NEWS FEATURE: Man's best friend more in need than ever.

Thousands of dog owners are breaking the law by refusing to pay for licences after charges were increased.

Animal welfare groups have also called for the compulsory microchipping of animals because of a huge increase in the numbers being abandoned.

County council figures show a massive fall-off in the numbers of licences being renewed after the fee rose from €12 to €20.

In Cork County Council, 20,938 dogs were licensed by the start of December, compared with 35,410 last year. The drop of 14,472 licences leaves the council €289,440 out of pocket.

Limerick County Council issued 6,169 licences last year. By December, just 3,979 had been renewed.

“December is usually a busy month for renewals, but we’ll be doing very well to get to 4,500 or 5,000. There’s a big decrease in the number of licences this year, it’s probably due to the licence fee increase,” said a spokesman.

Galway County Council said 5,917 licences had been issued by it last year. The latest figures show just 3,701 have been renewed.

Sharon Corcoran, who is in charge of Cork County Council’s environment directorate, which issues dog licences, said the increase in the fee was affecting the number of people who have failed to re-register their dogs.

Last year there were 1,302 notices issued by dog wardens to people in Cork for not having a valid licence. A huge majority of those paid up almost immediately, but 20 failed to do so and were prosecuted in the courts.

The number of warnings issued this year has increased to 1,409 and to date there have been 16 prosecutions.

The fine for not having a dog licence is €30, but the Department of the Environment plans to increase that to €100 next year.

Meanwhile, the head of Tipperary Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the volumes of animals being abandoned was a “terrible indictment on the country”.

Conor Hickey said: “We’re inundated with animals. We are coming across more cases of cruelty and neglect — it’s steadily growing worse.

“We went to a place the other day and there were about seven or eight dogs in an outhouse. There were dead dogs around the place. They weren’t being fed regularly. People don’t seem to have any idea of what’s involved.”

Manager with Limerick Animal Welfare Marie Quirke said it was impossible to locate owners for most dogs because people were not legally obliged to have animals microchipped.

“We might return one in 50 dogs to its owner. It would be wonderful if people would put a tag on their dog or microchip them. Then we could return them to their owners and deal with the dogs that really need our help.”

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