Friday 19 April 2019

Ian O'Doherty: It's that time of the year again - please go to a rescue shelter

Best friens: Ian O'Doherty with his late dogs, Molly, left, and Sam. Photo: Damien Eagers
Best friens: Ian O'Doherty with his late dogs, Molly, left, and Sam. Photo: Damien Eagers
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It doesn't take much to make Irish people outraged, but then I suppose there's plenty to be outraged by.

Most of that anger is usually directed at the Government or the banks or other large institutions, but these are ultimately issues which are out of our hands - and while there may be little we can do about the bigger picture, there's no excuse for individual callousness.

One story this week seemed to garner particular attention, and anger, this time from dog lovers.

Dublin mother-of-two, Amy Lee, was in court on a charge of animal neglect when it emerged that she had left her dog, a husky called Sky, to starve on the balcony of her flat when she moved back to her mother's house.

When the dog was finally rescued by the DSPCA in September of last year, it was in an awful condition.

The judge involved in the case was scathing in his assessment, saying that the pictures of the dog when it was found were "disgraceful" and enough to "make any lover animal lover cry".

Despite the judge's comments, he only fined her €100 and banned her from keeping dogs for life.

He admitted that he would have given her a custodial sentence but due to her personal circumstances, he wouldn't send her down.

Nobody wants to see a young mother going to jail, but Ms Lee can undoubtedly consider herself a rather lucky person.

After all, there have been several high-profile cases of animal neglect and cruelty in the last couple of months, and the punishments included fines and a ban on keeping dogs, but no custodial sentences were issued.

The harsh reality of animal welfare in this country is that if we did start jailing every person who is guilty of shocking treatment of their pets, we'd probably have to start building new prisons.

As upsetting as these cases undoubtedly are, we really shouldn't be surprised - we're still a country of puppy farms, after all.

And those puppy farms will be doing a roaring trade in the next few weeks in the run up to Christmas as people get their child whatever the latest fashionable brand of puppy happens to be.

While we can all throw our arms up in the air in exasperation at these rogue operations, which keep dogs in truly hellish conditions, they continue to operate because people continue to buy dogs from them.

There can't be an Irish person alive who isn't aware of the evils of puppy farming.

But as both history and market economics show us, as long as there is a demand, there will always be a supply.

But the fact is that there are already thousands of dogs in shelters across this island, who are left to languish because some idiot wants the latest pedigree labradoodle.

Dogs Trust have recently launched another campaign against puppy farms, but they're fighting a losing battle. That's because there will always be people who don't really care about the animal and just view them as some sort of cuddly toy.

Why don't they go to a shelter and actually give a dog a good home?

About a decade ago, myself and the wife became the proud owners of two rescue dogs, Molly and Sam, and our lives were never the same again.

Molly was the most intelligent animal I've ever met, and rather gave lie to the myth that all King Charles spaniels are thick as two planks.

She had the household sussed out in a few days, decided that Sarah was the boss and I was the help, and treated me as such.

If she wanted to sit on my side of the couch, she sat there. If she wanted to sleep on my pillow, she slept there. I ended up developing a near-constant backache because I'd usually end up sleeping in such a way as to not disturb her. Never has a back pain been so worthwhile. Sam was a Scottie/Cairns cross who was everything you could expect from a terrier - playful, affectionate, brilliant with kids and, bizarrely, a lover of football on the telly, which he would watch while making me play fetch with a tennis ball.

The cliché is true - they were my best friends. Although when it came to Molly, I was never entirely sure who was the boss and who was the servant.

I can honestly say that the day we got them was the best day of my life and the thoughts of Molly and Sam, and tens of thousands of dogs like them, languishing in a shelter while people fork out hundreds of euro for a farmed animal still makes my blood boil.

Dogs, no matter where you got them, are a commitment, and while they repay that commitment a thousands times over, they need to be walked, they need to be properly fed and, what is often forgotten, they need constant attention, love and affection.

Molly died a few years ago, Sam died a few months ago and it's only now that I can even bring myself to mention their names.

The house has felt empty and cold ever since and while I know it's not the case, it seems like there is now an echo that wasn't there before.

For 10 years they were the most important things in my life - they weren't accessories, they made us a family of four.

I miss them deeply, and part of me never wants to through all that again.

But we are now thinking of giving another pair of rescue dogs a good and happy home, and if you are thinking of getting a dog, please go down the rescue route.

You'll never regret it.

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