Pets are not just for Christmas

Louise McCarthy speaks to charities which work with animals about the rise in pet neglect

“A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” This famous slogan was created by the chairperson of Dogs Trust, Clarissa Baldwin, in 1978, but it remains just as relevant today.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of children ask Santa for the latest fad or top toy on the market, only to discard them a few weeks after Christmas when the novelty wears off. Unfortunately, the same thing can happen to dogs or other animals. Dogs Trust’s longstanding campaign aims to raise awareness of the consequences of treating dogs as gifts or toys.

Dogs Trust is Ireland’s largest dog welfare charity. Its newly built puppy wing in Dublin is already providing shelter to 500 abandoned puppies.

Katrina Bentley of Dogs Trust said Christmas was actually an unsuitable time to introduce a new puppy to the family.

“A puppy will want to go to a calm place. Christmas is an unsuitable time because there is lots of chocolate, noise and baubles around. This background can be toxic for a puppy,” she said.

Ms Bentley said that while there may be many people at home over Christmas to give a puppy lots of attention, in January puppies can be left alone for long periods of time.

She anticipates that by January 5, many puppies will be unwanted and that Dogs Trust will once again see a spike in calls in March from people asking to surrender a puppy.

With over 1,000 abandoned dogs per year coming through the charity’s doors, and thousands more the charity cannot possibly take in, Dogs Trust said people were still taking on the responsibility of dog ownership without enough consideration of what it really entailed.


Dogs Trust emphasises that it is important to put a lot of thought into the decision to introduce a pet into your home. It is vital that people undertake as much research as possible to ensure they obtain a healthy, legally-bred dog, and work out if they can commit to raising a dog both financially and in terms of time and energy. “A dog costs about €800 to €1,000 per year and we are urging people to give a dog 15 years’ commitment,” Ms Bentley said.

The charity’s Christmas campaign this year featured 51 cardboard cut-outs of dogs along Dublin’s Grand Canal.

The cut-outs represented the 51 phone calls Dogs Trust received one day in January from people looking to get rid of a dog. The reasons cited include “He’s too old”, “I can’t cope with the puppy’s behaviour”, “We don’t love the dog any more”, “The honeymoon period is over”, “We have a new baby” and “We’re down-sizing”.

“We really wish to encourage those thinking of getting a dog to take due consideration at any time of the year and especially when buying a dog for Christmas,” said Mark Beazley, Dogs Trust executive director.

“In the New Year, when the Christmas festivities have died down, we would encourage those who have made the decision to get a dog to consider adopting a dog from your local rescue centre, local pound and Dogs Trust.”

Bernard O’Neill, welfare ffficer at Liscarroll Donkey Sanctuary in Mallow, Co. Cork, is also concerned that ‘unwanted donkeys’ are on the rise.

Liscarroll Donkey Sanctuary shelters 1,200 abandoned donkeys. It operates a veterinary hospital and offers training courses for people wishing to foster donkeys.

The charity has seen unprecedented levels of donkeys and mules coming into their care. In 2013, the sanctuary received 450 complaints of neglect.

“Most obvious donkey abuse is long feet, no grass or shelter,” said Mr O’Neill.


He warned that long hooves cause extreme distress for donkeys, putting severe pressure on tendons, and recommends getting hooves checked by a farrier every 10 weeks. He pointed out that it was not uncommon for a donkey that was cared for to live until 40 years of age.

The Donkey Sanctuary offers people the opportunity to foster a donkey based on a number of conditions. Potential candidates must have one acre of land, stockproof fencing and a sheltered stable. Mr O’Neill said that a donkey needs to have daily contact in order to build up a relationship of trust.

“You must pick stones and mud from the hooves and brush the donkey. This will make the animal more manageable. If a donkey is maltreated, it can become aggressive and might kick out,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ISPCA has appealed for information about the fatal shooting of a young horse lying on the side of the road at Kilmallock, on the border of Cork and Limerick.

A six-month pregnant mare was also discovered in a field nearby, bleeding profusely from a wound on her side. The mare, which had also been shot, lost the foal that she was carrying.

Another uninjured but traumatised horse was running loosely in a frantic state.

“There is a huge amount of cruelty and neglect. This case is the worst in a long time. It is very sinister, leaving horses to suffer and die slowly,” said Carmel Foley at the ISPCA headquarters in Co. Longford.


The ISPCA is running a nationwide ‘Get Tails Wagging’ campaign to discourage ‘tail docking’, where the tails of puppies are illegally removed without anaesthetic for no reason other than appearance. Since March 2014, it has been illegal for a lay person to perform any procedure involving interference with the sensitive tissue or bone structure of an animal including docking of tails and removal of dew claws.

In the past, it was standard practice to dock the tails of certain breeds of dogs. However, modern veterinary thinking considers this to be a cruel and unnecessary mutilation. A dog’s tail serves as a protective mechanism and part of various strategies used to communicate with one another and establish boundaries and to prevent aggressive encounters. Amputating the tail weakens the dog’s ability to communicate properly, leaving vulnerable to being misunderstood by other dogs and humans and placing it at a distinct social disadvantage

The ISPCA recently rescued 28 puppies for sale at a horse fair in Co. Galway. All had their tails removed in this way. The puppies included various breeds including dobermans, boxers, jack russell terriers and other terrier crosses.

ISPCA chief inspector Conor Dowling warned that pet owners “should be aware that, if your new puppy’s tail has been docked, it has been done illegally and you should report it to the Gardaí or the ISPCA National Animal Cruelty Helpline on 1890 515 515 and we will investigate and prosecute”. He advised that if anyone had purchased a puppy whose tail had been docked without their knowledge, they have done nothing wrong and “no case can be taken against you”.