Shelter for creatures great and small

Q&A: Conor Dowling
Shelter for creatures great and small

Those bodies concerned with the welfare of animals have been labouring under increasing pressures — a rise in animals being abandoned or surrendered to the point where most shelters are now bursting at the seams — an increase in overheads, and increased call-outs for welfare officers to assist animals in acute distress. And all of this made more difficult by the restrictions that were placed on them by previously outdated regulations.

I spent an unpleasant few hours reviewing the ISPCA’s website and the stories from their inspectors who deal with some horrendous examples of cruelty daily and I was struck by their resilience and dedication. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The website contains some heart-warming stories of rescued animals successfully re-homed along with glowing testimonials from their new owners. But some of the images are hard to forget — like the clandestine puppy farms run illegally and in squalid conditions.

“There had been four litters born on the property during recent weeks,” Cork ISPCA inspector Lisa O’Donovan said. “But only three pups had survived. They had no chance in makeshift pens that were filthy, miserably cold, damp and cramped.”

Or the sad condition of two boxer dogs. ISPCA inspector Kevin McGinley said: “They were as emaciated as any I’ve seen in 14 years with ISPCA. They had a body score of only one out of a possible five.”

Their owner entered a guilty plea, was convicted of animal cruelty and banned from keeping dogs for two years. Final sentencing will be delivered in June.

It is hard to understand how anyone could be so oblivious to an animal’s suffering, or, indeed, why they would spend large amounts of money on dogs like these only to neglect them.

Today the pair have been re-homed with new families and are finally enjoying their lives. As are the two tiny newborn terrier cross puppies who were rescued from the side of the busy Athlone Road. They were bottle-fed every two hours and are now doing fine.

And the number of equines being abandoned continues to be a concern. Equines now constitute the bulk of ISPCA’s clientele. Every day, inspectors rescue abandoned foals and colts, or rescue horses from ditches, drains or remote woodlands where they have been dumped like so many old mattresses.

It is to be hoped that this new legislation will alleviate this unacceptable level of suffering and make prevention more possible.

Conor Dowling, ISPCA chief inspector, explains.

* Conor, this new legislation must be a milestone for all animal welfare organisations.

>>“Oh yes. We’ve been working with legislation that was devised a hundred years ago, in the time of horse drawn transport, designed to deal with incidents like a horse going down in the street. Now we can be more proactive. There were massive grey areas that left us powerless to act in some situations, when that would have been what we wanted to do.”

* This is a lot for the gardaí and ISPCA to take in. Are you concerned about implementation of this new legislation?

>>“I think it will take some time before we are all up to speed of course. But now that we have more active powers to intervene along with the gardaí, I think we will be much more effective. Even on things like dog fighting. Before, we could walk into a place and it might have been hugely obvious that it was used for illegal fights, but we were powerless to act unless the perpetrators were caught in the act. Now the range of evidence that the courts can consider has been expanded to include attendance at a dog fight, or training a dog for that purpose.”

* What are the new penalties that can be implemented when there is a cruelty conviction?

>>“There are two levels of conviction depending on the seriousness of the offence — €5,000 or six months in prison; or €250,000 or five years in prison. So these are considerable punishments that should have an impact.”

* Do you see a change in the public’s attitude to animals?

>>“Yes I do, and it is for the better, although it can be a slow process. I’ve been doing this job for 15 years and things have definitely changed. We’ve moved on in our attitudes. And of course, without a change in public attitudes, we wouldn’t have this new legislation. Education is a big part of what we do. We take every opportunity to go into schools and talk to children about animal care and welfare. But I am optimistic about the future although, of course, we still have a long way to go.”

* Has the horse situation improved over this last winter?

>>“Unfortunately not. Equines are now our main customers. We’ve seized 50 horses already this year, more than for the whole of 2012. And, of course, horses are the most costly and the most labour intensive. They need specialist centres, veterinary and farrier care and it can take weeks and months to bring them back to good health. Then we are faced with the problem of what to do with them. We’d like to see colts that aren’t going to be bred from castrated. But some people are reluctant to do that even though there is no money in them and last year’s colts are dying at the same time as this year’s foals are. Why put those mares in foal? I don’t understand it.

“There’s really good horses looking to be re-homed. I was at a sale recently where a jack donkey was offered for €5 but there were no takers. Then they wanted someone to just take him away but there were still no takers. And at that same sale, three lovely registered Connemaras sold for €40.

“We would ask anybody who is in a position to re-home a horse or a dog to contact us. We have some beautiful fit and loving animals looking for a new home.”

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