ANIMAL welfare groups have forecast a major surge in the numbers of dogs being destroyed -- as new figures reveal more than 10,000 were put down last year.
The recession has left many charities and shelters struggling with high numbers of abandoned pets as some owners blame financial difficulties and others emigrate in search of employment.
Last year, an average of 27 dogs -- mostly healthy -- were put down in Irish pounds each day. But animal welfare workers expect the figures for 2009 to be much higher as increasing numbers of cash-strapped pet owners abandon their dogs.
The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) has received a recent influx of calls from people looking to surrender or re-home their pets.
And Gina Hetherington, from Paws Animal Rescue, based in Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, fears a "huge increase" in the numbers of dogs being abandoned this year.
The centre pointed out that the number of abandoned animals had risen by a fifth this year, while financial donations had slumped.
In total, just over 10,000 dogs were put down across the country last year, while more than 10,500 animals were given a new start with new owners.
Around 12,707 unwanted pets were surrendered or dumped at pounds, while a further 7,942 were seized from the streets.
The highest number of dogs were destroyed in Co Clare last year, with 1,222 -- or two-thirds -- put down after entering the pound; while nearby Limerick city had one of the highest rates at more than 90pc, and Kildare stood at over 80pc.
In Kerry, just over 900 dogs were destroyed, with 232 re-homed. A further 872 dogs were put to sleep in Co Cork, including an additional 150 in Cork city. Some 629 were destroyed in Wexford and 657 in Donegal.
A few local authorities had a stronger record in re-homing animals, with 1,135 going to new owners in Dublin city; 695 in Meath; 846 in South Dublin; and 534 in Co Galway.
Ms Hetherington described it as "crazy" for a country of our size to have such a major problem with strays.
Christine Coulson manages a dog pound and rescue centre in Leitrim, which has a 97pc re-homing rate and a 'no-kill' policy, with just 13 dogs put down last year.
But she highlighted the importance of neutering, and pointed out they also often had to go outside Ireland to re-home animals.
The DSPCA's mobile veterinary clinic, offering discounted treatment to those on social welfare, has witnessed an increase of up to 45pc, which it links directly to the downturn.
Meanwhile, a reward has been offered for information on a gang of thugs who have been trapping and torturing pets.
The gang -- who are suspected to be operating in the Cobh area of Cork harbour -- are believed to be responsible for a series of gruesome attacks over recent weeks on pets, particularly cats. In one case, a cat was crucified and it is also suspected that cats have been savaged to death by fighting dogs.
Evidence that cats are being deliberated targeted came from a number of felines who managed to make it back to their owners with fractured paws and legs -- indicating that an attempt had been made to capture them.
Locals are now being asked to report any suspicious activity to gardai. Cobh pet owners vowed that they will pay a reward to anyone who provides information which leads to the prosecution of gang members. Anyone with information can contact email@example.com.