How do you spend your Christmas Day? Every person and every family in Ireland has their own routine, but there is one thing in common: most people are not at work. Indeed, for much of the population, there's no work for an entire two weeks over the festive period. It's one of the joys of living in Ireland: there's a deep respect for social time off over this season. In contrast, in countries like the USA, Christmas Day is a national holiday, but apart from this, it's business as usual. Ireland may be less efficient and less productive, but on this issue, the balance of work to social time can only be good for people's overall health.
Of course, there are some sectors where time off is very limited, and the fact that everyone else is on an extended break can make this a difficult time of year. From doctors and nurses to people running essential utilities to businesses that are owned and operated by USA motherships, there's a long list. I don't know the details of most of them, but I do know about what happens in the animal world, and that's what I'd like to write about this week.
First, and most significantly, animal rescue centres never close, not even on Christmas Day. Animals under their care do not suddenly stop having needs because it's a holiday. They continue to breathe, sleep, eat and drink, and they need human help to make sure that they able to do this.
There are hundreds of groups doing this valuable work across Ireland: thousands of rescued animals are being cared for by volunteers as you read this. They are kept in cosy kennels and runs, they are fed and watered, they are taken for walks, and their comfort is looked after for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The people who do this work are often doing it just because it needs done; because it's the right thing to do. They don't tell anyone about it, they don't look for money, they just quietly get on with it. They are people who genuinely care about animals. They deserve praise and gratitude, but in reality, they get little of that.
Worse, they are often taken completely for granted. I hear people saying to me "I called the rescue group but they didn't even return my call. It's a disgrace". These people don't realise the demands that rescue groups are under. If a rescue group doesn't call you back, it's not because they are lazy or uncaring; to the contrary, it's because they are so busy because they care so much. Rather than blaming them, we should all be asking them what we can do to help.
In an ideal world, the government would look after all unwanted animals. In reality, this doesn't happen anywhere: governments help, but the effort always has to be made by private individuals who care.
In Ireland, the government contribution to animal charities is announced at Christmas every year: nearly €3 million is shared by over a hundred animal rescue groups. People always complain that this is not enough, or that some groups unfairly get more than other groups, but the truth is that this funding is generous compared to many other countries. In contrast, the UK government makes no such donations: animal charities are funded instead only by the generosity of the public.
As you read this, if you feel gratitude to those folk who are spending their Christmas time off caring for animals, then why not ease your conscience in a simple way: make a donation yourself. If every Irish citizen gave just €10 to an animal charity, this would raise nearly €50 million, and it would completely transform the lives of thousands of voiceless, powerless, unwanted animals across the country.
Apart from the volunteers caring for animals over the holiday period, there are many individuals who have to work with animals right through the festive season. They may not be doing the work pro bono, but they still have to work hard at a time when the rest of us are enjoying time off.
The farmers of Ireland are probably the biggest group : cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs all need to be fed, watered and bedded on every day of the year. Their needs don't stop for Christmas. And dairy cows need to be milked every day (or twice daily) too. It's easy to forget this when you carve that ham, tuck into your boiled egg for breakfast or pour that cream over your Christmas pudding.
Many vets are also working right through: all vets are obliged under professional ethics to offer a 24 hours, 365 day service. Animals can fall ill at any time: they don't know about public holidays. So if your dog has an accident on Christmas Day, or if your cat has a crisis in the middle of New Year's night, you will always be able to find a vet to help you. In some areas now, vets have worked together to set up a shared dedicated emergency service for pets (e.g. the Pet Emergency Hospital at Belfield, which cares for the animals under the care of over forty vet clinics in the Dublin and North Wicklow areas). Of course animal owners need to pay to use these services, but nonetheless, the vets and nurses in attendance have given up their private holiday time to make themselves available.
Enjoy your time off this festive season, but don't forget those who have given up their own time off to make themselves available to help animals. Merry Christmas everyone, people and animals alike.