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About Us - A Brief History

Maria Hennessy had always loved animals and like many children dreamt of running away to join a circus. After working for a while in London Maria found a job with a circus - but the dream soon became a nightmare as Maria found that elephants were regularly hit with iron bars and their bowels emptied before each performance. She was so incensed by this that she became a spy on behalf of the animals and collected evidence of their mistreatment in some circuses by any means she could. Friends believe her pioneering work improved conditions for circus and zoo animals. Maria's love of elephants led her to hitchhike to Nepal and India, with her son Shane, to monitor their treatment and to Japan to tend sick circus elephants before hiring a Jumbo jet to fly them to a safari park in Argentina. In 1975 she went to Afghanistan and persuaded army guards to let her into a compound to help an injured elephant. It was thus that the charity Maria founded was called Socelex - an acronym for the Society Against Elephant Exploitation. Before long Maria found that more modest animals also needed her help, and Socelex gradually expanded to include any animal that needed care.

The sanctuary, which is well known throughout Gwent and the valleys, is a converted farm, covers nine acres of land and costs approximately £2,000 a month to run. The animals include sheep, foxes, dogs, rabbits, ducks, pigeons, wild birds, geese, chicken, rooks and 40 cats.

Over the years Maria gradually learnt a great deal about animal medicine, and was able to nurse the animals herself - but Maria had cancer, and after a courageous fight to live for her beloved animals she sadly died in August 1996.

Her brother John and son Shane, together with a small team of dedicated helpers, carried on her valiant work. Running the sanctuary is a full-time job so they had little time for fund-raising.

Diane at SocelexIn 1997, Diane Allen visited Socelex through her work with the Cat Protection group and fell in love with the place. She had many years experience fund-raising for the cats and turned her skills to help all the many animals that Socelex rescues. Like Maria, Diane had an inherent love of all animals and couldn't bear to see any in pain or distress. She would help out in all the daily duties involved in running an animal sanctuary aswell as being solely responsible for the Socelex newsletters. Latterly, her mobility was impaired with osteoarthritis but she was determined to carry on her work.

In 2006, Diane was diagnosed with cancer - she still tried to help where she could but it was difficult with the visits to hospital and different consultants. Diane passed away on May 16th 2007. Diane will be greatly missed by everyone at Socelex, her mark has been indelibly left on the sanctuary in all the good work she did.

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