Ire­land’s prob­lem with over­pop­u­la­tion of dogs

Bray People - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WEDDERBURN

SIG­NIF­I­CANT change hap­pens slowly, but when it’s change for the bet­ter, it’s al­ways heart­en­ing to wit­ness. I’ve been work­ing as a vet in Ire­land for twenty five years now, and there is one area in par­tic­u­lar where the change has been vis­i­ble and dra­matic. I’m talk­ing about the is­sue of un­wanted dogs.

When I started work­ing as a vet here, I was as­ton­ished to dis­cover how many stray dogs were killed in Ire­land’s dog pounds. The fig­ure was al­most thirty thou­sand ev­ery year. That’s over a hun­dred dogs on ev­ery work­ing day. This is shock­ingly high: to put it into con­text, in the UK, which had around twenty times the hu­man pop­u­la­tion of Ire­land, less than ten thou­sand dogs were be­ing killed per year. It was ob­vi­ous that there was a big prob­lem in this coun­try, and be­cause it was hap­pen­ing be­hind closed doors, few peo­ple re­alised that it was go­ing on.

The peo­ple who did know about it felt in­censed, but didn’t know what they could do to help. In the end, the so­lu­tion was started by one of the Lo­cal Au­thor­ity vets who worked on the front line, ac­tu­ally injecting the dogs to put them down. He found it in­tol­er­a­ble, so he de­cided to do some­thing about it. Through the vet­eri­nary or­gan­i­sa­tions, he set up a meet­ing, call­ing it the Na­tional Stray Dog Fo­rum. This was an in­for­mal gath­er­ing of all in­ter­ested par­ties who were con­cerned about the stray dog prob­lem. As well as vet­eri­nary or­gan­i­sa­tions, there were an­i­mal res­cue groups, lo­cal au­thor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and other groups like the Gar­dai and politi­cians. Ev­ery­one agreed that the sit­u­a­tion for dogs needed to be ad­dressed, and an ac­tion list was drawn up to try to change things.

It’s in­ter­est­ing to look at that ac­tion list now, to see what has been achieved.

1. Re­spon­si­ble pet own­er­ship was to be en­cour­aged. This was a very broad aim, and some might even call it “waffly”. But the truth is that strong ef­forts have been made to spread the word about the im­por­tance of look­ing after pets prop­erly. The an­nual spay/neuter aware­ness week (www.spayaware.ie) has taken place ev­ery year since 2001, and this has helped to per­suade more peo­ple to have their dogs and cats spayed and neutered, hav­ing a di­rect ef­fect on re­duc­ing the num­ber of un­wanted dogs and cats be­ing born. At the same time, a na­tion­wide sub­sidised neu­ter­ing scheme for dogs was set up by the Dogs Trust char­ity, and this gave peo­ple a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to be re­spon­si­ble own­ers. Fi­nally, the new An­i­mal Health and Wel­fare Act was in­tro­duced in 2013, spec­i­fy­ing the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that pet own­ers have to look after an­i­mals in their care.

2. There were a num­ber of is­sues for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the day to day run­ning of dog pounds. Since then, there have been many changes, and dog pounds now work closely with lo­cal an­i­mal res­cue groups to re­home dogs that would for­merly have been eu­thanased. Dog pounds will al­ways face chal­lenges, but the changes to date are wel­come, and they’ve al­ready made a big dif­fer­ence.

3. Mi­crochip­ping was to be made com­pul­sory. It was recog­nised that com­pul­sory mi­crochip­ping of dogs would have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the stray dog prob­lem. It took a while for this to be put in place, but since April 2016, ev­ery dog in Ire­land has had to be mi­crochipped and regis­tered.

4. The dog li­cence sys­tem was to be re­viewed. While changes have been made, there are still many is­sues with how dog li­cences work in this coun­try, with less than half of dog own­ers com­ply­ing with the law. Wise govern­ment ac­tion is still needed to deal with this.

5. Reg­u­la­tion of puppy farms was to be ad­dressed. Again, new leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced, with the Dog Breeding Es­tab­lish­ment Act 2010. While this is not per­fect and does need to be re­viewed, it was a step in the right di­rec­tion. There are misun­der­stand­ings here: some peo­ple be­lieve that it ought to be pos­si­ble to farm dogs in the same way as other live­stock can be farmed. If you can keep a shed­ful of sheep or cat­tle, why not dogs? If you can pro­duce hun­dreds of lambs or calves to sell, why not pup­pies? The truth is that there is a huge dif­fer­ence. Farm an­i­mals are pro­duced to be killed and eaten. Dogs are pro­duced to be­come fam­ily mem­bers in a hu­man house­hold. To do this suc­cess­fully, they need to be well so­cialised from an early age, and if they are kept in barn like con­di­tions with min­i­mal hu­man con­tact, this can­not hap­pen. The puppy buy­ing pub­lic needs to be pro­tected by leg­is­la­tion that en­sures that pup­pies are reared in a way that makes them fit for liv­ing in mod­ern homes. So, given that the ac­tion list has been largely com­pleted, what has hap­pened to the num­bers of dogs be­ing killed in Ir­ish dog pounds? There is good news here: in the 1990’s be­tween 25 and 30000 dogs were killed ev­ery year. The most re­cent fig­ure – for 2014 – showed that less than 3000 dogs were killed: that’s a drop of 90%. It’s still too many: other coun­tries with sim­i­lar pop­u­la­tions eu­thanase less than 1000 per year, and that should be our tar­get.

Those in­volved with an­i­mal wel­fare con­tinue to work to im­prove life for Ire­land’s dogs, and we can all play a role. For starters, is your own dog spayed or neutered?

For more, see www.spayaware.ie.

Ire­land’s dog pounds have im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly

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