ALISON O'CONNOR: A pet bought for Christmas on a whim is bound to lead a dog’s life

Some friends lost a cherished family dog recently. She was enormously loved, but, at 10 years of age, had been ill for a while. In the space of a few weeks, she went downhill.

Despite medical interventions, she eventually had to be put down.

They are heartbroken. They are also left with a hefty veterinary bill of thousands of euros. It’s a struggle, but I don’t think they regret that expenditure, given that the dog had been so much a part of their family life for so long.

Massive vet bills are not something you tend to factor in when considering getting a dog.

With Christmas approaching, households all over the country are considering getting a dog. I love dogs.

Give me any opportunity and I will bore for Ireland on what an incredible addition they can be to your life and even more so to your children’s lives. Our Max, at 12 and a half years old, is the apple of my eye, and he knows it. A few weeks ago, he passed a veterinary check-up with flying colours.

I do appreciate there comes a time when it can be unfair to keep a dog alive.

But, equally, I could imagine attempting to remortgage the house if he developed an ailment that we were told could be successfully, but very expensively, treated, if it gave him another few years of being my companion. (I work from home, and he follows me around the house adoringly.)

But while I will extol the virtues of canine companionship, I will also warn against anyone getting a dog, especially a puppy, when they haven’t thought through the time, cost, and responsibility that it involves.

I also think that it is the worst idea to get a dog at Christmas, when you haven’t thought beyond the happy reaction on Christmas morning to the toilet training, the chewed furniture, and the rows over who is going to take the dog for a walk, let alone who will pick up the poo along the way.

A parenting rule of thumb is that no matter how old the child, or how many promises they make, they will never, ever pick up after the dog.

If you insist on a Christmas puppy, please, please don’t get him or her from a puppy farm. We read in this newspaper, earlier in the week that 45% of Irish people don’t take any steps to ensure their dog hasn’t come from a puppy farm.

While almost three-quarters said they would be deterred from buying a dog from a puppy farm, almost 40% did not visit the place where their puppy had been born. All too often, people will opt for the convenience of having a puppy delivered to their home or will meet someone in a carpark, having seen an ad for puppies online.

Those statistics came from a survey by Dogs’ Trust Ireland, which launched a poignant campaign, entitled ‘How is that Doggie in the Window?’, to highlight the horrible reality of puppies being born into deprived conditions on puppy farms.

Ireland has the dodgy distinction of being known as the ‘puppy farm capital of Europe’, because of puppy smuggling. Independent TD Tommy Broughan says the UK, in an assessment of animal welfare post-Brexit, identified Irish breeders bringing puppies into the UK through nefarious means.

British secretary of state for environment and rural affairs Michael Gove says he will introduce legislation to ban the third-party sale of dogs and cats, including those bought in petshops, and only allow these to take place through a legitimate breeder or a pet charity.

We’ve been grappling with this issue for years now. All the while, so-called designer breeds, including beagles, bichon frises, French bulldogs, or King Charles spaniels, have been kept in horrendous, overcrowded, filthy conditions in poor health.

The mothers are treated as breeding machines, given no time to recover between litters and discarded when they can no longer produce.

The puppies are born into these conditions and receive no affection or petting from humans to get them socialised, and often they are taken from their mothers way too soon, under eight weeks old.

Animal welfare organisations have previously estimated that some Irish farms have more than 500 breeding bitches.

Without proper standards being enforced by the authorities and prospective buyers not bothering to check out where exactly their new puppy comes from, it’s been all to easy for these traders in cruelty to operate unchecked.

The publication of the Dog Breeding Establishment Guidelines, earlier this year, definitely contributed towards improvements, but it’s only a step.

New guidelines are to come in the new year, because, as Mr Broughan points out, we fall far short on enforcement and inspections of the places where dogs are bred commercially. These are places “with six or more bitches over six months old, capable of being used for breeding purposes”.

Minister of state for rural affairs Sean Canney, who has responsibility for this area, published figures that showed there were 258 registered dog-breeding establishments in 2017, an increase of 10 on the previous year.

There were 275 inspections last year, compared to 250 the previous year.

So, if you are intent on getting a pedigree dog for Christmas, it can be a good idea to ask a local vet if he knows any reputable breeders or to contact the Irish Kennel Club.

But what could be more worthwhile than going to an animal shelter and rescuing a dog that needs a home?

As the Irish Society of Prevention for Cruelty to Animals says: “Adopt, don’t shop.” Think about what sort of dog suits your family and your lifestyle, and, for instance, how long you might be absent during the day.

Frankly, it’s unfair on a dog to be left on their own for hours on end and it eventually results in behavioural difficulties.

Dogs’ Trust just sent out an advent calendar, featuring 25 recently rescued dogs, who, as they put it, had “churned out litter after litter at the same breeding establishment.” When found, they had long, matted, filthy fur, and some had painful and itchy skin, and eye and ear conditions. Dogs’ Trust is asking people to sign a petition to end the cruelty behind bad breeding, with the introduction of tougher enforcement and more prosecutions.

Surely, that’s the least that we can do for these adorable animals, who give us so much love. 45% of Irish people don’t take any steps to ensure their dog hasn’t come from a puppy farm.


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