Earlier this month, socialite Paris Hilton reportedly bought two Pomeranian puppies for $25,000. One was gifted to her mother Kathy, while the other, Princess Paris Jr, was purchased as a 'girlfriend' for her other Pom, Prince Hilton. Paris created a new Instagram account for her latest pet, who already has thousands of followers, and she has been seen at events with the fluffy dogs dressed in tutus and jumpers .
There were no cute jumpers placed on Holly, Ivy, Noel and Chris, four nine-week-old Jack Russell puppies who were left confused and shivering on the grass in Roscommon on Christmas morning. The tiny pups didn't even have the luxury of being safely placed in a box when they were taken from their mother and dumped. They would have frozen to death within hours or had an accident, if a kind jogger hadn't spotted them and called for help from Athlone SPCA.
Last week, music mogul Simon Cowell and his partner Lauren Silverman were photographed strolling along the beach in Barbados with their Yorkshire Terriers, Squiddly and Diddly. As the pampered pooches topped up their tans on the Caribbean island, a teenager was spotted dumping five Labrador-cross puppies on the bog road in Ballinasloe. The malnourished, defenceless pups were only four-weeks-old and had a severe case of worms, but a kind passer-by thankfully rescued them and they are now in the care of Galway SPCA.
Such cruel behaviour is shocking and disgusting but it is probably not surprising, as the Dublin SPCA estimated that 30,000 puppies were for sale online before Christmas. Many were bred at home by inexperienced people as a money-making sideline, and their ads urged people to buy the puppies as a "great, last-minute present". With so many dogs flooding the market, sellers panicked and dropped their prices. A cheap present, but at a huge cost to the poor animal.
The DSPCA found one man breeding 13 dogs in a one-bedroom apartment, for example, and has seen pregnant females cruelly confined to pet-carriers as they are continually bred over and over again. It rescued and rehomed 1,830 animals in 2014, and its CEO, Brian Gillen, confessed in December that he dreaded to think what would happen to the glut of puppies left unsold. His fears have already been realised, as abandoned pets are flooding through the door of rescue centres. These are the lucky ones - the rest are simply killed or dumped by ruthless breeders.
We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, and when Taylor Swift is pictured touting her cute cats around, or Justin Bieber his unfortunate monkey, it stimulates the market for designer pets. It has become very fashionable to be seen out and about with your adorable dog dressed up in a darling outfit. Some owners treat their dog like a toy or dress-up doll, posting cute pictures of it online for approval.
The problem with fashion is that it's fickle and disposable, and a dog is a 10 to 15-year commitment with needs of its own. It's quite astonishing how many people are ill-prepared for that commitment, and how willing they are to get rid of the dog once they grow bored or disillusioned with it.
It's shameful how many puppies and adult dogs are surrendered or abandoned because they are no longer wanted. Some of the most popular reasons given by people to Dogs Trust include: "He barks when left on his own"; "He's too old and no longer brings me any joy"; "He chewed my expensive sofa"; and "He smells of dog."
Some dog owners become irritated when the pet moults all over the house, or leaves muddy paw prints on floors and sofas. It can take ages to toilet train puppies, and their "teething" phase can last for two years. While people fantasise about strolling through the park with their dog, the reality can involve being pulled down the road by a strong, excitable dog, who runs off for half-an-hour when let off the lead. The owner then becomes frustrated and thinks: "This isn't what I signed up for!"
"People can be very idealistic around dogs," says Carol Lawton, head trainer with King of Paws, the DSPCA's dog training academy.
"They have this picture in their heads of what they want, but the reality can be a very different thing. The reward we get from owning dogs far outweighs any investment we'll ever have to make, but sadly people often don't make enough of an effort in advance to understand what they are taking on. Some people would be better off with a six-year-old Labrador who likes to sleep quietly in front of the fire for half of the day and go for a walk in the evening, rather than a lively puppy who might grow bored and destructive if left alone all day. And then you have people who think huskies look fabulous, for example, but don't take into account that they need to be owned by someone prepared to run five miles per day with them."
Carol says that a lot of the problems they see at the academy stem from insufficient exercise and stimulation. "Behavioural issues can arise when dogs get bored," she says. ''Dogs shouldn't be left alone all day anyway, but thinking the dog is better off in the back garden while you're out is a major myth. They'd be better off in a quiet room in your house, with plenty of water and toys''.
While the figures for 2014 are not yet available, 3,516 unwanted, healthy dogs were destroyed in Irish dog pounds in 2013. Rescue dogs make wonderful pets, and Carol says that a dog can be trained at any age, once it's done positively and sympathetically. She has seen so many rescues blossom into fabulous pets.
There are very few behaviours in dogs that don't stem from something that a human has gotten wrong, so we need to educate ourselves before making the commitment. And people not treating the dog as a fashion accessory would undoubtedly help immensely... as would rescuing instead of buying.