Protecting Pets

Our country’s claim to being a nation of animal lovers is contradicted by soft punishments for illegal breeders and abusers.

Ireland’s claim to be a nation of animal lovers is undermined by the lack of action in pursuing those who betray the trust and loyalty naturally given by creatures in our care.

New figures show that only two convictions have been secured so far this year under the Animal Health and Welfare Act which was introduced in 2013 as a robust measure to prosecute those who abuse animals.

That number is as good as nil considering the level of animal ownership in the country between pets and farming, and when people are found guilty of abuse through the courts they are rarely given the appropriate punishment.

In October last year a 44-year-old man was convicted of killing his pet jack russell by swinging the dog overhead by its lead and smashing it into the ground over 30 times as he crossed a park full of children.

The man said he did it because he could no longer afford veterinary bills. He was given 200 hours of community service.

The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which gathered evidence for the case, was appalled at the leniency of the sentence. No jail time, no fine and no order banning the man from keeping an animal in future.

In Britain at the same time a woman who killed her staffordshire bull terrier was jailed for four months and ordered to pay £500 in costs to the RSPCA for its efforts in pursuing her conviction. She was also banned from keeping any animal as a pet for life.

Ireland’s record of failing to pursue animal abuse runs much deeper than just in cases of outright violence towards pets.

The country is a conveyor belt of puppies bred in appalling conditions for the black market, where gangs who used to smuggle counterfeit cigarettes now trade in designer dogs. jackahuahuas (a mix of jack russell and chihuahua); cavachons (cavalier king charles spaniel and bichon frise) and cockapoo (cocker spaniel and poodle) are offered online as purebreeds. Instead the disease-ridden animals often die within weeks of being sold to their new owners.

The callous cruelty of that trade is amplified in the treatment of the breeding bitches which are kept in veal-like conditions and kept alive only so as long as they can produce litters, usually only for three years because of the intensive breeding.

Last week a father and son who run a farm with up to 300 breeding bitches were fined €4,000 each for a series of abuses including keeping bitches and newborn pups locked in small crates with little ventilation.

Meanwhile dozens of puppies are seized in Irish ports every fortnight as part of ongoing actions against illegal trafficking as thousands of other dogs get through. That is, however, not Ireland’s only contribution to the dog populations of our neighbours.

It should be a source of national shame that, as this paper reported in January, 200 dogs are exported to Britain and Sweden every month because our pounds are too full to keep them.

Proper sanctions need to be given to those who fail to care for their animals and those who wilfully abuse them, otherwise the widespread perception that animals are disposable will continue.