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Shocking year for animal rescue services in Clare

AN “EXPLOSION” of abandoned cats has prompted a West Clare animal sanctuary to issue an appeal to owners to take greater responsibility for their pets.  
Dr Rhona Lucas who runs An Cat Dubh Sanctuary said that since the lockdowns eased, she has been inundated with abandoned cats, often in need of urgent care. “In the month of September, I took in 46 cats,” the 78 year-old outlined. “It has been a shocking year for admissions. I’ve actually been too frightened to count the total number of cats taken in this year.”
Rhona said that the problem of abandoned and straying cats is particularly severe, but that she is also taking in more dogs than usual, as well as other animals. “It seems that many people got pets during the lockdowns while they were at home,” she said. “Now they’re back in the workplace and sadly many pets are being abandoned. Normally, I would have a busy summer and then a bit of a lull. This year there, though,  has been no let up at all. I put a quote from ‘The War of The Worlds’ on our Facebook page: “And still, they come”.”
A fairly typical rescue happened in recent weeks in Kilrush, when a member of the public found four new-born kittens in her back garden. The local woman got in touch with An Cat Dubh and also contacted The Champion over what she said has been a recurring problem this year. The woman described how she had two incidents already this year, while other neighbours had told her the problem was the worst they had seen in two decades. 
“We went out twice to that particular house,” Rhona confirmed.
“The lady had two sets of pregnant cats and kittens just turning up on her doorstep.
“In March, four kittens were born in one of her hanging baskets just before a major storm. That’s the kind of situation we’re responding to this year, all over the place this year.”
While Rhona deals with many difficult situations, she is always conscious of the invaluable support of the public.
“People are very good and there is a fantastic network of people involved,” she said.
“We also have very supportive vets. When people ask how they can help, we often suggest that they donate to the vets on our behalf and that helps to fund care for animals at An Cat Dubh.”
Rhona also has a team of dedicated volunteers who support her round-the-clock work and she liaises with a number of other rescue organisations. “We work with Hilltop Animal Sanctuary, Second Chance Animal Rescue (SCAR) and Clare Animal Welfare,” she said.
“There is a big network of people working to stop neglect.”
Despite the support, Rhona contributes her own pension to the cost of running An Cat Dubh. She had hoped to be able to retire almost a decade ago. “I always said that when I got to 70, I wouldn’t take in any more,” she said.
“I’m 18 months away from my 80th birthday and I’m still going.”
Ironically, because the workload is so great, finding the time to tap into government funding is difficult. “Normally, I would apply to the Department of Agriculture for support because I do so much trapping and neutering,” Rhona said.
“This year, the goal posts were moved a bit and because the work is 17 hours a day and seven days a week, I don’t get time for the paperwork needed.
“I do feel that the smaller rescue services are being phased out because of this. This is a passion for me, though. Others enjoy going out, but I’m happy in my welly boots looking after neglected animals.
“There is a real need out there and I have cats, dogs, donkeys and hens. I live in an area surrounded by forestry and unfortunately, people often come up and dump animals here.”
The big message that Rhona is keen to communicate is the need for people to do a little research before getting pets.
“I would like people to act more responsibly,” she said. “People need to learn about different breeds of dog, for example, and decide which one is for them. Over the last while, lots of people got huskies, for example.
“That’s a breed that needs a lot of exercise.
“A dog like that could wreck the house if they’re left alone without exercise. It’s very irresponsible of people to get a pet they can’t look after.
“When they get a pet, they need to stick with them. Don’t abandon them and please spay and neuter them so that there isn’t a further explosion in the population of animals.”
Rhona advises that people follow the ‘Five Freedoms’ which people must provide under the Animal Welfare Act (2013).
The law outlines owners’ duty to provide freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behaviour, and freedom from fear and distress.
“It’s not rocket science and the details can be found online,” she said. 
Rhona herself offers advice on the Facebook page of An Cat Dubh, where people can message her directly.
Full details of sponsorship, fundraising and other activities are available on Ancatdubh.net.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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