‘No animal deserves betrayal like that’

The DAWG shelter in North Cork is always ‘bursting at the seams’.

But it’ll shortly get worse, says Jo Kerrigan

IT’S nice to share Christmas Day with our beloved pets. Walk them, slip an extra titbit under the table at dinner, buy them a squeaky toy.

It’s more demanding for Mary Murphy, shelter manager for Cork Dog Action Welfare Group, or DAWG.

Mary will be stroking dozens of heads, taking three dogs at a time for morning walks, making sure not one of them feels lonely, nor is left out of the celebrations. On the day that honours love and goodwill, Mary works with the evidence that animals are not always loved as they should be.

Whether the dogs are abandoned, abused or ill-treated, DAWG reaches out to them all, but the maximum they can shelter is 35. “Often, we can house several together that get on well, but we’re always bursting at the seams,” she says. It will be worse over the next few weeks, when unthinking people who fell for a cute puppy on Christmas Eve quickly lose interest. Hard to credit, but unfortunately true. Last year, DAWG rescued approximately 1,000 abandoned animals. That’s a lot of bewildered canine lives ruined.

“A puppy is always adorable but people just don’t think about the commitment,” Mary says.

Mary is helped by several dedicated volunteers, who every day clear up, take the dogs for walks, and give them the attention they need. “And we have fosterers, too. That’s a heartbreaking job, caring for a dog that will eventually go to a new, loving home. It’s always a bittersweet moment, saying goodbye, but you know, at least, you’ve given it another chance in life,” Mary says. DAWG is always looking for more volunteers and fosterers.

Mary’s mobile never stops ringing, day or night, and she logs every call on her laptop. The sheer number she shows me is frightening. What I assume is a busy few months is actually just the last two days. “Although I know we’re completely full, and all our volunteer fosterers are full, too, you simply can’t ignore that somewhere a dog is in need of kindness and shelter,” she says.

The most common excuse from people abandoning their pet is children. “In fact, dogs are great with children, but so frequently you see a couple who have had a pet dog for years, then the children come along and they simply dump this loyal, loving animal. Its bewildered eyes when it comes to us — why is it here, where is its familiar home and the owners it loves? No animal deserves betrayal like that,” she says.

Sometimes, people are moving abroad and say they can’t afford to take the dog with them. There are genuine cases, she says, where owners are heartbroken about that, although people who love their pets will find homes for them among family or friends. Other people, Mary says, just drop the dog off and leave happily without a second glance.

There is a mistaken impression among many of their callers that DAWG is an official public service. “I’ve had someone ring at midnight, from 50 miles away, saying there is a dog in their garden and can we send a van immediately. You tell them we don’t have those facilities and they get quite angry. Or someone rings to say they’ve found a stray and when they bring it here, lo and behold, it has a litter of pups and it’s plainly theirs but they don’t want it now that it’s had a family,” she says.

DAWG don’t give out the address of the shelter because people would dump dogs at their gate, says Mary. “Or they try to push the guilt on to us. ‘OK, if you won’t take it, I’ll drown it or hang it.’ It’s their responsibility, but they want to plant it on your shoulders. And there is this bewildered, doggy face looking up at you and wondering what’s gone so terribly wrong in its life.”

Every new arrival is wormed, vaccinated, and neutered and the veterinary bills mount up. “If more owners neutered their dogs, we wouldn’t have so many unwanted strays. It’s easy and simple these days, but people still don’t do it,” she says. Funding is a never-ending problem, but Cork DAWG has some incredible members who are always thinking of new ways to raise money to keep the shelter going.

Yes, it’s heartbreaking sometimes, Mary says, “but if you can bring back the confidence, show that it’s still loved, then the tail begins to wag again, the eyes lose that awful bewilderment, and you feel repaid for the work. Our aim is to re-home every one of those poor, unfortunate victims of human thoughtlessness and cruelty.”

Most potential pet owners think first of puppies but, says Mary, they would often be better suited to an older dog, because they wouldn’t have to endure the training stage of chewed rugs, and puddles all over the place. “An older dog will be grateful for its new home and provide loyalty and protection for the rest of its life,” she says.

Mary is particularly fond of greyhounds and loves re-homing them. “They’re very popular as pets in Europe and America, since they’re gentle, real couch potatoes and don’t need much exercise, but here in Ireland we haven’t cottoned on to that yet,” she says.

The residents of the DAWG shelter may not be getting Christmas cards this year, but they will be getting what they most deserve — love and attention. Perhaps, one day soon, a forever home.

Find out more about DAWG, and its work, on Facebook (Cork Dog Action Welfare Group) or www.dogactionwelfaregroup.ie/

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