Clare Animal Welfare have been experiencing a ‘staggering number’ of surrenders of unwanted pets before and after the Christmas writes Owen Ryan
EVERY year in Clare hundreds of dogs and cats need someone to give them a home. The problem endures through times of prosperity and recession, and people like Ciara Copeland, co-director of Clare Animal Welfare, are always working to improve the lot of the unfortunate animals.
Around four years ago Ciara and her co-directors Stiofán MacGhabhann and Judy Beck re-established the charity, which had been dormant for some time.
“We managed to get it up and running again, just three of us at that time, it was very hard work, but it’s running really well now, we’ve a great team.”
Clare Animal Welfare doesn’t have a place to keep animals, but it co-ordinates a team of fosterers around the county and beyond who can keep them for a period of time, before passing them onto a more permanent home.
“We don’t operate kennels, the model that we operate is a foster model. We have a number of families around the country and in places like South Galway, North Limerick and Tipperary who have applied to us to foster dogs. They would have been home checked and approved by us as foster families.
“When a dog is surrendered to us, the first thing we do is get background information on that dog from the original owner and then we try and place the dog with the most appropriate foster home.”
The time in the foster home gives a chance to get a read on the dog, what its needs are, and how and who can best meet those needs.
“While they’re in the foster home the fosterer is doing an assessment on them and exposing them to different things, the normal things they’ll come across in life, other dogs, family life, some of them would have never lived indoors, so it’s getting them used to being part of a family again, while at the same time assessing them to see what their needs are.”
“That means when we advertise that dog for adoption we have a really good idea of what home would best suit that dog.”
When stray dogs are the ones that need to be cared for, the needs are often more complex, but the process is fairly similiar.
“In the case of strays, where we don’t have any background information on them, again they’re placed with the most appropriate foster home and the fosterer does a really in-depth assessment on that dog.
“Usually the first thing we do with a stray is scan for a microchip to see can we find the owner. If we can’t they’re seen by a vet straight away, they give them a check and see if there are any pressing needs they have; unfortunately we find fleas and worms with most strays.
“You can find other injuries, they may have run out in front of a car or something like that. They’re checked over by a vet, checked into a foster home, given a few days to decompress, because a lot of the time they’re very traumatised.
“As time goes on we get a clearer picture of what that animal is like before we can offer them for adoption.
“All of our dogs are microchipped, vaccinated and neutered as well, they get whatever veterinary care they need so when they do go to their permanent home all their veterinary needs have been met.”
In 2020 around 370 cats and dogs were rehomed, which is a really impressive number for an organisation that had only three volunteers a couple of years ago. The 2020 figure was also set to be exceeded by the end of 2021.
There are more people involved in the charity now and Ciara says a lot of co-ordinated work takes place from when they get an animal to when it ends up in a permanent home.
“Síle Lynch is our foster co-ordinator and she is amazing. When we get that initial call about a dog being surrendered or a stray she gets on the phone straight away to find a space for them.
“We have a fantastic adoption co-ordinator as well who co-ordinates with all the fosterers, keeps in touch with them and gets regular updates and when the time is right they are advertised for adoption.”
Of course the lockdowns of the last two years have touched nearly every aspect of life, and Ciara says the number of stray cats has exploded, probably as a result of a lack of access to vets at the start of the pandemic.
“Some of it stems back to the original lockdown, which meant that a lot of veterinary practices were prohibited from doing routine neutering and spaying.
“That would be a check on the population, but when that didn’t happen it just spiralled. With cats it takes very little time for things to go badly wrong, they can breed about every 90 days once they reach the age of six months, so it can get out of control really fast and then they tend to have very large litters as well.”
Things are not easy for cats that don’t have an owner.
“It’s a really hard life. There’s diseases going around the population, there’s feline aids going around, all sorts of infections and it only takes one infected cat to go into a colony and that infection will spread like wildfire. It’s really, really sad to see the state that some of them are coming in.”
She says it is very important for people to do something whenever a stray cat arrives in their orbit.
“One message we need to get out is that if a stray wanders into your property, get in touch straight away, because we can deal with one or two stray cats.
“Over the last couple of months we’re getting calls from people who had a stray walk into their property maybe a year ago and unfortunately they didn’t get on top of the problem, and now they’re ringing us when there’s eight or nine kittens there.
“We simply don’t have the capacity, there’s no place you can place feral cats. We ask people if they have a stray cat to get in touch with us straight away or at the very least have them seen by a vet and have them neutered or spayed.”
In mid-December she said the charity was getting a huge amount of surrenders of dogs, most for genuine reasons, but some from people who just wanted to go away for Christmas.
“We’re staggered by the number of surrenders we’re getting at the moment, we’ve never seen anything like it, there’s four to five a day. Sometimes there are genuine reasons, people have to leave their home for one reason or another and they may not be able to take the animal. Unfortunately we get a lot of requests to take eight or nine month old dogs, because in dog years they’re reaching their teens and people can’t cope with them, they can be hard work at that age and people want them gone.”
In the days leading up to Christmas the group had people asking them to take their dogs because they want to go away for Christmas, and if they didn’t take the pet, the dog would have to be put to sleep.
“It’s really heartbreaking, I don’t understand how anyone could do that to their dog.”
As well as helping with dogs in such situations, Clare Animal Welfare also tries to provide help to people who want to keep their animals, but are having a hard time in doing so.
“This year Clare Animal Welfare sponsored six people to train as dog trainers. Dog training is unregulated in this country, anyone can set themselves up as a dog trainer and we wanted to see really good quality trainers, using positive training methods, so we sponsored the six people to study to be dog trainers and they’re now operating around the county.”
“So if people are struggling, they can come to us and we can make recommendations on trainers as well. Often people just need that little bit of help to hold onto their animal, which we’re happy to give.”
She urges people to do what they can to keep their dogs, saying it can be very hard on the animals when they are sent away.
“Don’t give up on your dog because you’re having a tough time. They rely on you and it’s heartbreaking when they come in, they’re so confused, they don’t know what’s happening and they didn’t do anything wrong.
“They genuinely are devastated for the first few days, you just let them be, let them come to you when they’re ready, just let them get over their devastation.
“Some dogs that have come in have been heartbroken for weeks until they turn a corner one day.”
Whatever the difficulty is, she urges people to make contact. “If you’re struggling just come to us, the very least we can offer is advice, try and put you in touch with the right people to hold onto your animal. If you can’t hold onto that animal we’ll always try to help you.”