Gov­ern­ment fund­ing help­ing an­i­mal wel­fare

Bray People - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WED­DER­BURN

WE live in a world where bad news grabs head­lines more eas­ily than good news, and where it’s more popular to crit­i­cise than praise gov­ern­ments. It’s easy to for­get that many pos­i­tive events hap­pen around us and that the aim of most of our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives is to help rather than to hin­der.

One such pos­i­tive an­nounce­ment was made on the Fri­day be­fore Christ­mas. The Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Si­mon Coveney, an­nounced the lat­est round of gov­ern­ment fund­ing to an­i­mal wel­fare groups around Ire­land: €1,867,200 has been given to 142 or­gan­i­sa­tions in­volved in de­liv­er­ing an­i­mal wel­fare ser­vices through­out the coun­try. The fund­ing is “ex gra­tia”: to use the dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tion of this term, it is “done from a sense of moral obli­ga­tion rather than be­cause of any le­gal re­quire­ment”. This gov­ern­ment fund­ing of non-gov­ern­men­tal an­i­mal or­gan­i­sa­tions is ex­cep­tion­ally un­usual, even on a global scale. Nearly all an­i­mal char­i­ties else­where on the planet, in­clud­ing the UK, de­pend en­tirely on the gen­eros­ity of pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als.

So for all the crit­i­cism that’s dealt out to the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment, this is an area where a round of ap­plause is de­served. The Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture web­site in­cludes a de­tailed list of the funds al­lo­cated to each wel­fare group. If you look at the back­grounds of the 142 or­gan­i­sa­tions that are helped, you’ll see that they are staffed by hard work­ing, ded­i­cated in­di­vid­u­als who are gen­uinely help­ing an­i­mals. They are mostly vol­un­teers who do­nate their own time and en­ergy (and of­ten money) to the or­gan­i­sa­tions that they work for. With­out the fi­nan­cial support from the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment, they would not be able to help nearly as many needy an­i­mals.

My un­der­stand­ing is that the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture fund­ing was in­tro­duced in 1995 by Fianna Fail’s Joe Walsh when he was Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture. Mr Walsh re­tired from pol­i­tics in 2007, and he died just two months ago. The on­go­ing an­nual fund­ing of an­i­mal wel­fare groups is a legacy that his fam­ily should be proud of.

It is a credit to the var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal par­ties that have been in power since then that the ex gra­tia pay­ments have not been sub­ject to the dra­matic cuts that have been ap­plied to other ar­eas of gov­ern­ment spend­ing in th­ese eco­nom­i­cally chal­leng­ing times. In fact, the fund­ing has been in­creased from €1.2 mil­lion in 2009 to the cur­rent fig­ure of just un­der €1.9 mil­lion, an in­crease of 58% at a time when many bud­gets else­where have been slashed. The cur­rent Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, Si­mon Coveney, de­serves a big thank-you for con­tin­u­ing to help Ir­ish an­i­mals with this gen­eros­ity.

The ex gra­tia fund­ing is care­fully con­trolled, only be­ing granted un­der strictly con­trolled con­di­tions. The money is aimed specif­i­cally at or­gan­i­sa­tions in­volved in the de­liv­ery of an­i­mal care and wel­fare ser­vices, par­tic­u­larly to com­pan­ion an­i­mals. The Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture is clear that fund­ing is limited and is in­tended only as a con­tri­bu­tion to the over­all costs of the or­gan­i­sa­tions. Most an­i­mal wel­fare groups view the money as a wel­come top up to their or­gan­i­sa­tional costs rather than as the main­stay of their an­nual bud­get plan. Do­na­tions from the gen­eral pub­lic are still es­sen­tial, pro­vid­ing for most of the daily run­ning costs. In many cases, the gov­ern­ment money is like an emer­gency lifebelt be­ing thrown to a swimmer in trou­ble: the funds have pre­vented many over­stretched an­i­mal wel­fare groups from hav­ing to close down.

The money is care­fully ad­min­is­tered by of­fi­cials at the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. An­i­mal wel­fare groups have to fill in a de­tailed ap­pli­ca­tion form, and they are sub­ject to in­spec­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s premises and pa­per­work by lo­cal au­thor­ity vet­eri­nary of­fi­cers to en­sure that an­i­mal wel­fare is be­ing gen­uinely sup­ported. In past years, there was a “code of prac­tice” which or­gan­i­sa­tions had to aim at. This year, the ter­mi­nol­ogy was changed sub­tly but sig­nif­i­cantly, and there are now “con­di­tions to be ad­hered to” by or­gan­i­sa­tions ap­ply­ing for fund­ing. If they do not com­ply with th­ese, they will not be given money. This al­lows the gov­ern­ment to in­flu­ence how the money is spent, in a pos­i­tive way. Spay/neu­ter­ing cam­paigns for cats and dogs are crit­i­cally im­por­tant el­e­ments in con­trol­ling num­bers: all fund­ing re­cip­i­ents of aid should have pro­grammes in place to tackle this in their own ar­eas. Wel­fare groups are also en­cour­aged to have greater vis­i­bil­ity in their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, so that peo­ple know who to call on for help with an­i­mal wel­fare is­sues.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are also keen to tackle the po­ten­tial prob­lem of “an­i­mal hoard­ing” by some an­i­mal wel­fare groups i.e. the ac­cu­mu­la­tion and per­ma­nent hous­ing of large num­bers of un­wanted pets that are dif­fi­cult to re­home be­cause of prob­lems such as ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour. The cost of main­tain­ing long-term res­i­dents like this pre­vents funds be­ing spent on other needy an­i­mals. It’s de­bat­able whether such long term in­sti­tu­tional care is even in the in­ter­ests of the an­i­mals them­selves.

It’s heart­en­ing that the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment takes an­i­mal wel­fare se­ri­ously enough to con­tinue to of­fer fi­nan­cial support to those help­ing an­i­mals in need.

An­i­mal wel­fare groups de­serve fi­nan­cial support

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