The dogs being abandoned are as young as three.
Fiona Gammell, who has worked in animal welfare for more than 40 years, said it is a new trend driven by our disposable culture.
“It’s a fairly new phenomenon,” she said. “I have only noticed it in the last number of years. Everything has become expendable. It has started already. I just picked a dog up that was three, because the family were getting a pup.
“It’s despicable. It’s disgusting — at a time that any old creature, be it an animal or a human, needs familiarity around them, they are abandoned.”
She said that the abandoned dogs are “devastated”.
“If people saw how devastated and heartbroken the dogs are when they’re left in pounds and shelters, they’d think twice,” she said. “They go behind beds, they won’t eat. They won’t look at you. They’re petrified. The first three days, you should see their little faces, I often think people should be sent a photograph. People should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.”
Ms Gammell distinguished this new trend of pre-Christmas abandonment from “acceptable situations” where people have to give up their beloved pet because of death or illness.
Ms Gammell said people are leaving their older dogs in pounds, any rescue centres that will take them, and at Traveller sites.
They are left at Traveller sites because some rescue centres charge up to €200 for rehoming to cover micro-chipping, neutering, and vaccination.
“Some people won’t pay this so they’ll abandon them elsewhere,” she said.
Ms Gammell runs Wicklow Animal Welfare and said that, from her correspondence with similar charities around Ireland, she believes that the trend of abandoning older dogs for puppies at Christmas is a nationwide phenomenon.
“It’s not poor people versus rich people,” she said. “It’s people’s attitudes: ‘If we don’t like something, we get rid of it.’
“I would have said in the past that it was lack of knowledge but it’s actually lack of caring. People just want what they want. They do what they do to suit themselves and their lifestyles and not the dogs.”
A contributing factor to the trend is the significant number of puppy farmers operating in Ireland, from which people buy dogs.
Ms Gammell said that these dogs come from unhealthy stock, so they are at a “majorly high risk of developing illnesses”.
When they become sick and need veterinary care, they are abandoned to shelters and pounds. People will then go to these farms for their Christmas puppy.
“Everyone just wants the small, white fluffy dog because of puppy farming,” said Ms Gammell. “Puppy farms have made the rescue dog invisible. The problem would be solved overnight if people realised these puppy farms were wrong.
“People think that a dog in a rescue is a bad dog, that it must be a biter, that it’s socially inept or dirty, but this is just a perception, it’s not the truth.”
She urged the public to be mindful of older dogs this Christmas as they take abandonment very badly.
“For a 10-12-year-old dog, to be abandoned and placed in a shelter or pound is absolutely devastating for them,” said Ms Gammell. “I hate to say this but it would be kinder to put them down.”