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Owners leaving dogs at shelters citing mental health issues, housing problems and cost of living

Animals in pounds that can’t be rehomed are often put down.

Image: Shutterstock/Sergio Foto

THE FOUNDER OF Mutts Anonymous Dog Rescue and Adoption (Madra) has said that the dog shelter has never struggled more to find homes for the dogs in its care.

Due to the cost of living crisis, growing mental health issues among pet owners and problems accessing pet-friendly housing, “there are far more dogs in need of a home than there are available homes”.

Marina Fiddler, founder and director of Madra dog shelter in the Connemara Gaeltacht told The Journal that it’s disheartening to see so many animals in the system and at risk of being put down.

“It is almost like going back in time to when Madra was set up in 2005 when an 80 or 90% kill rate in the pounds was kind of normal,  nobody would pass any remarks at that.”

Since then local authorities have gotten more proactive with the issue of unwanted dogs, by vaccinating and microchipping them.

But the situation is nearly “back at square one” because of how long it can take to rehabilitate and rehome some dogs.

“There’s a lot of people struggling with mental health problems in the past few years. So a dog could’ve had an accident on the carpet, which happens from time to time, and the owner just can’t handle it. They just have to get rid of the dog and they’re not able to cope,” she said.

“If a human is struggling, their dog is struggling too. If they are showing stress or suffering from anxiety, that all goes on the dog too.”

“The legacy of the pandemic will be long and complicated.”

Madra typically brings in 300 to 400 dogs a year and could have around 100 dogs at any one time.

Fiddler also finds that the housing crisis has forced loving dog-owners to surrender their dogs because the only place they can find to live won’t accept pets and they don’t have other options.

She refers to a law in parts of Europe in which a person can’t be discriminated against in housing due to their pet ownership, adding that a similar law is long overdue in Ireland.

“Somebody contacted us the other day that finally got herself a local authority house. And she’s been on the list for a long time. And then the housing people said, she can’t bring the dog. She had to rehome it or she couldn’t live there.”

Local authorities also have a require to take in stray dogs but if the pounds can’t rehome them before they start to run out of space and resources they have to be put down.

Dogs that have been abused take much longer to be rehabilitated in order to be suitable for rehoming.

The amount of time and training required has increased since the pandemic because dog-owners couldn’t access trainers who would stop behavioural issues before they worsened.

Intervention

“Keeping things running day to day has gotten harder. It’s like any small business except for the fact that we can’t control the intake of dogs- well, we can, but it’s very hard.”

“We know that the more dogs we turn away, the more will be put to sleep. And our finances; we can’t even say how much money is going to come in, because it’s based on the generosity of the public.”

“Even profitable businesses are struggling to get staff so you can multiply that by 100 for the struggles a rescue centre has.”

Donations to the shelter have also fallen due to the cost of living and Madra hasn’t broken even for four months in a row.

“People now turn up to vets and can’t afford surgery so they have to crowdfund if their puppy was hit by a car, it’s tragic,” Fiddler said.

Fiddler added that she’s disgusted that puppy farms and illegal dog breeding continues to exist when so many dogs are currently without homes.

“I cannot believe how anybody in this day and age can say they didn’t know about puppy farms and how cruel they are. They just can’t say that anymore. So if you buy from these people, then it’s on you.”

“There’s no welfare concerns at all. They’re just like, inanimate objects to these people. Often we see pups getting dumped by people who bred them for money and then realised that they’ll never sell them because there’s such a massive supply of dogs.”

She believes that while legislation to prevent animal welfare issues is relatively strong it’s rendered useless when it’s not adequately enforced.

“There’s a lot the government could have done to prevent this. You’re supposed to have a registered number before you can sell any animal, if you have more than six animals in a year for sale you need to be registered.”

“But none of the sites have ever had any support from the Department of Agriculture in terms of enforcing this.”

Currently, dogs that are impounded in cases of animal cruelty can’t be rehomed until the trial is over, which Fiddler sees as a major oversight.

“We had a dog come into our care that had been treated poorly and the trial was postponed and adjourned and postponed and adjourned for 12 months. The dog was a year there waiting for a new home. And then when it came to court, finally, the accused didn’t even show up.” 

When Madra was allowed to rehome the dog they did so immediately because they “wouldn’t have been able to live with ourselves” after everything the dog had been through, she said. 

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