Meet the sanctuaries helping to give animals a second chance at life

Increased animal suffering means the ISPCA received more than 21,000 calls in a year, writes Rita de Brún

Meet the sanctuaries helping to give animals a second chance at life

They come in their droves: The ill-treated, the abandoned, the lost and the stray. Some walk, some are carried; no story’s the same.

However, the fact that our animal sanctuaries are full of them reflects an unsavoury underside of Irish life: the infliction of suffering and despair on the helpless creatures whose silent trust behoves us to care for or do them no harm.

So dire is the problem that it has resulted in the ISPCA national cruelty helpline receiving more than 21,000 calls in a year; almost 20% of which were reports or allegations of brutality or neglect.

“The Irish animal welfare situation is going downhill,” observes Albert Kleyn a kindly protector who works seven day weeks at the Cork Animal Care Society he co-founded 16 years ago. “As a result, we have no space in our two-acre sanctuary. We haven’t even room for a field-mouse.”

This is a special place where euthanasia is only carried out as a last resort. A formidable 10,000 animals have found refuge there since it first opened its doors.

Currently, there are 35 dogs being cared for at the West Cork Animal Welfare Group. All need safe homes. “We also have a few long-termers that always get over-looked,” says Jennifer Headlam who co-founded the shelter. “Sponsorship helps bring in the income we need to keep animals alive.”

Like Albert, she agrees that the plight of animals is growing. In her experience, most suffering is caused by ignorance and legislation and the lack of it, rather than by any deliberate cruelty.

“It’s still lawful here to keep dogs on chains as a means of keeping them under control. This is not acceptable and should be outlawed,” she says. “Also, there’s a link I think between the new law making it mandatory to microchip dogs and the growing number of them being abandoned. There’s a reluctance on the part of irresponsible owners to be traced to any particular dog.”

Lamenting the fact it’s too easy for people to get access to animals, she says she’s staggered by the growing number who abandon theirs and by those who surrender them to shelters, while insisting they’re stray, when it’s obvious they are, in fact, the owners.

Of those who admit the animal being surrendered is theirs, she says: “Sometimes it’s hard to know if the reasons they give us are genuine, as we notice that when we ask why they can’t keep their animal, the excuses pile up in the push to get rid of it. We feel upset for the pet when it’s clear that the owners are off on holidays and simply want to get shot of it.”

Being vetted for suitability brings out the worst in some people looking to rehome animals. “They can get really iffy and annoyed when we ask a lot of questions,” says Headlam. “They think they’re doing us a favour by offering to take an animal off our hands, but we always vet carefully, even though we know there’ll be those who’ll go instead to a back-lane puppy-breeding farm where there’ll be no questions asked.

Kleyn agrees it’s becoming “harder and harder” to find good homes for rescues.

“Even so, we’re extremely strict in that only when we have formed a good opinion of prospective adopters and believe they’ll provide a safe loving home will we hand over an animal in our care.”

Another who has had concerns is Sinéad Fitzgerald of The Donkey Sanctuary. “It’s upsetting to think about and impossible to prove, but I fear there are individuals who are not overly concerned about donkey welfare who have acquired these animals primarily for the government grants they can get for keeping them,” she says.

Approximately 800 farmers currently claim for donkeys to benefit from the Areas of National Constraints grant scheme. Asked whether the Department of Agriculture guards against possible neglect of the animals being claimed for, spokesperson Ultan Walton says: “All applications are subject to an official control regime including on-the-spot farm inspections. With that, we urge anyone with knowledge of or reason to suspect neglect or cruelty to animals to telephone the department’s dedicated animal cruelty helpline.”

For whatever reason, unscrupulous individuals are indeed neglecting and abandoning asses and mules at an alarming rate: Right now, 890 are sheltering at The Donkey Sanctuary in Mallow.

“Like all animals, donkeys suffer badly if neglected,” says Fitzgerald. “Their hooves need trimming every six to 10 weeks, and they need shelter because their coats aren’t waterproof. It’s so sad to see any of them unwanted.”

Horses and ponies are also being mistreated and discarded: Between the ISPCA Equine Centre in Mallow and the National Animal Centre in Longford, there are 74 in need of good homes.

Of course, it’s not just cats, dogs, and equines that are winding up in shelters. The CSPCA currently has a gorgeous goat in its care and the National Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Meath has turtles, chinchillas, snakes, and harmless tarantulas among the creatures needing to be rehomed.

Our capacity for acquiring, abandoning and harming animals points to an absence of empathy and a lack of awareness of the consequences for both them and us. Jennifer Headlam puts it this way: “What people have to remember is that animals should never be viewed as commodities, as they do have souls.”

West Cork Animal Welfare Group

Surrendered into the care of the West Cork Animal Welfare Group four years ago, Jack Russell terriers Joey (10ish) and Josey (8ish) are a ‘husband and wife’ team.

To glimpse them scampering about together, you’d never guess that their formative years were spent together in the canine hell that is a backyard dog-breeding farm.

Joey and Josie turn to each other for comfort and grooming after their shared traumatic experiences.
Joey and Josie turn to each other for comfort and grooming after their shared traumatic experiences.

There they bonded while struggling to survive. Of the 15 dogs freed from captivity that day, this darling duo are the only ones still waiting to be rescued.

After years of being rarely handled and never socialised, they need a safe, peaceful home, ideally one in which they’ll have access to an enclosed garden via a dog-flap. Even with that, time, gentleness, and patience will be needed as they are not house-trained and can not be relied upon to go outside themselves.

Bonded together by their shared horrendous beginning, these two dogs are super close. It’s behind Joey that Josey hides when she’s feeling scared. It’s to each other that they turn for grooming — mutual ear-cleaning being a favourite ritual of theirs. Inseparable, this pair of neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped scamps can only be rehomed as a pair.

  • Tel: 086 8500131 / 086 3862714

Cork Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA)

Nanny the goat is the longest-residing creature at the CSPCA. The three-year- old’s two kids were rehomed but a safe and suitable place for her to call home has yet to materialise.


The little goat family was surrendered to the shelter by an owner who said that, because he was emigrating, the trio could no longer be kept on the couple of acres he held in West Cork.

In good fettle and of mixed breed, Nanny is an inquisitive and intelligent creature who might live to be 15 or more. She’ll need a dry shelter, suitable land on which to browse, and ready access to water. She’ll also need to have her hooves trimmed as required. For food, Nanny will need goat or sheep mix and a supply of hay.

Animal-loving individuals who could offer her a good home and the company of another goat — so she won’t get lonely — should contact the CSPCA at Mahon Point to arrange a visit with her.

In return for good care in the right home, Nanny should make both a nice milking-goat and a great pet.

  • (021) 4515534 National animal cruelty helpline: 1890 515 515 or Dept. of Agriculture’s animal cruelty helpline: Callsave: 0761 06 44 08 or Tel: 01 6072379

ISPCA Equine Rescue Centre

Tess (4) was just a few months old when she was found dying from the same brutality and neglect that caused the death of her mother.

Her recovery at the ISPCA’s Equine Rescue Centre was a long, slow, process. There, so weak and battered was she that for a long time, she couldn’t get up on her feet.

Even after her body healed, the terrifying experiences Tess endured as a young foal continued for a long time to haunt her in an emotionally crippling way — one that manifested in her waiting to be gingerly lifted by her carers, just so she could experience the tenderness and one-to-one attention she craved.


Tess is now set to begin the next chapter of her story. A lovely all-rounder, she’s ready to be broken. For her, the ISPCA is looking for someone kindly with lots of experience with ponies; perhaps someone who might introduce her to show-jumping.

  • EquineRe-Homers.pdf
  • Telephone: (022) 43218

Cork Animal Care Society

Left to die on a West Cork roadside three months ago, Gavin, 3, was rescued by a kind woman who stopped her car and took the injured puss to a vet who wired his jaw and sewed his torn lip. She then sought and found sanctuary for the recovering feline at the Cork Animal Care Society (ACS), where he has been minded and nurtured ever since.

While the wire has since been removed and the jaw and cuts healed, nerve damage to the left eye has stopped Gavin from being able to blink properly. For that, he needs eye-drops every waking hour.


There’s a chance that, even with meticulous care, the eye problem will worsen to the extent that surgery to remove it may be required. If that happens, the ACS will ensure Gavin’s new human companion won’t get stuck with that bill.

By offering meticulous care, which includes walking Gavin around the sanctuary on a harness to ensure he’s about when he needs his eye-drops, Albert Kleyn and his team have worked hard to prevent that surgery becoming necessary.

With their care, Gavin’s now a happy, thriving 4.5kg cat, albeit one that needs a totally committed human companion, who’ll give him the regular care he needs.

  • Tel: 021 4966490 (charity shop)

The Donkey Sanctuary

Rafael and Blake: When you’re part of a herd of 890 delightful asses and mules looking for homes at The Donkey Sanctuary, it isn’t easy to find a safe home. But two that have travelled a hard road and deserve nothing less are Rafael, 5, and Blake, 4.

Quiet, gentle creatures that are a pleasure to lead and spend time with, the donkeys were rescued in July of last year. Both were found wandering the roads in a terrible state of neglect and despair. Rafael was roving the roads of Donegal while Blake was enduring a similar fate in Antrim.

Rafael and Blake
Rafael and Blake

The pair met in The Donkey Sanctuary’s new arrivals unit and became firm friends. It’s only right and proper then, that the two can only be rehomed together. Currently residing at Hannigan’s’ Farm in Liscarroll, Co Cork, these sweeties need someone who will dote on and look after them well. They’ll need a shelter and suitable pasture land — at least an acre between the pair of them. They’ll also need an area of hard-standing, so they can get off the grass when it’s wet. Ideally, they should be located next to the owner’s house. That way they can watch the comings and goings; an activity that helps to keep them entertained.

  •; Tel: 022 48398

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

great irish summer

From walking and hiking, to day trips and camping, your guide to holidays at home in 2021


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up