Animal Cruelty

Malicious and cruel: what drives someone to poison a dog?

After the case of deliberate poisoning in Dublin this week, delves into such incidents and why they happen.

IT’S A SAD truth that family pets can fall victim to accidental poisoning – from something simple as excessive amounts of chocolate or slug pellets that have fallen out of the container.

However, it is not always an accident.

Last weekend, Lydia O’Byrne’s pet had a lucky escape after three rat poison-stuffed chorizo sausages were thrown into their garden.

Lydia went outside when she spotted her dog Freddie eating something and found a piece of the sausage on the patio table. She brought Freddie to the UCD Vet Hospital where he was treated and will now make a full recovery.

13495197_10154465722176842_8986745808690954814_n The poison-laced sausage. Facebook / Lydia O'Byrne Facebook / Lydia O'Byrne / Lydia O'Byrne

This is a case of malicious poisoning – where someone puts a toxic substance on or into something that an animal would eat or play with. spoke to Dr Mark Griffiths, a psychologist and professor at Nottingham Trent University, about what drives someone to deliberately poison a dog.

He agreed that the dog-poisoning case in Dundrum was a premeditated act of cruelty.

Most research splits between passive and active cruelty. Passive is like when a person doesn’t do anything to the animal but neglects it. But cases like this one are active cruelty.
It can be a reaction to a perceived problem. For example a neighbour that’s fed-up with a dog’s barking.

Griffiths listed other potential reasons of why people are actively cruelty to animals:

  • To enhance the animal’s aggression
  • To shock people for their own amusement
  • To get revenge on someone
  • To use pets as a way to control  partners in an abusive relationship
  • They are suffering from a psychological disorder

Griffiths emphasised that there hadn’t been a lot of research into the area of animal abuse.

There’s no national representative survey but males tend to be more likely to abuse animals and it’s more likely to be young males up to their mid-30s.

Dog poisoning in Ireland

There are no exact records of the number of dogs who’ve been poisoned and it’s hard to identify in most cases whether the poisoning was malicious or accidental.

However, there have been incidents where malicious poisoning was suspected.

Last summer, dogs and cats were poisoned in the Waterford area, around the same time neighbourhoods received letters asking to stop their dogs barking. A Kerry vet warned locals after three dogs suffered from suspected strychnine poisoning in Killarney National Park last April.

In 2014, a poisoned dog was found close to a primary school in Clonlara, Co Clare.

There were separate cases in the Clonlara area where at least six dogs died from suspected poisoning around the same time.

At the end of May this year, a dog died after it was poisoned while on a walk along the river in the O’Briensbridge area.


Vet Pete Weddernburn and Gillian Bird from the DSPCA both told that accidental poisoning is more common than malicious poisoning, but stated that excessive barking can be a major source of conflict.

Bird advises to take complaints seriously if your dog is causing problems, such as barking a lot or wandering into neighbours’ gardens, to stop anger escalating to a potentially fatal situation.

A person complaining about barking has noise pollution laws on their side. If you ignore your neighbours’ complaints, this sort of situation [poisoning] could happen.

Wedderburn said that in fact it’s more common for him to have to treat a dog which has accidentally eaten chocolate rather than one whose been poisoned intentionally.

Fortunately it’s extremely uncommon. I recall in my own practice it happened about once every five years. However it’s very, very upsetting when deliberate poisoning happens.

Wedderburn told that it was difficult to determine why someone would poison a dog and he found it “hard to understand” why it happens.

He echoed Bird’s concerns about a dog barking making it a target for being poisoned.

He also reasoned that some people are frightened of dogs or some people just don’t like dogs, and “their very existence can upset some people”.

It could also be because of personal grudges. It’s a way to get back at someone, to hurt them in some way.

Unfortunately, unless you spot your dog eating the substance, the first sign of poisoning is often when the dog becomes seriously ill or dies.

Wedderburn warns dog owners to be aware what their dogs eat while out on walks and to safely store toxic substances like rat bait.

shutterstock_251683153 Shutterstock / l i g h t p o e t Shutterstock / l i g h t p o e t / l i g h t p o e t

Bird said that while there are many reports of people threatening to poison dogs made to the DSPCA, they don’t deal with many cases where it actually happened.

She said sometimes something like beef laced with rat poison could have been meant for a different animal but birds have picked it up and dropped in elsewhere.

She also cites cases where dogs have been sedated as part of a plan to break into a house.

What does the law say?

According to the Protection of Animals Act 1965, you must put up notices and inform the gardaí if you are laying poison.

Legally, poison shouldn’t be laid within 100 yards of a public road or house, unless the occupier has consented.

Capturettt Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1965

To make a complaint of a barking dog under the Control of Dogs Act a form must be filled out and sent to your local district court.

Read: Meath man convicted after dog Coco left emaciated and barely able to walk

Read: Cows wiped out by lead poisoning at Dairygold-supplying farm

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