Lessons from the latest dog pound statistics
The 2018 annual dog control statistics have been published, presenting a formal breakdown of the state's records from the nationwide network of dog pounds. As usual, these make interesting reading for anyone interested in animal welfare.
There are thirty one dog pounds in Ireland: one per county plus a few extra (e.g. the Dublin area has four areas that are included). The dog pounds are financed by local authorities, nominally from the funds generated by dog licences.
Dog control is a challenging task, made up of three main briefs: first, seizing any stray dogs that are found wandering, second, accepting unwanted dogs that are surrendered to the pound by members of the public, and third, ensuring that dogs in the area are kept under proper control. This latter role includes ensuring that people have dog licences for their pets, checking that all dogs are microchipped, and responding to complaints from members of the public about dog-connected problem. The work is generally designated to a Dog Warden, contactable via the local authority offices.
The annual dog control statistics provide a useful way of monitoring what's happening on the ground.
The statistic that has always been the biggest focus is the number of stray dogs that are euthanased every year. This used to be shockingly high: in 2002, over 21000 dogs were killed in the pounds, many just because they were unwanted. Around that time, the various stakeholders involved got together, creating the National Stray Dog Forum, to try to deal with this. This meeting involved vets, animal rescue groups, gardai and government officials, as well as other interested parties. An action plan was put into place, including compulsory microchipping (which became law in 2015 but which, sadly, remains unenforced), closer liaison between dog pounds and animal rescue groups, better education of the public about spaying and neutering (leading to the annual Spayaware campaign, now run by the ISPCA), and a nationwide subsidised spay and neuter scheme (this was established by the Dogs Trust charity). The aim of this package of measures was to reduce the number of stray dogs being euthanased every year, and this year's figure of just 778 dogs (the lowest ever recorded) is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved.
This still means that 15 dogs are killed every week, so we still need to do better. But it's down from over 400 dogs per week: a massive and dramatic improvement.
There are other dog control statistics that are worth mentioning. In particular, the figures for dog licences stand out. It's estimated that there are around 450000 dogs in Ireland, yet there were only 200000 dog licences issued: most people seem to believe that the dog licence is optional. It's the job of the dog warden to ensure that all dogs are licensed, but there's remarkable variability in how efficiently this is carried out, and the statistics show this clearly.
If there are 450000 dogs, owned by 4.8 million people in Ireland, that makes around one dog per 10 people. In Kerry and Cavan,over eleven dog licences are issued per 100 people, suggesting that nearly everyone who should have a dog licence does indeed have one. In Cork County and Monaghan, there are around nine dog licences per 100 people, again suggesting good compliance with the law.
However the results for many other counties are far worse: in Clare, Meath, Dublin City, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown and Wicklow, there are less than two licences per 100 people, suggesting that over 80% of dog owners in these areas are breaking the law. And many other counties are not much better than this.
The statistics show a possible reason for this difference: some of the counties with best compliance had the highest number of on-the-spot fines for not having a dog licence (426 in Cork County compared to zero in several other counties).
And interestingly, the financial success of each local authority pound is also reflected in the stance taken, with the high level of dog licences having a big impact: Kerry made a surplus of €78000, Cavan earned an extra €45000 over costs, and Cork County had a profit of €12000. Mayo was the only other county to have a surplus (at just over €1000) and every other dog pound area lost money.
Unsurprisingly, the areas with the lowest ratios of dog licence uptake, in Clare, Meath, Dublin City and Wicklow, also had the biggest deficits, with over €130000 each. It's clear that when most dog owners comply with buying a dog license, the resulting income is sufficient to pay for the running costs of the dog control system in the area: this is the way it's meant to work. Hopefully the financial masters of each area notice these differences, putting measures in place to increase enforcement of dog licenses across the country.
One ludicrous aspect of dog control is that compulsory microchipping and compulsory dog licences are organised separately to each other, without one database talking to the other, as they are run by separate government departments. This is a clear example of inexcusable government inefficiency. which needs to be corrected.
Dogs are an important part of our society. Dog control plays a key role in ensuring that dogs and humans live well together.