Saving Setters: Settusfree today

English Setters

In early 2020, Dogs Today kindly granted us an opportunity to write a piece outlining the work we do with the rescue of abused and abandoned Setters, most of whom have been used as hunting dogs in Europe.

Following the article’s publication, we received a lot of general interest in our charity and the increased awareness of our work has helped Settusfree become a highly successful and respected rescue organisation and, although quite small (our team currently consists of nine members) punches well above its weight in terms of successful adoptions.

Humble beginnings

It all began in the summer of 2014 when two passionate Setter people, Diane Bridgewater and Cheryl Newland were contacted at 2:00 in the morning by rescuers in Spain to be told that a local pound housing 20 Setters was to be closed down the following day with the lives of these dogs in jeopardy unless £700 could be raised, almost immediately, to move these dogs to safe accommodation.

Amazingly, with the abuse of credit cards and piggy banks, this money was raised within a few hours and the dogs saved. That outlined in a few sentences cannot possibly describe the emotions and traumas experienced by all concerned and all credit should be given to these two indefatigable individuals for their efforts under extreme pressure. Such was the commitment, that Diane personally drove to Spain to collect three of the dogs for re-homing in the UK.

Spurred by that initial success, Diane and Cheryl looked to saving other Setters in need and drafted in help from other like-minded people which was the embryo of what was to become Settusfree the UK registered charity. Indeed, our current Chair, on hearing the sad story of Zippi, one of those original twenty, wanted to get involved and started raising funds in support, initially in a modest way selling home-made items but, over the years with the kindness and generosity of our supporters, has raised over £80,000.


From those early days with dogs from Spain, horizons widened as the teams were being asked to find homes for Setters from other European countries such as Greece, Italy and the Balkan states and Settusfree, as it became known, sought and was granted charity status in 2016. Inevitably, since then, many changes in personnel have taken place but having achieved charity status, the team has had to become more professional and accountable even though we remain voluntary part-timers. No-one receives any pecuniary reward. The reward comes from seeing sad creatures with miserable past lives becoming much loved family pets.

Since our previous article was published, the charity, with careful management, has gone from strength to strength and in 2022 we re-homed our 1000th rescue.

Meet Reno!

Moreno, as he was first named, was found with his mother, by a man hiking in Bizkaia in the Basque country. They were in a field in very poor condition and after some investigation the hiker located the owner, a hunter who had no further use of them and they were going to be destroyed. Horrified, the hiker eventually persuaded the hunter to surrender the dogs to him. Seeking help for their adoption, our Spanish rescue partners, Marta and Asun (Setters Home) were contacted and the two were taken in and prepared for travel to a permanent home.

Reno’s mother, Kia, was adopted early on which left poor Reno in kennels where he was taken on as a Settusfree Setter. Our records show that he was rescue number 1000, a milestone for the charity but, more importantly, the start of a new life for him. Travel to the UK from the country of origin is an arduous and often frightening experience for any rescue even though we use only high-quality DEFRA approved transport companies, but Reno’s journey was to be much more eventful.

Following enquiries and home checks, Reno was reserved for adoption but to take advantage of available transport he came to the UK before his forever home was ready to take him and he went into foster in Wiltshire. He settled well and enjoyed the company of the resident dog with whom he would snuggle up.

When it became time for Reno to move to his permanent home, our Regional Adoptions Co-ordinator, Caitlin, who had organised and arranged his adoption, was quoted a figure of £400 for the trip from Wiltshire to Doncaster. Ever mindful of keeping the charity’s expenditure to a minimum, Caitlin rounded up a group of supporters and set up a relay service that Wells Fargo would have been proud of! Despite the several changes of vehicle and people, Reno behaved impeccably and would have been adopted several times over had he not already been reserved.


Reno has now been in the loving care of June and Gary Meanwell since September 2022. Despite his miserable beginnings, now nearly six-years-old, he has become a faithful loving dog, happy to be fussed, good with the grand children and other dogs, with good recall off the lead. He is still not sure about domestic appliances and other machinery and, like may rescues, still suffers with separation anxiety.

Whilst we are proud to have achieved this milestone, we are mindful of the fact that there are many others suffering on a daily basis and in need of help. We cannot change the world, but we will strive to provide care and safety for as many Setters as our limited resources will allow.

Re-homing rescue dogs from abroad is becoming ever more difficult and costly and now that lock down conditions have been removed with people returning to work and booking foreign holidays, good adopter homes are not easy to find. 2023 has been a quiet year for enquiries but we are well on our way towards rehoming rescue number 2,000.

As a potential adopter of a rescue dog, you may well ask “why a Setter?” Many of the enquiries we receive are from people who know and love the breed(s) and are aware of the foibles and eccentricities which make them what they are. Others may have happened upon our website by accident, seen an appealing face and ask for more information. Taking on a rescue Setter is not for the faint-hearted nor people without a sense of humour!

They will make you laugh, they will make you cry and will reward your commitment to adoption in many ways never before experienced. Setters, generally, are loyal, good natured, enjoy the company of people and good with children. Despite many of our rescues having had uncaring treatment or abuse in the past, most settle into domestic life quite readily and are happy to adopt the sofa at the earliest opportunity. Some will need time, space and patience. All will return affection although some will have to learn how to express it given their past life.

This definition sums up the English Setter well but applies equally to Gordons, Irish and, no doubt, Irish Red & Whites.

English Setter

aka. laverack setter, llewellin setter (noun)

an elegant and eye-catching gundog; silky long hair, perfect for bringing mud, leaves and twigs into your home; far too friendly to be a guard dog; daft as a brush; mischievous; stubborn just can’t help being naughty; thieving; selectively deaf; a calm presence with a sprinkling of bonkers; a gentle soul who will bring joy and love to your life.

English setter
English Setter

The future of foreign rescue

Apart from the increasing costs and logistical difficulties of importing dogs from abroad, the future is far from certain. There are some agencies that would like to see heavy restrictions on foreign rescue citing dangers to UK animal and human health from ‘Trojan’ dogs as the main reason. Whilst it is right to be concerned about the import of diseases, the science does not support the level of fear mongering currently being seen, not helped by irresponsible and sensationalist journalism.

It is the responsibility of all rescue organisations to work to the highest standards at all times so as to give those opposed to foreign rescue no excuse to endorse their arguments. This includes good veterinary care and testing for diseases prior to travel to the UK and strict adherence to the ‘commercial’ import regulations as required by law.

For more information on Settusfree, our rescues and our working practices, please visit our website  or address any questions to

This is a guest essay by Terry Bryant. Want to write for us? Visit or email


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