From disaster zones to boarding kennels, firefighter returns to Sleights

Chris and Zelda Jefferson with Molly
Chris and Zelda Jefferson with Molly

A Sleights man has returned home to take over at village’s Brackenhill Kennels, after 25 years working as a firefighter.

It is an appropriate choice for Chris Jefferson, who has spent 14 of the last 25 years working for Lincolnshire Fire Service as a canine handler.

Chris with one of his faithful dogs

Chris with one of his faithful dogs

Chris, 47, who played for Sleights juniors football team growing up, is the son of the late Peter Jefferson, a well known local joiner.

When Chris left school, he began work at John Newton builders in Ruswarp, However, after securing his dream job with Lincolnshire Fire Service, he headed south. “John let me borrow the work van and I set up in Grantham,” he said.

Chris said: “I was very fortunate to move into what you would class as a sleepy (small rural) brigade. Lincolnshire were a pioneering brigade that went to earthquakes in Turkey and around the world

“After 9/11, the government realised that we had no infrastructure here in the UK, so they looked to put some organisation in place, and small brigades such as ourselves specialised. The UK is now one of the top three heavy rescue teams in the world.”

Belle and Bandit enjoying their stay at Brackenhill Boarding Kennels with Chris and Zelda Jefferson

Belle and Bandit enjoying their stay at Brackenhill Boarding Kennels with Chris and Zelda Jefferson

Chris became a canine handler, he trained dogs to find casualties and missing people in rubble and collapsed buildings in disaster zones around the world.

He was originally one of only five International Search and Rescue canine handlers in the UK, which through his and the teams mentoring and training has now risen to 12.

Chris has worked in areas of the UK affected by severe flooding including York and Cumbria in 2015. He has also worked in the aftermath of some devastating natural disasters, including Haiti following the earthquake in 2010 and Japan after the tsunami in 2011.

He has, by his own admission, seen some horrible things. “These things stay with you, you know?” he said with a shrug, before changing the subject back to the animals he loves.

Chris pictured among the rubble.

Chris pictured among the rubble.

Working in disaster areas supplies are limited, meaning that Chris is trained not only in emergency first aid for humans, but also advanced canine first aid as well. “If your dog gets a cut on his leg and you’re miles from anywhere, you need to know that you can sort it out,” said Chris.

Chris has taken over the kennels with his wife, Zelda. Nestled on a North York Moors hillside, the kennels offer impressive views, but more importantly for prospective residents, plenty of room to get outside and play.

One thing that strikes you about both Chris and Zelda is their passion for the animals. Zelda has welcomed rescue dogs into her family for the last 25 years and has a love of cats. She is also studying for a Kennel and Cattery diploma.

Zelda, 47, a former supply chain manager at a food company, said they are looking forward to spending time with their charges. They take the animals for any length of time, from one night to 28 or even 30 nights and more.

She said: “Quite a few of our owners are retired, so they have that much more time available to them, and are able to go away for much longer stints.

“We pride ourselves on giving all our guests the personal touch with plenty of one to one time.

“This kind of job you can only have if you have a love for dogs.”

The couple also offer doggy day care and are planning to draw on Chris’s fire service training to offer dog training sessions.