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Dog Welfare in Ireland – why there is a pending crisis.

The recent RTE Prime Time Investigates programme put the spotlight on criminal and cruel practices in Ireland’s Greyhound Industry.  Ciaran Walsh, founder of Dog Internet of Things (a new platform providing live 1-2-1 Webcam Consultations with Professional Dog Trainers and Canine Behaviourists), says there is a more wide-spread crisis concerning domestic dogs coming down the tracks in 2020. Ciaran explains why internet offerings may be the perfect platform to address many of Ireland’s dog welfare problems.

What are the problems?
With a dodgy legislative foundation which proffers ‘Dog Control’ rather ‘Dog Welfare,’ Ireland is very much condemned to have a landscape of repetitive problems - where mopping-up rather than prevention – is the order of the day.

In Ireland the rescue shelters and dog pounds are at full capacity or beyond safe capacity. The 2018 Department of Environment Statistics shows 778 dogs a year or 15 dogs per week were euthanized in the State’s 31 dog pounds. While this represents a major improvement on the 2002 figure which was at a high as of one dog every 6-hours. These figures include Lurchers, but exclude Greyhounds (Greyhounds are not legally considered as dogs in Ireland, but rather ‘farm animals’ and thus conveniently fall outside dog control statistics). Much of the improvement has been down to the enormous growth of volunteer-supported Rescue Shelters, Dog Fostering Agencies and neutering programmes. However, strange as it may seem, the problem is set to continue - and most likely get worse – in the coming years. One simple base line statistic says it all; in the past 20-years, the number of stray dogs entering State Pounds has never dipped below 9,000. Between 50% and 75% of dogs in rescue shelters have come from an original owner who did not understand the basic requirements at the moment of Adoption.

There are 31 dog pounds in Ireland: one per county plus a few additional in large urban areas. The dog pounds are financed by local authorities, nominally from the funds generated by dog licences. In 2018, only three of these pounds (Cavan, Cork and Kerry) managed to operate without a financial loss.

State administrative incompetence is self-evident in the statistics; it is a legal requirement to have dogs micro-chipped (with an estimated 70% uptake) yet only 200,000 of the estimated 750,000 owners pay the licence fee – most believing this €20.00 to be optional!

Each stray costs the tax payer an average of €550, with an annual cost of €6.2m to keep the pounds open. Therefore it may be fair comment to say that in the past twenty years, the sole focus has been on how to control rather than how to solve the issue of irresponsible dog ownership. And so as long as the tax payer is picking up the bill, this is everyone’s problem.

State policing and enforcement of the legislation is a local authority function, and is spectacular in its inconsistency.  In 2018 there were 1,654 ‘on the spot’ fines issued – less than 36% were eventually paid. Only 8 local authorities were involved in the 176 prosecutions producing 92 court convictions. And again the inconsistency is highlighted by the fact that Cork County Council accounted for over one third of all prosecutions, while Dublin City, Galway City & Council, Limerick City & Council, and most other administrations did not engage in a single prosecution!

So what is causing the problem?
At the core is a mix of four very powerful forces; "childish innocence," irresponsible ownership, legislative incompetence and private/criminal greed.
There are no definitive record of the number of pet dogs in Ireland with the most reliable figure being the National Veterinary Inspectorate which estimates the national dog heard to be at 7.5m. Thus it is difficult to accurately say how many dogs are adopted each year. General consensus is a 10% mortality / replacement rate, therefore the true figure is somewhere between 60,000 to 80,000 dogs are adopted each year. Many are acquired from friends & family, through rescue shelters, or reputable specialized breeders.

However the vast majority are impulse on-line purchases driven mostly by children’s persuasive power. And parents are all too quick to appease, take out the credit card – dishing out €350 to €1,250 on an impulse purchase to satisfy a need to please. Usually this transaction happens within 3-minutes, no research or suitability checks undertaken. Unfortunately, both consumer legislation, dog control and dog breeding enforcement is so weak, that every on-line purchase runs a high risk of total financial loss, zero comeback, and traumatic heart break. While there are no reliable statistics, many veterinary practitioners are finding that 4 of every 7 puppies purchased on-line were inadvertently sourced from puppy mill operators. These puppies usually have significant genetic deformities, with many requiring expensive long term veterinary care if not immediate destruction.

What are Puppy Mills?

In 2018 there were 253 licenced dog breeding establishments operating in Ireland. Unfortunately this mix is a broad spectrum containing some excellent, dedicated experts who are themselves leading authorities in specific breeds. However this mix also contains – as evidenced in recent Court judgements - criminal elements all too happy to turn a profit at every opportunity. The policing and inspection regime favours operators willing to take short cuts with canine welfare; in 2018 only 238 inspections were carried out, on average just one per year for most registered breeders and some establishments not subject to any inspection.  The State income in 2018 from these breeding licence fees was €79,500.

A breeding establishment is defined as:

Any premises that has six or more female dogs over six months of age...

...and capable of breeding must apply to the local authority for registration as a dog breeding establishment.” - Dog Breeding Establishments Act, 2010. 

This legislation is rather poorly drafted as it focuses on ‘Any Premises’ rather than a basic level of traceability which comparatively governs all farm livestock.  Conveniently falling outside of the legislation are the thousands of 'unofficial breeders’ of 5-female dogs or less, who can safely exploit dogs to the limit and turn a handy supplementary income without any fear of sanction. It is widely reported by rescue shelters that many of the strays emanate from ‘unofficial breeders’ who often find the route to market via dodgy licenced breeders.

Over the years monitoring and policing of these establishments has been heavily criticized by the ISPCA. How many puppies are produced each year, is open to question. Ironically – even allowing for the five thousand greyhounds that disappeared - the most resourced area for canine traceability at presently is probably the Irish Greyhound Board.

Were it the case that the number of licence holders were producing strictly to the licence requirements – allowing the breeding dogs sufficient natural recover time between litters – then about 30,000 puppies would be produced safely each year.  Police checks of cross border transport of puppies to the UK have enabled both the ISPCA and the RSPCA to estimate that over 100,000 puppies are being produced by Irish breeders! Creditable breeders and the Irish Kennel Club will soon becoming under enormous pressure to find solutions to the puppy mill problem.

To put this in context, at an average of €400 per on-line puppy purchase, collectively the puppy mill operators are making a handy turnover somewhere between €12m and €40m. Given the atrocious conditions and low cost of operations, probably over 90% of this turnover is pure – untaxed profit!  Nice work if you can get it!

AND with the 2020 introduction of Lucy’s Law in the UK, a prohibition of third party sales of puppies comes in to force next April. Then the UK dumping ground will no longer be available to Irish puppy mill operators. Likely immediate consequence: a tsunami disaster, as the on-line puppy price collapses and dogs are simply abandoned wholesale throughout Ireland.

Basic education.
Not all countries around the world operate as we do in Ireland. In some countries canine breeds have zero legal protection and are truly considered as farm animals or even pests. In others, dogs have a life; in Holland careful planning and policing have finally produced a society where there are no stray dogs. Switzerland is the Gold Standard, where in most Cantons / Provinces anyone wishing to adopt a dog for the first time, must undertake a 4-hour theory class on dog welfare; health and public liability insurance are compulsory; and the dog licence costs €1,250. At the core of such success stories is something completely lacking in Ireland; a basic minimum educational standard for all dog owners.

In Ireland the perfect conundrum is that most dog owners simply ‘Love’ their pets, but few actually ‘Respect’ their pets. Less than 2% of Irish pet dog owners have ever approached a Dog Trainer. By the same token less than 5% of all qualified dog trainers can make a living because the market is so small. Most qualified trainers are competing for the same already well informed clients, while the general lack of knowledge about how puppy mills operate, and unsafe care practices continues to exacerbate the problem.

The Solution …

A mix of a technological solution built upon minimal educational standards for dog ownership will have a significant impact.

The obvious solution is using an integrated microchip technology to trace all dogs in expansive family trees. While microchipping in Ireland is a legal requirement, it is a very blunt instrument; leaving registration in the hands of the dog owner, no cross reference to the dog’s linage, and no registration of the dog’s licence. Another example of a poorly planned administrative system. That said at least the basis is there to change and implement via an internet system: Data traceability along verticals (family trees) horizontals (litter mates / veterinary services) would soon extinguish the puppy mill market.  Technological opportunities are immediately possible, and are probably inevitable even without legislative change; for example this is already available in UK for pedigree dogs - right down to who owns the dog.  However, it is only working for dogs that have had genetic tests.

While legislative changes may take many years, and – going on past performance – may also prove to be highly ineffective, some immediate changes can come about by Soft Law – that is social persuasion.  This will depend on both the vision and good will of the dog welfare professions and the pet industry.

The Dog Internet of Things (Dog Behaviour Training | DogInternetOfThings) is a new innovation focused on educational solutions by making dog training Affordable & Accessible. The goal is simply to make a minimal standard of dog training instruction available to all at a click.

The site has three basic internet offerings; (a) 1-2-1 Webcam Consultations which are similar to Skype calls, (b) Webinars on specific dog issues, and (c) Educational Courses and a Certification process, in which owners and prospective owners can get guidance and certificates of responsible ownership and responsible adoption.

Dog Internet of Things Services

Dog Internet of Things Services

Responsible Owners are those who commit to following best practice guidelines for their pet welfare. This includes a commitment to present their pet for an annual veterinary check-up, practice the Five Freedoms of animal welfare, and respect other dog owners. It is hoped that the Certificate will be recognised and rewarded by industry participants in the near future. Responsible Adoption Certification helps anyone seeking guidance on adopting a pet to find the best match, and have a clear understanding of what is involved in taking a dog into their family.

Author Bio

Ciaran Walsh is a Qualified Financial Advisor, Entrepreneur, Dog Trainer and Founder of Dog Internet of Things.

After three years as a volunteer at an animal rescue shelter, and seeing the enormous emotional damage caused by weekly surrenders – both to the owners and to the abandoned dogs – Ciaran began to question why this conveyor belt of misery continues unchallenged.  A lack of informed ownership responsibility and pre-adoption education are at the core of the problem.  Over 90% of dog owners never approach a dog trainer for assistance, high costs being the major stumbling block. Yet 90% of qualified trainers cannot make a living – the tiny market being the problem.

Using a live video app platform, the Dog Internet of Things seeks to make professional instruction from qualified Dog Training and Canine Behavioural experts, easily accessible, convenient and affordable.

Ciaran will be launching his new Responsible Dog Ownership Course at Maxi Zoo Mullingar at 12pm on Saturday 26th October. Entry to the launch, hosted by Ray Dolan, is free.

Maxi Zoo Mullingar. Lakepoint Retail and Business Park, Delvin Road, Petitswood, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. N91 E5WC

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