Thousands of animals were admitted to shelters and sanctuaries this year, thanks to mindless acts of cruelty and neglect, but animal welfare staff are saying enough is enough and it’s time to prosecute offenders, writes Kelly O’Brien.
Witnessing the “horrendous” cruelty humans inflict on helpless animals is by far the hardest aspect of life in an animal welfare charity, according to those working on the front lines.
Thousands of animals were admitted to shelters and sanctuaries across the country this year, many of them in dire conditions thanks to mindless acts of both cruelty and neglect.
In Limerick, one passerby climbed into a bin lorry to retrieve newborn puppies dumped there by their owner, while in Mayo a whole herd of 16 donkeys had to be rescued from neglect and starvation.
In Clare, a raccoon was found wandering in the wild — presumably released by someone who didn’t want it any more — while in West Cork a dog not far from death was found walking the streets in a severely emaciated condition.
Animal welfare charities across the country now say they have had enough — owners should not be allowed to get away with such cruelty and should be held accountable.
“The animal welfare legislation is all fine and dandy, but bringing in regulations which are not easy to enforce is a waste of time. There are not enough authorised officers to cover the 26 counties and the gardaí are too busy,” said Gina Hetherington from PAWS animal rescue in Tipperary.
“We are now saying, from the heart of rescue, somebody needs to do something. If more assistance is not given to welfare organisations, if Government subsidised neutering is not introduced, if the welfare legislation is not enforced, then Ireland will rapidly revert to the situation during the 1990s where there was a handful of us in rescue and 35,000 dogs were being destroyed in Ireland every year.”
While it has been a difficult year for Limerick Animal Welfare, the organisation has been bolstered by the actions of a fellow animal-lover who recently risked her safety by climbing into a bin lorry to save the lives of three newborn puppies.
The animals were only two-days-old when they were heartlessly thrown into the bin, presumably by their owner.
Bin collectors then unknowingly dumped the pups into their lorry, where they would have died a horrible death, had a member of the public not heard them squealing.
“A wonderful lady was passing by and heard the cries of the puppies. She asked the men to stop and she climbed into the back of the lorry and pulled out all the rubbish until she found the puppies,” said Marion Fitzgibbon, director of Limerick Animal Welfare (LAW).
“They were still alive but unfortunately one had his little ear sliced off. These puppies are doing well now and being fed every two hours by our fantastic staff at the sanctuary.”
While this harrowing tale has a happy ending for the animals involved, this is not always the case.
“It is very sad when an animal arrives at the sanctuary and it is too late to intervene,” explained Marion. “Sometimes these animals have suffered for days and nobody has seen them — or maybe people did not know what to do. The mindless cruelty to animals is the hardest part of our job.”
While those working at LAW say they “thankfully” do not see mindless cruelty every single day, the demand for their services has certainly skyrocketed in the last few years.
“We manage to help a huge number of animals each year. This year we have taken in approximately 400 dogs and 350 cats,” Marion said.
Finances also remain a huge issue for the shelter. Demand for services was so great this year that they were forced to take on additional staff members — meaning funds had to be diverted away from a number of projects that had been planned.
“We need to extend our isolation facilities for pups. Our present isolation kennels are not large enough to enable us to take in the huge influx of unwanted pups which are abandoned every year. We will experience continuous outbreaks of parvo virus if we do not provide adequate isolation facilities,” said Marion.
“We also need to install three extra stables in the farm yard, replace our old van, replace old fencing, and carry out maintenance work in the old kennels.”
Going forward, Marion has three Christmas wishes — that members of the public consider supporting LAW with a donation, that dog owners microchip their pets and get them identity collars, and that the Department of Agriculture would enforce microchipping legislation for equines. “It is never possible to identify the owner of an abused and neglected horse. The cruelty and neglect of horses continues unabated as nobody can be held accountable,” she said.
For more information, or to make a donation, go to limerickanimalwelfare.ie, phone 063 91110 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also search for Limerick Animal Welfare on Facebook.
It has been another busy year for the staff and volunteers of Seal Rescue Ireland.
In the last 12 months alone, the organisation has rescued 121 animals. This includes 106 seals and 15 other wild animals the sanctuary welcomed with open arms.
While the number of seals admitted to the Wexford-based facility is slightly down on the same period the previous year, operations manager Melanie Croce said they have been busier overall due to the increased focus on community engagement, environmental work, and developing their marine conservation education programme.
“Seal Rescue Ireland has had at least two seals admitted into its care which have been verified to have ingested plastic — both with fatal outcomes. So this is an issue close to our hearts. Although capturing soft plastics into our newest programme, the eco-brick, does not replace reducing plastic consumption overall, it is a simple and tangible way for all members of the public to take responsibility for their unavoidable non-biodegradable waste, by up-cycling them into something useful, and bringing awareness to the issue.” Melanie advocates that in order to protect animals, we must first protect the environment.
“The catastrophic impact human activity is having on the environment is becoming increasingly evident. As this environment serves as a habitat to not only wild and domestic animals, but ourselves as well, every member of the public must keep in mind that our daily decisions impact the environment and we have the power to protect it.” Discarded fishing waste, she explained, is also a huge danger to marine animals.
“In the spring we received many reports of seals entangled in fishing gear. These cases are the most heartbreaking because these animals are usually otherwise strong and healthy, and would have thrived in their natural environment if not for this unnatural affliction,” said Melanie.
As with last year, continuous storms remained the biggest threat to seals, however, causing a surge in intakes and straining SRI’s volunteer staff and limited resources.
“Extreme weather patterns are expected to increase each year due to unprecedented climate change, so we expect this challenge to continue. The increase in seal intakes means an increase in operational costs as SRI is the only seal rehabilitation centre in the Republic of Ireland. Therefore, there is nowhere else for these animals to go.”
For more information, go to sealrescueireland.org, email email@example.com or phone 087 195 5393. You can also search for Seal Rescue Ireland on Facebook.
More than 1,700 donkeys and mules can be found grazing in a haven in North Cork, safe from the neglect and cruelty of irresponsible owners countrywide.
The high number means The Donkey Sanctuary, located in Liscarroll, is currently operating at maximum capacity.
“It has been a very busy year here at the sanctuary,” staff member Ashling O’Sullivan said.
“We are working very hard to look after the animals in our care and to ensure they get everything they need — from feed and grooming to farriery and veterinary care. We also had a significant number of welfare concerns brought to our attention this year.”
One particularly harrowing case unfolded in Mayo.
“Donkey welfare adviser David Walsh was contacted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in Mayo seeking assistance with a donkey welfare case. Sixteen donkeys in very poor condition were seized by the department and removed into our care,” Ashling said.
“The donkeys had no food or water and had resorted to drinking water from puddles and were trying to eat tree branches because they were so hungry. Horrifically, alongside the live donkeys, the carcass of a dead donkey was also discovered.”
Ashling said she will never forget the evening in January of this year when the donkeys arrived in Liscarroll.
“Carefully, 16 neglected and frightened donkeys were unloaded from our vehicles into our new arrivals area. The veterinary team were waiting for them to ensure they were comfortable and make initial assessments. That evening the donkeys enthusiastically ate their food and were bedded down for the night. Later on, I heard they tried to eat their bedding — probably as they were not sure when they would be fed again.”
The donkeys have really thrived at the sanctuary over the course of the last few months.
The most influential factor on donkey’s welfare is how caring and conscientious the owner is.
“We have had a significant amount of calls this year relating to donkey and mule welfare. When we receive a call, a member of our welfare team responds and investigates the concern. A decision is made at that point as to what we can do to help improve the welfare of the animal or group of animals,” said Ashling.
“It is very difficult to see donkeys or mules in a state of neglect. Donkeys may come into our care with extremely long hooves, walking with difficulty and in pain. We also see donkeys with rain scald if they have been left out in the elements without shelter. Sometimes donkeys come to us who have not had access to food or water for some time and are very thin as a result.”
The highly skilled and trained team at the sanctuary does everything they can to help neglected or abandoned donkeys and mules. But, occasionally, there is no option but to put an animal to sleep to end their suffering.
This is always extremely hard for everyone at the sanctuary, no matter how necessary is might be.
Thankfully, said Ashling, this does not happen often. Usually the donkeys make full recoveries.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, the most rewarding part of my job is the privilege of watching the welfare, veterinary and farm teams at the sanctuary and how they care for and interact with our donkeys and mules. Their work is both inspiring and uplifting. It is wonderful to see a donkey that has come to the sanctuary underweight or with long hooves come to trust our staff and become rehabilitated in our care.”
The Donkey Sanctuary is located in Liscarroll, Mallow, Co Cork. It runs a successful Guardian Homes scheme where donkeys are rehomed in pairs all over the country. It is open all year round except Christmas Day. Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 9am to 4.30pm and on Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays from 10am to 5pm.
If you are concerned about the welfare of any donkey or mule, call 022 49013.
For more information, or to donate, go to thedonkeysanctuary.ie, call 022 48398, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With no Government funding, running The Hogsprickle, a rescue for hedgehogs and other wildlife, is a struggle.
Founder Bev Truss started the unique shelter 14 years ago after spending some time as a countryside ranger in Scotland and going on to train as a veterinary nurse.
Now based in Clare, Bev says this year has been one of the busiest she has ever seen.
“This year was particularly busy with birds of prey, especially barn owls. All of which I am delighted to say are living their wild life again, even the owlets I hand reared — beautiful birds and a really threatened species in Ireland,” said Bev.
“I also successfully hand-reared six pine martin kitts and they are now living wild and free after being soft released in a safe area. Pine martins are, next to hedgehogs, my favourite native species. Although I still have to count my fingers after feeding time!”
Incredibly, Bev also found herself caring for a racoon this year — for the first time ever.
“In recent years, wildlife rehabers are also seeing an increase in invasive species being released into the wild as people buy non-native animals from the internet only to realise that some of these species make terrible and often destructive pets,” she explained.
“This year we admitted a racoon that was found either released or escaped into the wild. The poor thing was so thin as she had obviously not been able to feed herself in the wild. We treated her and she is now is a safe, secure home with an experienced racoon carer. Fortunately she was one of the lucky ones we could save as National Parks and Wildlife Service policy is to euthanise any non-native species found in the wild.”
Bev said her message to anyone thinking about getting an exotic animal is to think very carefully about it beforehand and, if you find yourself unable to care for it, contact a zoo or wildlife rescue to help re-home the animal.
“Releasing it into the wild is a slow death sentence,” she said.
In total, The Hogsprickle admitted more than 700 animals this year alone.
“The hot summer was really bad for wildlife. The ground was baked solid so birds and hedgehogs were finding it difficult to access worms, beetles etc. So we had a few really underweight starving casualties that just needed feeding up before release,” Bev said.
“The snow at the beginning of the year meant that a lot of the hedgehogs had given birth then lost hoglets to the cold weather. Hoglets born during the summer were not surviving due to the lack of food from mum and a few hoglets that were born very late in the season did not reach hibernation weight of around 650g. So we are full right now of autumn hoglets just waiting for spring while they gain weight.” While hedgehogs and other wild species native to Ireland are under threat, there are ways to help.
“I strongly believe that conservation starts in your own garden and there’s a lot you can do to support wildlife outside your back door,” Bev said.
Bev said if people really want to help, they could also consider donating to an animal welfare organisation.
“The biggest challenge is the same every year — funding. Finances are definitely down so we’re doing the best we can and I have been asking for cat and bird food for Christmas and birthday gifts,” said Bev.
“But despite the struggles, the work is truly worth it. It’s so rewarding to see our casualties return back to the wild where they should be in a safe place to live their wild life. There’s nothing like watching a barn owl fly off or a hedgehog leg it after they have spent a few weeks here getting strong and healthy. My eyes leak when I see them go. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
For more information, or to donate, go to thehogsprickle.com or email email@example.com. You can also search for The Hogsprickle on Facebook.
“The hardest part of my job is dealing with the same issues over and over again. It can really be disheartening. People are just not learning from past mistakes and this generation is no better than the last.”
These are the words of Jennifer Headlam from the West Cork Animal Welfare Group, who says pet owners need to start taking more responsibility for the animals under their care.
“People’s lack of education about animal welfare, neutering and simple animal care is shocking. As a society we have such an easy-come easy-go ‘disposable’ mentality. A dog might simply need training, but he’s classed as misbehaving or unruly and is given up,” she said.
“We like to think we are on the end of the phone to offer advice for people who are finding they have an issue with a dog… but unfortunately once people call us their minds are already made up that they are giving up their pet.”
Unfortunately, the year started on a heart-wrenching note for the staff and volunteers at West Cork Animals.
“We received a message about a dog straying along a country road in a dreadful condition… but we weren’t prepared for the sight that greeted us at the rescue. Pilgrim, as we have named her, was about eight-years-old and in one of the worst states we have ever seen. Her hairless skin was sore and mangy, she was a bag of bones, very depressed and her legs were giving way. She was very weak from months if not years of starvation and neglect,” recalled Jennifer.
“Pilgrim received lots of excellent vet care, warmth and, most importantly, love at the rescue. Over the months she began to improve. A lot of people helped her along the way and followed her story and progress on our Facebook page. People have continued to donate towards her care and we are so grateful. She turned out to be such a good natured, sweet dog. Despite her previous life, she obviously has a very forgiving nature.”
While 2018 was an incredibly busy year for the organisation in terms of taking in more than 300 dogs and cats, it was also a busy year trying to secure more funds.
“It’s always a big challenge to continually fundraise to help pay the never ending vets bills,” Jennifer said.
For more information, go to westcorkanimals.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is a “horrific amount” of animal abuse and abandonment taking place in Ireland right now, according to the CEO of PAWS Animal Rescue, Gina Hetherington.
“There has been a large increase in abandonment and cruelty cases involving dogs throughout the country,” she explained.
Gina admitted she simply cannot understand why people would be cruel to animals “who depend on them for everything and give nothing but unconditional love in return”.
While cruelty, neglect, and abandonment are the big issues facing animals, Gina said the main issue facing the shelter right now is a lack of funds.
“As with most charities, our donations are down. Meanwhile the ceaseless need for our services has risen by 50%,” she said.
As an animal shelter which never refuses to treat any animal in need, Gina said PAWS, which is based in Tipperary, incurred veterinary fees of more than €68,000 and feed bills of almost € 26,000 last year.
“This year is on course to cost much, much more,” she said.
For more information, or to donate, see paws.ie, phone 052 915 3507 or email email@example.com. You can also find them on Facebook.