to be put down that day. I was supposed to be buying and selling cars but instead I went up to the pound and took a dog off them for £30. I put an advert in the YEP in a bid to re-home it and was inundated.
By that time it was starting to play on my mind about all the other dogs. At the time, I owned three garages, selling cars, so I cleared part of one of them, got the builders in and built five kennels. I went back to the dog pound and said I’d take however many dogs were due to be put down that day – they had 11, so some of the dogs had to double up – it was a good job they all got on.
Now we are a registered charity, supported by donations and grants, including one from the Emerald Foundation. We look after 35 dogs and over the years have saved thousands from death row.
One thing I always try to say to people is if you are going to get a dog, rescue one which is going to be put down. People have this idea the dogs have done something wrong but they are nearly all on death row having committed no crime at all.
The best thing about Leeds is how friendly its people are, which I notice whenever I go down south, where people keep very much to themselves.
If I could meet anyone living or dead it would be Dian Fossey, because she gave up her life to look after gorillas and her story is an inspiration to me. If I could meet someone living it would be Cesar Millan, also known as The Dog Whisperer, because I have the same view as him: that there are no bad dogs, just bad people.
The best piece of advice I can give people is listen to your mother, she will tell you things as you grow up and you will think you know best but as time goes on you will realise you don’t. Regarding dogs, I would say do not get your dogs from a breeder. There are too many dogs in the world, they are put down every single day, so save one, get it neutered, vaccinated and microchipped.
My philosophy on life is do not worry about tomorrow and forget about yesterday, live for today – it’s precisely how dogs view life.
Something that might surprise people is I once spent £12,000 on a dog which had been left for dead and which surgeons gave a five per cent chance of life. It was a Staffordshire bull terrier called Ruby, which had been mistreated and swallowed a lot of string, which became entangled in its intestines. I drove through the night to London so they could operate on it. It recovered and is still alive today, it lives at the centre with us. People sometimes ask why I did that, I tell them money is replaceable, life is not.
I picked another dog up which had been dumped on a rubbish tip in Beeston, it had been run over and had 12 fractures on its front legs – the moving thing about it was its brother stayed with it even though it was freezing cold. We named them Frankie and Denzil. We fixed Frankie’s legs and he was re-homed near Wakefield.
To relax I like riding my 1,000cc motorbike over the hills. I also like walking and that’s something I do a lot of, I reckon I spend about eight hours a day just walking dogs, I love it.
* Contact Brian via his website: www.whitehalldogrescue.com or ring him on 07831 421715.