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Dog shelters had ‘toughest year’ in two decades as they are overwhelmed by abandoned pets

"We have had to make some difficult decisions this Christmas.”

File photo.

Maeve McTaggartSunday World

It has been “the toughest year in over 20 years” for those working in dog shelters and rescues as the cost of living, housing crisis and pandemic has lead to hundreds of dogs being without a home.

"We have had to make some difficult decisions this Christmas,” admits Marina Fiddler of Galway-based rescue organisation MADRA.

"We have had to turn dogs away who have no where to go. It’s hard for us as a team but it’s also so hard for the dogs.

"It’s frustrating,” she admits.

The charity provides a space for dogs before they are fostered or re-homed, but the problem is that enough people are not coming looking.

Many dogs surrendered this year were ‘lockdown dogs’ who have been seen as “out of control” by owners who no longer spend all their time at home.

In some heart breaking cases, she reveals, people are forced to give up their dog as they are homeless and cannot bring their dog with them.

Since a young boy was seriously injured in a vicious pitbull attack in Wicklow earlier this year, Marina says “people have become wary of bull breeds.”

"There are more requests to surrender the breeds as people are reluctant to be seen with them. They are seen as out of control,” she reveals.

"That poor boy, it is such a horrifying story,” Marina says.

Nine-year-old Alejandro Miszan was playing football with his friends when he received life-changing injuries after being set upon by a dog.

Marina says MADRA and other rescues are dealing with dogs that are “more difficult” than years previous, with many ‘lockdown dogs’ or big breeds like Belgian Shepherds that “are not pets.”

“Some of our dogs are surrendered for genuine reasons, but most come from human error, cruelty or greed. And people are not learning,” she says.

"If you have a dog and you made a mistake, you cannot just get rid of it. There is a process to adoption and re-homing,” she says, though emphasises that some people do have genuine reasons for giving up their pet.

The amount of dogs who have been abandoned or surrendered have put huge pressure on the sector who are increasingly overwhelmed.

"Re-homing takes time, we have a waiting list of 20 to 30 dogs waiting to even come into our care as they are being surrendered,” Marina says.

"There is so much joy and positivity that can come from fostering a dog or having a dog and we are so grateful for the support we are receiving, but we have been inundated this year.”

People can help by fostering a dog or raising awareness that pet owners cannot simply “get rid of” a pooch they no longer want.

Looking towards next year, Marina says that all organisations like MADRA can do is “keep doing what we’re doing.”

Last year, 1,424 dogs were surrendered to pounds and 2,592 strays came in to local authorities.

Of these pups, almost 2000 were transferred to dog welfare groups across the country like MADRA.

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