Dogs are as synonymous with non-league football grounds as Bovril, pies and a printed matchday programme.
This Saturday, Homelands will host some special canine guests, when a local dog rescue charity pays a matchday visit to the ground - thanks to a joint idea from the two opposing teams’ dog-loving managers.
Ashford United boss Tommy Warrilow is often seen with his trusty Jack Russell, Ella, by his side at Homelands, while Hythe Town’s Steve Watt has two beloved beagles - one of which he adopted from the visiting charity.
Ashford-based Fetcher Dog is bringing some of its dogs that need rehoming to meet spectators, who will have the opportunity to find out more about adopting a dog and donate towards the charity’s work.
Fetcher Dog rescues stray dogs that have been captured and placed in kill shelters in Bosnia and takes them to its rescue centre in Hastingleigh, with the aim of finding them a loving home in the UK.
A year ago, the Watt family adopted Marty (pictured above) from the charity, after seeing photos of him on Instagram.
Steve said: “We went to look at Marty and fell in love with him.
“He’d been picked up as a stray in the mountains in Bosnia and put in a kill shelter, where there’s two weeks for a dog to be reclaimed or they get killed.”
Marty had been rescued by Fetcher Dog and, although he initially bore physical and emotional scars from a troubled life on the streets, he has now settled into family life alongside the Watts’ other beagle, Holly.
“We don’t know the full extent of his background but we’ve found little things that make you think ‘maybe that was a problem’.
“At first he was terrified of cars and would be barking at vehicles on walks and he had teeth missing - the front ones - from where dogs eat gravel and stones to keep their bellies full.
“You wonder what’s gone on in his life, but we’ve had him almost a year now and he’s got a lot better with other dogs and he loves cars now.
“We’d never had a rescue dog before, we’ve always raised them from puppies, but it’s just as rewarding seeing all the changes in him.”
The two Isthmian South East Division managers agreed a local derby between their two sides would be a great opportunity to raise awareness of and funds for Fetcher Dog.
Tommy said: “It’s a great cause and I’m delighted to help out, so I hope everyone digs deep.”
Since its inception seven years ago, Fetcher Dog has rehomed more than 600 dogs and usually has around 70 dogs looking for homes at a time.
Jordan Connor, who co-founded the charity after adopting her dog Koda from a Bosnian rescuer in 2016, said: “There are thousands of dogs living on the streets and dying in the horrific conditions of the Bosnian kill shelters every day and we wanted to do what we could to help.
“As well as Bosnian dogs, we also take local owner surrenders here in Kent and have worked with Kent Police and the local dog warden to rehome dogs in need.”
She hopes supporters of both teams will stop to find out more about the charity at the game.
“We are always looking for loving families for our dogs, people to help us with volunteering and we are open to any fundraising ideas that people have.
“The more support we get, the more dogs we can help.”
Kick-off between the Nuts and Bolts and Hythe is at 3pm on Saturday and Fetcher Dog will be at Homelands from 1.30pm, when the turnstiles open.