Surprise party honours Exotic Pet Refuge volunteer Sandy, 81

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A volunteer who could barely walk when he started helping out at the exotic pet refuge has beaten the odds by not only regaining the use of his legs, but raising a stunning £120,000 in the process.

Sandy Fox, 81, has been volunteering at the refuge in Deeping St James for 16 years and is regularly seen displaying the centre’s owls during fundraising events.

Over the years he has raised £120,000 for the cash-strapped charity – and £14,000 of that was in 2011.

Other volunteers at the refuge held a dinner in Sandy’s honour at Fields Cafe, in Market Deeping, and presented him a handmade glass owl to thank him for his work.

Before Sandy started helping out, he had suffered a bad accident that left him wheelchair-bound and his wife, Evelyn, was told he would never walk again.

He said: “I wanted to help but they also helped me.

“I started off peeling fruit and veg, then, walking with two sticks, I found I was able to feed the animals. Then it became one stick and finally I was able to get about without any. I gradually got better and moved more.

“This was after the doctors didn’t seem to be able to do anything for me.”

Sandy helps out most days at the centre, where his favourite animals are the cats, particularly the ocelot.

But he is best known as an owl handler and is regularly seen with a large collection of the birds, including Raj the Bengal eagle owl who went missing recently and was later found.

On average he raises about £8,000 a year from donations but this year he wanted to do even better.

He said: “I thought that seeing as there’s a recession, I’m going to try and raise £10,000.

“That meant going out half-an-hour earlier and staying half-an-hour later. I hit my target and thought I would keep going. I’ve raised £14,597 this year. That’s why they won’t let me retire before I’m 100.”

Refuge owner Pam Mansfield said: “The money he raises is indispensable.

“It pays for all the food for the animals. I don’t know what we would do without it. I don’t think people even half his age would do as much as Sandy does.”