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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Opinion Legislation must be improved so that seized puppies can be rehomed

Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan says an outdated law means that young dogs found in dire need cannot be rehomed for some time.

MANY PEOPLE WILL be familiar with the news reports of puppies being seized at the ports. No sooner has the news report gone up on social media, than the comments with offers of homes come flooding in.

What most people will not be aware of, however, is that those puppies might have to wait 18 months before a forever home can be found for them.

Over a year ago I met with the DSPCA to discuss animal welfare. I was shocked when they told me that unless voluntarily surrendered, dogs seized under the Animal Health & Welfare Act 2013 can’t be rehomed until the legal proceedings have concluded.

Dogs seized under this Act include the port seizures, illegal puppy farms and those who are being neglected and kept in filthy conditions. All of them have one thing in common and that is that they have been through a traumatic experience.

Mistreated animals

Many will have been taken from their mother too early, some will be infected with parvovirus, a lethal virus, while others will be suffering from serious neglect and mistreatment. They will be medically assessed and treated but unfortunately, they can not then begin the process of finding a new permanent home.

Some will be able to go to foster homes while they await the outcome of the legal process but for many others they will have to remain within kennels.

Nobody doubts the wonderful work that animal shelters do but a shelter is no substitute for a loving family. Living in kennels can take its toll on the welfare of a dog and many dogs can start to become stressed and develop behavioural issues.

Providing shelter for the dogs also comes at a significant cost to the welfare organisation. Combined with the veterinary treatment it can soon amount to thousands of euros and can quickly deplete resources. It is also not always possible to recoup those costs in the courts.

Two systems

The inability to rehome the dogs as quickly as possible stands in marked contrast to dogs seized under the Control of Dogs Act. This legislation applies to unlicensed dogs, strays or those found wandering without an owner. Under this law, if an owner fails to come forward to claim their dog, the dog can be rehomed after five days.

Recently, I introduced a Bill in the Seanad that would seek to align the Animal Health & Welfare Act with the Control of Dogs Act. My proposal is that after five days, on a recommendation from a vet that it is in the best interest of the animal, the dogs could be rehomed.

The proposed legislation would also link the microchip to the dog license when proving ownership. Even though microchipping is a legal requirement, it is poorly enforced and seized dogs are rarely microchipped. The DSPCA has found that ownership is often asserted through obtaining a license for the dog after the event.

Currently, it is very easy to obtain a dog license and there is no information on the license that definitively identifies the dog to whom it applies. The legislation that I introduced would make it a legal requirement for the license to contain the microchip number in order to prove ownership.

This change in the law would also have wider benefits in raising awareness about the importance of microchipping and in keeping microchip information up to date. A microchip is the best system we have for reuniting owners with their beloved pets. Unfortunately, though, many owners are not aware that it is their obligation to ensure the information is up to date. The microchip company must be informed of any change of address and/ or contact details. Likewise, if ownership of the dog changes hands.

The Animal Health & Welfare Act was a significant improvement in animal welfare law in Ireland. However, it is now almost 10 years old and needs updating. At my request, the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee is currently undertaking a review of the existing legislation.

It is hoped that strong recommendations will emerge from the Committee when that process concludes. In the meantime, my legislation, if enacted, would ensure that no dog spends one more day than is necessary at a shelter.

Senator Lynn Boylan is Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Justice and a member of the Oireachtas Agriculture and Climate Action & Environment Committees.


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