Animal shelters see rise in neglect and cruelty

It has been another tough year for animal sanctuaries. Kelly O’Brien talked to centres across the country against a backdrop of rising operating costs, falling fundraising incomes and a rise in cases of neglect, cruelty, and abandonment.

At Courtown Seal Rescue Centre, Co Wexford, was Balthazar who was wounded in the eye. Pic: Patrick Browne.

PAWS Animal Rescue

Gina Hetherington, from PAWS Animal Rescue in Tipperary, said 2017 has been extremely difficult for the organisation.

From left to right: Lotus, who PAWS staff helped to rehabilitate before she went to her new home in Italy, along with Graham and Naya who are still looking for their forever homes.

“There has been a large increase in abandonment and cruelty cases involving dogs throughout the country, particularly lurchers and bull breeds,” she explained.

In addition, there has been a marked drop in donations.

“So far this year we have rehomed 262 animals, and we have a further 97 still on site. Those figures would be up compared to this time last year.

“Sadly, a lot of sighthounds will have to wait for homes in the UK and further afield because Irish people still don’t see them as pets for some reason.”

The organisation does not have a fundraising committee, so all fundraising is done via the group’s Facebook page and as a result of some small events organised by individual supporters.

As CEO, Gina usually does most of the direct fundraising although this year has been particularly difficult as her mother Deirdre, founder of PAWS, has been seriously ill.

“We benefited from a few legacies this year, without which we could most definitely have folded,” said Gina. “Thanks to a legacy we were able to replace our 2003 ambulance with a 2011 version. This has made a huge different as our ambulance packed in mid year and transport of the dogs became a major issue.”

In 2015, the cost of operating the rescue was just over €259,000. Last year, that cost rose to just over €305,000.

Currently, the rescue owes veterinary fees of €17,000 and is trying to pay off that debt while continuing to help more animals in need.

“We have seen a lot of cases of animal abandonment, neglect, and cruelty this year. I won’t even start on the abuse of equines we’ve seen. Animal abuse is alive and well in Ireland,” said Gina.

“There are more cases now than there have been in previous years, but the national media generally only reports on stories supplied by the country’s three biggest animal organisations, only one of which deals with strays, because they have PR departments.

“There are many, many more organisations on the ground doing back breaking work and dealing with awful cases every day and yet the public never hear about them.”

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”.

One particularly harrowing case the shelter had to deal with involved a hoarding scenario where a person had accumulated more than 150 greyhounds.

“They were kennelled and fed in a pack situation where uncontrolled breeding was taking place,” recalled Gina.

“Despite being physically in good health, some of the dogs were so deprived of human contact that they were absolutely terrified of everything and everyone. Together with some other welfare groups, we managed to find secure rescue places for all but 13 of the dogs.”

One of the dogs rescued from this terrible situation was a greyhound called Lotus.

“She was incredibly shell shocked. Even though she was kennelled at PAWS with some very sociable dogs, she screamed in fear at being touched and didn’t know how to walk on a lead,” said Gina.

“She froze and screeched every time we put a lead on her. But, after several months of care and human affection by the team at PAWS, she was finally rehomed to a family in Italy and is now thriving.”

Gina said the main issue facing the shelter right now is a lack of funds, and the main issue facing animal welfare in general right now is a lack of enforcement.

“When he was Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney brought in some excellent animal welfare legislation – the Dog Breeding Bill, the Welfare of Greyhounds Act, and he updated our 100-year-old Animal Welfare Legislation.

“However, there are not enough people on the ground now to enforce those laws and there are very confusing lines as to who has the authority to do what.”

Going forward into 2018, Gina said the rescue simply plans to try and survive, and to continue to help those who cannot help themselves.

For more information, or to donate, see, phone 052 915 3507 or email You can also find them on Facebook.

The Hogsprickle

Every year, The Hogsprickle, a Clare-based rescue for hedgehogs and Irish wildlife, gets busier.

A two-week-old hoglet at the Hogsprickle

Founder of the centre, Bev Truss, said so far this year she has admitted 116 hedgehogs and more than 60 birds to the shelter.

“Unfortunately, some wildlife that comes to us may already be dying or so sick that we cannot help. But thankfully this year we have been able to help more than any other year, and we have rehabilitated more than 70% of the animals we have seen.

“Our numbers are increasing year by year. Thankfully, so is our very fabulous volunteer list.”

The centre is currently caring for eight “spiky butts” who are hibernating.

“They are late autumn juveniles who were very underweight and would not have survived the winter,” explained Bev.

“We also have two permanent residents who are with us under NPWS licence as their injuries make it impossible for them to live a true wild life – Harry 2 Toes and Billy.”

But as the shelter gets busier, costs also rise. “Feeding, petrol and veterinary bills are the main costs. With the addition of electricity, equipment, and maintenance costs, it means that we, along with every other animal rescue in Ireland, count on donations to get our casualties from rescue to rehab,” explained Bev.

“We are, for the most part, self-funded and don’t get any Government help at all, so donations from the public and from companies really matter.”

Currently, the shelter is trying to raise €1,500 to refurbish the hedgehog recovery room. “We have sourced some really special hog homes from Scotland that are made from recycled agricultural plastic and they are much less expensive than the metal cages we were looking at.”

Unlike in domestic animals, cases of cruelty are relatively uncommon. It does happen, however.

“Sadly, this year we admitted a hedgehog that had been used as a football by some boys in their school playing field which broke my heart when we couldn’t save him,” said Bev.

“Another lady demanded we remove a hedgehog from her garden because it was annoying her cat. She threatened the life of the hedgehog, so the little spiky butt was relocated for his own safety.”

Bev explained that poisoning is still a huge issue with people still using slug pellets in their gardens. She stresses, however, that most incidents involving hedgehogs are accidents.

“We get hedgehogs stuck in football nets, which really should be tied up after use, hedgehogs trapped in cattle grids, and one poor hedgehog with plastic can rings around his body. Disposing of and cutting plastic rings properly would save a lot of wild creatures.”

Other items that should be disposed of properly include milk carton rings, fishing line, and fish hooks. In addition, Bev said she would like to urge people to stop releasing Chinese lanterns into the sky as they cause problems for wildlife and damage the environment.

“With wildlife, the issue is always environmental. Humans are encroaching on wild spaces and squeezing our wild animals and birds out of their safe environment,” explained Bev.

“We really need to find a way to support the wild and live side by side with our wildlife. Wildlife highways between gardens are great — just cut a CD-sized hole in the fence or take a few bricks out of the bottom of the wall to allow hedgehogs and other wildlife to move from garden to garden without being forced out onto roads.

“Also, make sure to use chemical-free repellent in gardens instead of poison.”

Despite the issues facing wildlife right now, Bev said it is incredibly heartwarming to be able to help animals and to eventually release them back into the wild and couldn’t imagine doing anything else with her time.

For more information, or to donate, go to or email You can also find them on Facebook and on

Limerick Animal Welfare

In the last 12 months, the team at Limerick Animal Welfare has had to deal with a huge volume of stray dogs.

The animals are rarely microchipped, despite the fact that microchipping is now mandatory in Ireland.

“With every dog that comes to us, each one carries a cost to our organisation. It would help if the enforcement of the legislation for all dogs to be microchipped was happening but, quite frankly, this is not the case,” said Marie Quirke, manager of the sanctuary.

“More and more lurchers are being found and many have very bad injuries - broken bones, mange, and infestations of lice, fleas and worms. Again, we do not see microchips for any of these dogs so there is no


In the last year alone, LAW has cared for more than 800 animals. This is a figure which is growing year on year. At any one time, the sanctuary has around 200 animals in its care.

In terms of rehoming these animals, Marie said good use of social media is key.

“We have a huge following on Facebook with more than 125k people reached every week. It really helps with finding homes for animals.” It also helps with finding volunteers and prompting people to donate.

“Volunteers and donations are up, but so are costs. Veterinary bills are soaring to €95K in the year. We try very hard to bring in more donations to cover the cost of running the facility but we always need more money,” said Marie.

“But the animals need help. They have no voice, they do not choose who their owners are, and they have only the kind-hearted people to rely on to give from their pockets to keep LAW and many other rescues open and operating.”

While the shelter is hugely grateful for all the donations it does currently receive from these kind-hearted members of the public, Marie said a whole cohort of not-so-kind people are out there right now, physically harming animals.

“Sometimes we can’t believe we are carrying on with so much cost incurred from each case of cruelty and neglect,” she said.

“Cruelty is up once again this year. We have seen more and more distressing cases than ever before. We always do our best for each case and try to save those who would otherwise be put to sleep.

“Starvation, untreated injuries and basic care is top of the list of cruelty. Embedded collars, illegal tail docking and mange are second on the list of cruelty.”

Marie said that horses in Limerick are treated particularly badly.

“This year, the cruelty steeped even lower than usual. We have seen numerous cases of very young foals being dumped in city estates without a mother to feed them. Some were only four weeks old, with no hope of survival. This is unimaginable cruelty for a young vulnerable animal that depends on its mothers milk every couple of hours to survive,” she said.

“The foals are always male and of no value or use to the owners. Staff at LAW have to come in all through the days and night to feed these foals until they are weaned. If, again, the legislation was enforced and all equines were microchipped and all owners held and equine premises number as per the law, then we would see more accountability.”

Following that, Marie explained there is an “unprecedented” amount of dogs straying on the streets and roads in Limerick.

“While we work long hours by day we find that we also have to try to find owners of found dogs using Facebook each night as we do not have any kennel space for the 20 or so found each day of the year who need shelter until their owners can be located,” she said.

“Repeat offenders who allow their dogs out for walks on their own are often seen on Facebook. This is quite frustration for both the finders and the rescues who are protecting these animals from injury or death on the roads. And until we see enforcement of the microchipping laws, this isn’t going to change.”

While there are a lot of lows in animal rescue centres, a high point always comes when an animal that was close to death is rehabilitated.

“We are proud of what we do to make life better for more and more of these unfortunate animals,” said Marie.

“Zeus, for example, a lurcher, was found with a huge burn across his back which the vet said was caused by boiling water. He was in severe pain and distress and we did not know if he would be strong enough to survive.

“Thanks to morphine relief and specialised bandage changes which he needed over many weeks in the veterinary clinic, and his strong will to live, Zeus made it and won the battle to survive.

“His hair in places will never grow back because of the severe damage, but his Christmas present is his couch which awaits him in Italy, a home where he will be cared for and never know harm again. Zeus will wake Christmas morning with his new family.”

Marie’s main aim for next year is to get together with other rescues to highlight the animal welfare crisis. She describes it as “Ireland’s shame” and said it’s beyond time that something substantial was done about it.

“We will fight for the laws to be enforced. We will lobby for people to vote only for politicians who have an interest in animal welfare. We, as always, will lobby to stop exporting greyhound to countries with no animal welfare protection exists, and where some of these dogs are even being killed in meat markets,” said Marie.

“Next year, we would also love to see more people coming to help in a volunteering role - helping with training dogs, training horses and getting involved with fundraising.”

For more information, or to donate, go to, phone 063 91110 or email You can also find them on Facebook.

Seal Rescue Ireland

It has been an extremely busy year for the staff and volunteers of Seal Rescue Ireland.

Pictured are Shannon Mone and Rihanna Kay from the Seal Rescue Center with Cedric who has a laceration. Pic: Patrick Browne.

In the last 12 months alone, the organisation has rescued 143 animals. This includes 85 grey seals, 44 common seals, and a whole host of other animals such as birds, hedgehogs, bats, one red deer and one common dolphin.

The intake has risen dramatically in the last few years as awareness spreads about the centre and what it does.

“But this number is not our final number for 2017 as we anticipate receiving several more intakes before the end of year,” said operations manager Melanie Croce.

“Our number of animals rescued has been increasing each year, potentially due to the spread of public knowledge that our rescue and rehabilitation organisation exists, and the awareness of how to contact us.”

The summer months were particularly busy for the centre, which is based in Wexford. They saw twice the amount of rescues of common seal pups than usual.

“This year, the seal populations suffered with Phocid Herpes which is transmitted naturally from parent to pup. The infection leads to a compromised immune system which makes it easier for secondary infections to develop and potentially become fatal. It has been said that this disease’s strength is cyclical with some years being harder hit than others,” said Melanie.

“At the moment we are still in the midst of Grey seal pupping season which has also seen a rise in numbers due to hurricane Ophelia, shortly followed by storm Brian, hitting right as the pupping season began. Many rookeries were washed out from strong surf resulting in a high number of seriously injured and orphaned pups, leading to over 300 phone calls on our rescue hotline.”

Despite the high number of calls and rescues, the centre has thankfully been able to maintain a high success rate for rehabilitation. About 70% of the animals admitted to the centre survive.

The number of animals at the centre on any given day fluctuates, as the rescue releases seals back into the wild as soon as they are well again. At the moment, around 50 seals are being cared for at the centre.

While cases of animal cruelty against seals are rare, people do often have a negative impact on their wellbeing.

“There have been a large number of seals that have been harassed by people who are attempting to ‘assist’ otherwise healthy pups, as many people assume seals are in trouble if they are observed on land,” said Melanie.

“Our training and outreach programmes are working hard to increase awareness of this misconception and to encourage the public to keep their distance from seals as the best form of help.

“Our programme urges people who spot a seal in question to instead report the sighting directly using our 24-Hour Rescue Hotline (087 1955393) so that our experienced animal care team can assess the situation and proceed accordingly using our nationwide network of trained volunteers.”

She said it is important for the public to know that they should never touch seals, to stay at least 200 metres away from them, and always keep dogs on a lead and far from the seals resting on the beach.

“We also have had several cases of entanglement which is a direct impact from human activity. One such example is the case of a grey seal, named Merida, who was rescued in the Winter of 2016 and was severely injured by mono-filament fishing line which had been improperly disposed,” recalled Melanie.

“The netting had cut into her neck through her skin, blubber and muscle right to the bone. It had also torn the skin from her arm which is known as degloving as it resembles someone removing a glove from their hand. The pressure around her neck created a great deal of swelling and pain to one eye, which resulted in the need to have it removed.”

Merida’s case was a long and challenging one, but she made a full recovery and was released in June.

“The video of her release was featured by Dodo Impact and went viral receiving over five million views. Her story is a heart wrenching lesson to us all on the dangers to wildlife from plastics in the ocean.” Another example comes in the form of a grey seal, named Tristan Thorne, who was found entangled in yet more carelessly discarded netting, on December 7.

“He was underweight and dehydrated as a result of being unable to hunt but thankfully otherwise unharmed. If he was not rescued and disentangled in time, he would not have survived.”

Melanie said there has definitely been an increase in people unnecessarily “rescuing” seals that were merely attempting to rest or nurse on beaches.

“If a seal has been lifted from the beach prematurely and without approval from our trained staff, there is no way to return the pup to the mother as she will not take it back at that point. In these cases, our facility is forced to take in these “pup-napped” seals as they have become a self-fulfilled prophecy of becoming abandoned, and will have little chance of survival on their own if returned to the beach.”

While there has been an increase in donations to the centre in recent months, there has also been an increase in operational costs as a result of the higher number of intakes.

As such, Seal Rescue Ireland is constantly appealing for more people to donate, to adopt a seal, to visit the centre, buy merchandise, or attend one of their events.

“Our organisation receives government funding that only covers 10% of our operational costs so the rest is left to our own fundraising efforts and pleas for public donations. This can be very challenging, especially in the winter months when we receive few visitors to our centre and have the most animals to care for,” said Melanie.

“During this time of year we spend approximately €750 a week on fish alone, in addition to the high expenses of medical equipment and medications.”

For more, go to, email or phone 087 195 5393. You can also search for find them on Facebook.

West Cork Animal Welfare Group

The stream of unwanted animals coming in the door this year has been “relentless”, according to Jennifer Headlam from the West Cork Animal Welfare Group.

Thankfully, the organisation has been able to find “fantastic homes” for many of them.

“Every year the number of animals in need increases. There just aren’t enough homes available for all of them in Ireland and we have had tremendous support from our Swedish friends who have helped us with so many dogs,” said Jennifer.

“We just love getting the pictures and updates of the dogs living in the lap of luxury and being spoilt rotten by their new owners.”

Sadly, she said, there are still people in this country who don’t think about the responsibility of owning a pet long term or even consider neutering them - and rescue centres are left to deal with the fallout.

“We’ve had an abundance of animals needing major operations this year but thanks to our outstanding supporters we have been able to cover the vet’s bills. People are so kind and donate a variety of goods to be sold on the WCAWG stall at Skibbereen and Schull markets,” said Jennifer.

“The kennels are always full to capacity so a bit of overflow is soaked up by our trusty fosterers, the three Jackie, Jenni, Julia and Niamh to whom we are most grateful as it really does save lives.”

In the last few years, the rescue has particularly seen an increase in the number of pure breed dogs needing to be rehomed.

Jennifer explained small breeds such as pugs, bichons and cavachons have become “fashionable” to own, but that when circumstances change, these dogs are left into pounds and rescue centres.

“There are so many reasons people rehome their dogs. Some are genuine, such as illness with owners no longer able to care for their pet, but sadly there are still some who see photos of cute puppies and buy a dog without researching the work that goes into owning a pet.”

This is why the shelter has recently devoted more time to welcoming visits from school’s to talk to classes about animal welfare issues. The initiative has been going well so far.

“It’s very exciting having a coach load of students arrive at our modest rescue kennels. After a tour we give a talk explaining how we started and how we hope to carry on.”

Looking forward to the New Year, Jennifer said she wants to remain positive.

“I hope things will improve next year but, for now, a very big thank you to everyone who has supported us during 2017 and helped us to save the lives of so many animals and give them the happy, healthy futures they deserve.”

For more information, go to or email

Eagles Flying

Protected birds are being shot and killed all across the country for absolutely no reason, according to Lothar Muschketat, the founder of Eagles Flying, the largest centre for birds of prey and owls in Ireland.

Lothar Muschketat from Eagles Flying in Co Sligo, which is home to over 450 animals from dozens of species.

“Many people with a gun license are not able to identify species properly and many people still believe in myths, like birds of prey such as buzzards and kites killing lambs,” he said.

His facility, which is based in Co Sligo, deals with around 150 bird casualties each year but also takes rescues other wildlife.

“We take on rescue birds and animals of all different species. The wild specimens will be re-introduced to the wild, exotic specimens or unwanted pets and farm animals are either kept or re-homed,” said Lothar.

“Most often we are confronted with fractured legs and wings as well as bacterial infections. Another major proportion of casualties are orphaned young animals after their mothers were killed. Very often people find fledged young birds which of course are unable to fly yet and are mistaken as abandoned. Last but not least we have to deal with quite a few traffic victims every year.”

If you find an injured bird, the wildlife expert said the best thing to do is to put it in an adequately sized cardboard box with ventilation holes. If you put a wild bird in a cage, it will struggle to break free and will injure itself, thus hampering its rehabilitation.

Young birds should be watched from a distance to see if a parent comes to feed it. If one does, you should leave it alone. If one doesn’t, you should collect it in a cardboard box and bring it to a sanctuary.

Lothar’s centre is home to 450 animals of 88 different species. It was originally set up as a research centre but opened to the public in 2003. Some permanent residents are trained to appear in educational displays.

“From April to November we invite members of the public to enjoy the shows, which we offer twice daily starting at 11am and 3pm. We started these shows to win hearts for birds of prey, as we realized that a major proportion of people are totally ill informed and, as a result, are afraid of these birds,” said Lothar. “During the shows they have the chance to be up-close with them and even have them landing on their own arm. So our shows are very interactive and our visitors get a wealth of information.”

The centre relies solely on admission fees and donations — Lothar admits finances are a struggle sometimes. Despite this, he clearly loves his work.

“Working long hours and having a huge responsibility is quite a challenge, but myself and, I am sure, all the other members of staff enjoy what we are doing,” he said.

“It is definitely not the remuneration that makes us do this. Winning hearts for animals, giving an animal back to nature after it was treated for what seemed to be a terminal problem, looking into the happy faces of our visitors and hearing how much they like what we are doing ... yes, it is rewarding.”

For more information, go to, phone 071 918 9310 or email You can find them on Facebook.

Cork Dog Action Welfare Group

This year, the Cork Dog Action Welfare Group marked 10 years in existence.

While this milestone is to be celebrated, those working there say animals today need their help more than ever.

“As our society becomes more consumer driven, dogs are regarded as simply disposable - buy it, grow tired of it, get rid of it,” said director Adeline O’Brien.

“One of the hardest things in rescue is witnessing the sadness of so called ‘family pets’ abandoned without a second thought.”

Adeline described the cruelty animals experience here as “unrelenting”.

“As a country, we are not well regarded in how we protect our animals. There appears to be a total lack of interest in animal welfare across all the main political parties. Despite major concerns raised both at home and abroad, Irish greyhounds continue to be sent to China, Pakistan, and other countries whose record on animal welfare is even worse than ours. The reports and images we have seen on the gruesome suffering and deaths of these noble dogs are an indictment on the industry which continues to receive millions in grants and government support.”

But there are also tales with happy endings, as seen in the case of a young lurcher called Seanie.

“He was only six months old when he was left to die in a field. Part of his left jaw and lip were missing. He had bruising all over his emaciated body and open wounds on his back and he was riddled with pellets,” said Adeline. “Aside from the physical injuries, it was the mental damage that was heart breaking to witness. We know that it was so called ‘humans’ who did this as it is them he feared them the most.”

After months of love and care, and extensive veterinary treatment, Seanie recovered.

“He now has a forever family. It’s the reason we do what we do every single day, despite the heartbreak, the weariness and even the despair,” said Adeline.

“We would especially like to thank all our supporters, our fosterers, volunteers and everyone who helps us make the world a better place for Seanie and the many dogs that without us would never get that second chance of a new and better life.”

For more information, go to or email

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