STAFF at an animal sanctuary accused of killing healthy greyhounds say they have become targets of a hate campaign by animal rights activists.

Workers at the Leigh Animal Sanctuary, off the East Lancashire Road, say they have been threatened at home and at work and received abusive phone calls and letters.

The claims came in a statement issued by the sanctuary after a report in the Sunday Times alleged a worker had offered to destroy two healthy young greyhounds by lethal injection for £35 each.

Unnamed greyhound trainers are reported to have told the paper the sanctuary was well-known within the sport and had been offering the service for many years.

But in a statement, Linda Buxton, who runs the sanctuary, said they only put animals to sleep when there was "no viable alternative". She also announced they would no longer be accepting unwanted greyhounds due to the "extreme" threats from animal rights activists.

Her statement said: "Leigh Animal Sanctuary was set up in 1975 with one purpose in mind: To look after the welfare of animals and provide the best care possible for pets who were no longer wanted or could not be cared for by their owners.

"We have stood by these principles for the decades that have followed and our standing in the local community reflects this.

"It is upsetting and unfortunate that our reputation has been so publicly tarnished with unsubstantiated allegations, without all the facts being made available and without a full understanding of the industry we work in.

"The regretful reality is that some animals are unwanted, neglected and abandoned and many of these from our area end up on our doorstep.

"The reason for this is that we have always done and continue to do everything in our power to find a new loving home for these pets."

Unfortunately, this was not always possible, Mrs Buxton said.

"In these circumstances, we are left with no choice but to humanely and compassionately put these animals to sleep.

"The most hurtful allegation made against us is that this act is carried out on a whim.

"As people who have dedicated our lives to animal welfare, I can categorically state that ending an animal's life has only ever been undertaken by Leigh Animal Sanctuary when every other avenue has been explored and there is no viable alternative.

This is particularly true in the issue with greyhounds, where the alternative fate awaiting these animals is unimaginable.

"The best testimony to our work comes not from faceless quotes in a newspaper article but from the local community who have supported us for the decades we have been serving this area."

She said that on Sunday morning the sanctuary was full of families looking for a pet and their messages of encouragement had been very welcome.

She added: "Less welcome is the obscene treatment our families are currently being subjected to, due to malicious rumours and a cowardly campaign to blacken the name and good work of Leigh Animal Sanctuary.

"This has been happening for some time now and is perpetrated by people claiming to be animal rights activists, who conveniently ignore the fact that thousands of animals have been saved and re-homed as a direct result of the work we do.

"We have been repeatedly threatened at work and even at home by people who hide behind anonymous notes and phone calls and whose actions are growing ever more intimidating and menacing.

"Because of the increasingly extreme nature of these threats, Leigh Animal Sanctuary will no longer be dealing with unwanted greyhounds.

"We announce this with a heavy heart as we fear that many dogs will suffer if professional and compassionate people in the animal welfare industry are forced to withdraw their services to protect their own family's welfare."

The National Greyhound Racing Club has launched an investigation into the issue of unwanted racing dogs.

NGRC senior steward Edward Bentall said: "The rules of racing are very clear that every effort must be made to re-home and avoid the euthanasia of greyhounds, which in any case must be carried out by a registered veterinary surgeon."