For a house with more than 20 residents, the home of Cath Southwell is a surprisingly tranquil one.
In addition to Cath, her husband Nicholas and their daughter Amy they have 19 King Charles Cavaliers vying for the best spot on the sofa in front of the TV.
“At the minute there’s 19 Cavaliers in total in the house,” she said.
“Over Christmas we had 20-odd.”
Cath (39) has had an association with King Charles Cavalier spaniels since she was a child, growing up with a Cavalier named Riley.
Likewise her daughter has grown up around the good natured breed.
Cath said: “Amy was four when we got our first one, Holly, but before that her nanny had Riley.”
Amy (21) commented: “I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Though I don’t think have a choice,” she joked.
The transition from keeping a couple of pets to housing dozens of dogs happened in the blink of an eye.
Cath explained: “I was doing a little bit of rescue work with another group in the south of Ireland.
“A friend rang me to see if I would take a dog that had been found in County Antrim. It was in a very bad state.
“We found out that it had come from a puppy farm. When the council found the farm they were horrified by what they saw. They asked me could I take more dogs.
“They’d been living in awful conditions, completely malnourished.”
“That’s where this wee girl came from,” she said, cuddling Minnie.
Of the nine dogs Catherine took in back in 2013 she rehomed them all, but she hasn’t been able to part company with Minnie.
“She came from the puppy farm and I haven’t been able to let her go.
“She’s still living here with us.
“The dogs that came from the puppy farm were in a really awful state. It broke my heart. The case against the breeder is due in court soon.”
It was the dogs she took in from the puppy farm that prompted Cath to set up Cavaliers in Need in June 2013.
She said: “We’ve rescued about 270 dogs since then.
“Between fosterers, transporters and fundraisers there’s 50 or 60 of us.
“We’re hoping to get charity status very soon.”
The support for the group has spread through word of mouth and social media and Catherine says she is stunned by how quickly it has grown.
She is grateful to the volunteers and foster families who make the rescues possible and also for the support she receives when it comes to fundraising as the rescue group is entirely self-funded.
She added: “All dogs are spayed and neutered before they leave their foster home. We do home checks and call in after they’ve settled.
“Dogs can always come back to us if they’re not being properly looked after.
“It’s like a social group as well rather than just a dog rescue.”
Of Cavaliers she said: “We have rescued different breeds but we can’t rescue them all which is why we concentrate on Cavaliers. I can’t even bear to think about the others, it’s just too much.
“They’re a really popular breed, a very happy breed. Very popular with children because they’re so good natured.
“They should be full of fun, but when you get ones that have been mistreated they can be very nervous.”
She continued: “Our house is designed with the dogs in mind, with big open plan spaces and a large garden for them to run around in with a toilet area fenced off which they have been trained to use.
“I allow them everywhere in the house except upstairs. If you look around the house you’ll see it’s been modified to suit them as much as us.
“Our garage isn’t a garage, it’s a grooming bath.”
Cath is in her element surrounded by the animals she loves. She isn’t phased by the dirty jobs either. She sees picking up little presents from her pets as a pleasure rather than chore.
She commented: “Although there’s so many you just get used to them, knowing their names and what medicines they need. Cavaliers are dogs with a lot of health problems and they all have different medical needs. There’s a lot to remember having so many, but you get used to it.”
She added: “They are a big commitment, a 12 year commitment.
“You have to think about everything healthwise, who’s going to look after them.
“When you take on a cavalier you’re taking on a vet bill.
“We’d be very much about promoting how to buy a puppy sensibly off a good breeder who’s doing it for the love of the breed.”
Cath juggles a full-time job as a special needs teacher in Armagh with running the rescue group.
It’s made for a hectic life for Catherine, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Catherine is married to IT manager Nicholas. Together they have one daughter Amy (21).