Meet the Hopefield Staff: Dave our CEO

It’s time to shine the spotlight on Hopefield’s CEO, Dave Schlaich! Find out what our sanctuary Big (Plant-based) Cheese has to say about Hopefield and the dreams for its future…

Continuing our series of blogs featuring our Hopefield Animal Sanctuary staff and volunteers, this week it’s time to grill our amazing CEO, Dave!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child I wanted to join the army.

How did you find out about Hopefield Animal Sanctuary?

I found it through college but always saw the A12 sign since I was a child, which always piqued my interest as an animal lover.

What was your first role at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary?

Baby Dave where to see animals in Essex
Baby Dave

I came as part of a full time college placement and started in 1997 as a 17 year old. 

Tell us about your role as CEO of Hopefield, and what a day in the life of Dave generally looks like…

My role is very varied as I’m a hands-on CEO, so I split my time between helping Lianne, our General Manager, with the animals, as well as office, admin and building work. I don’t get to be around the animals as much as I  used to be, sadly, as Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, has grown considerably so I spend a significant amount of time bringing in the funds needed to keep us running and coming up with new ideas to raise money. Not only are we open to visitors for nine months of the year (and we really are one of the best places to see animals in Essex, so do come down!), but we also have a fencing subsidiary, Hopefield Fencing, from which the profits generated go directly towards caring for our rescued residents.

I am constantly having to come up with new ideas to help with the ever increasing costs, but I’m also very lucky to have a great dedicated office team to help me with this.

I also spend a lot of time building with my brother (who also runs Hopefield Fencing) on site to improve the animal enclosures, create better facilities for visitors etc. By undertaking these kinds of projects ourselves we save thousands of pounds each year, which again helps towards our running costs. I do make time for the animals every day though.

When and how did you become CEO of Hopefield Animal Sanctuary?

I was a manager at Hopefield for 10 years and when Paula, the co-founder of the sanctuary, sadly became ill she made me and Lianne promise to keep the sanctuary running and the animals cared for. (Well actually, Lianne made the promise for me so technically I still have a get-out clause…). When our other co-founder, Ernie, sadly passed away I took up the mantle by becoming Director, and then CEO.

What have been your highlight/s of working for Hopefield Animal Sanctuary?

Dave and Lianne where to see animals in Essex

The biggest highlight is seeing animals that have been though so much neglect and cruelty gradually improve and gain your trust. When you have seen ponies that fall to the floor with terror who eventually let you give them a groom, it makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it.

Oh, and of course meeting Lianne here, the love of my life! (She made me say this…)

What have been some of the more notable challenges of working for Hopefield Animal Sanctuary?

Hopefield has been though so many challenges since I’ve been here. From the foot and mouth outbreak, our landlords putting the site up for development, the 2008 recession and then more recently, the pandemic. I think the biggest challenge for me, and also the hardest, is that I’m the final say on if space can be found for a rescue animal. Knowing that its life is in your hands can be overwhelming. Everyone appreciates the glory side of animal rescue, and I get a lot of people saying that they would love to do what I do, but when you just don’t have the space or facilities to take an animal on and their future is in peril, it’s absolutely heartbreaking. Sometimes I just have to take time to walk out in the fields and spend some time with the ones we have saved because it just never gets any easier. It’s a challenge for all sanctuaries, and not having enough funding, staff or space to save all the animals in need will always be hard to bear. 

Do you have a favourite animal at the sanctuary?

Dave and Minnie where to see animals in Essex

I have three favourite animals Minnie the pony who’s like a million years old, George the naughty donkey and Vlad the iguana, who recently passed away, sadly.

My favourite all time animal was Snowy the cat. She sat on my lap at my interview and that’s where she stayed every tea and lunch for many years till she passed away of old age at 18.

Has there been a particular case that has really affected you during your time at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary?

Miley animal cruelty where to see animals in Essex

There have been many but I think Miley the shih tzu was a particularly harrowing case. She came to us covered in mange, hugely overgrown claws and in such a mess that we didn’t even know what breed she was. She stank, was massively underweight, and had clearly been used as a breeding machine. It was heartbreaking as she was in a real state but through the mess she still had the most beautiful eyes. How could someone be so evil to do that to such an innocent creature? She’s snuggled up in front of the fire while I’m writing this, loved, happy and unrecognisable from the sorry creature she came to us as. 

Miley cruelty case where to see animals in Essex

Tell us 3 things about you that might surprise people

Erm that’s hard… Well:



      • I live with 11 dogs.




      • I used to have long hair in a pony tail. Yes, it did look awful lol!



      • I used to work at a zoo with animals including zebra, buffalo, mongoose, ostriches and many more. That’s why I love Hopefield so much as it’s a place where animals come first and are not exploited for profit.




What plans do you have for the sanctuary going forward? What’s the dream?

Dave where to see animals in Essex

The dream is to educate and show people how precious animals are and that places like Hopefield shouldn’t even have to exist. I don’t think, sadly, that we will see it in our lifetimes, which is why sanctuaries like Hopefield are so important. 

The plan is to continue with several large projects that we have in the pipeline… This includes setting up a small animal boarding facility, a dog grooming facility and a secure dog park. This in turn will help raise funds for the ultimate dream of mine which is to set up a dog sanctuary in Asia where mistreated dogs and dogs from the meat trade can live in the peace and harmony that they deserve. There has been some great news recently with regards to countries banning the dog meat trade, and we have to give our amazing friends at Humane Society International (HSI) a huge shout out for their tireless efforts along with other animal welfare organisations in helping make this happen. Tragically, millions of street dogs are left to starve and are beaten and maimed in the most horrific ways. We’ve seen harrowing recordings of dogs being blow torched, drowned and strangled, and I’ll never not be haunted by one I saw of a distressed dog having to watch his doggy friend be burnt. It honestly baffles me how cruel people can be, and to innocent animals too. If we were able to spread our work into Asia, as part of that we would love to put in place an education programme with animal welfare at its core, as well as the promotion of plant-based diets: food that nothing has suffered for. 

We would also love to do more locally to promote conservation because at the end of the day if we destroy our plant then there is nowhere for humans or animals. A conservation centre in Brentwood that children can visit and where they can learn about animal welfare and environmental issues is something we would love to do.

Thanks, Dave! Next up: Lianne, so keep an eye out for what our General Manager has to say about life at Hopefield.



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