THE country's leading animal welfare charity has warned it may have to start putting down pets because of an overcrowding crisis.
The head of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) claimed he has never seen so many abandoned horses, dogs and cats turning up at shelters.
Noel Griffin warned the charity would be unable to cope if the situation continued. He blamed the recent harsh weather and poverty for the increase in all kinds of animals being taken in to ISPCA shelters.
"Last year was tough for everybody but this year it's worse. In some of the cases when you speak to an owner who has lost everything, you'd have to have sympathy. Some of them are bad people but many are just down on their luck."
The number of calls made to the charity has tripled from 5,500 in 2008 to 15,000 in 2010 -- and this trend has continued into 2011.
While cats and dogs account for the majority of animals being brought to shelters, there is a growing problem with abandoned horses.
The number of horse-related calls has increased four-fold in two years -- 2,000 cases were brought to the ISPCA's attention in 2010. Mr Griffin said the animals placed a serious strain on finances and physical space.
ISPCA board members were summoned to an urgent meeting at the organisation's headquarters in Co Longford on Thursday to draw up contingency plans to deal with the crisis. One of the options being considered is requesting the Department of the Environment to step in to house abandoned animals.
Mr Griffin, meanwhile, has warned that unless there is a reduction in cases, inspectors might have to start putting down animals.
"We still try to find other organisations that can help us out, but, eventually, hard as it is, we will have to say we can't do anything," he said.