UNWANTED dogs and cats are being dumped on motorways, creating a driving hazard for motorists and the animals themselves.
But at least one family was able to lighten the load at Galway SPCA yesterday when they adopted a dog. Helen Roche brought her children, Denise (12) and Kevin (10), with her as they set about choosing a pet to bring home to Caherlistrane in north Galway.
They soon fell in love with a husky named Roxy after an introductory walk in the grounds of the sanctuary.
"I always wanted a big dog and Roxy is perfect for our family," said Helen.
Yesterday, the biggest animal sanctuary in the west described the Christmas period as the worst on record for people getting rid of unwanted pets.
And the numbers are expected to increase over the next fortnight as children return to school, leaving parents to care for puppies and kittens themselves.
"It's the worst year I can remember in my 12 years here," said Wendy Davis, supervisor at the Galway SPCA in Killimor.
"We're having far more calls about dogs being left on motorways or dumped in the bog," she said.
"People even turn up at our door with old or sick dogs and pretend they are strays, when a lot of the time we know they are their own animals.
"We've taken in 15 to date, most of them puppies which would have been bought as Christmas pets.
"People seem to be just getting rid of their animals for a variety of reasons. In some instances it's because people are returning to their own country because of the jobs situation here, while in other cases, because of the economic situation," she added.
Over the next fortnight, as well as dogs and cats, Galway SPCA expects to take in unwanted hamsters and guinea pigs, along with rats and turtles. Galway SPCA spokesperson Margaret O'Sullivan said: "The numbers are probably bigger this year than ever before and we know it will get worse around the middle of January."