A NEW sensory garden has been created at the RSPCA animal rescue centre near Ringwood.

Featuring a playhouse, tunnels and a variety of pooch-friendly plants, the area has been designed to enrich the lives of the dogs – some of who were never able to enjoy a garden before being rescued.

The sensory garden, which was funded through donations raised at RSPCA events, was the brainchild of kennel supervisor Nicola Anthony, who has worked for the RSPCA for around 20 years.

She was inspired by a similar garden created at an RSPCA centre in Bath.

The Ashley Heath centre’s garden, which officially opened last week, is already proving a big hit with both the dogs and staff, she said.

“The new sensory garden provides enrichment for the dogs in our care and enables them to experience different sights, sounds, smells and textures. Some had never left the confines of their house before being rescued.

“The idea has been bandied about for the last four or five years. I’ve wanted to do the garden for a while, and this year we had some money.

“We started out with pots of flowers that dogs use to self-medicate, such as lavender and marigold. Now we’ve got a wooden playhouse with a ramp, tunnels to go through, a sand area, real grass, fake grass, and paving slabs with different textures.

“It’s a chance to provide the dogs with a quieter, more relaxed chill-out area where they can spend time after going for a walk.

“We’ve got tyre planters, which we’ll keep changing around, and we’re hoping to add some wooden wind chimes soon.”

The garden, which was built by a local firm called Special Branch, is used by individual or small groups of dogs, but is not off limits to any dog – although some require more supervision than others, Nicola said.

“We’ve got some lurchers who like to hare about so we keep them on the lead in the garden,” she said.

“A kennel environment is quite sparse and cold so the garden adds something else to their day.”