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Picture: Stock
Picture: Stock

Now our wasteful society thinks nothing of dumping family pets

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IT WAS one of the more unpleasant stories I’ve come across in my time as a journalist, and I’ve heard a few. Some years ago, I was interviewing workers whose job it was to collect up the discarded Christmas trees put out on the streets for recycling after the festive season.

I don’t recall the exact reason why I was talking to the guy who told me this story, but what he said has stayed in my head ever since.

One January, he recalled, he and his workmates were preparing to load yet another dried-up Christmas tree onto the lorry when somebody heard a little whine. Looking closer, the horrified men realised that there was a little puppy tied to the trunk. The little creature, the man recalled, wore a red collar with a matching lead, which had been used to attach it to the dead tree — the tree that had been left out on the street for pulping.

In other words, when Christmas was over, some family somewhere had taken all the decorations off their Christmas tree and put it out for recycling with a live puppy tied to it. My blood ran cold.

There was something about that act of casual cruelty that I’ve never been able to erase from my mind. I doubt the Christmas tree collector was able to forget it either, because it was one of the first things he told me.

I find it impossible to understand how or why a family could (presumably) buy the children a little puppy for Christmas and then week or two later, leave it out on the street for collection like a piece of garbage. But it seems, families do. Truly; you couldn’t be up to people. Only this week it emerged that pounds around the country are steadily filling up around with dogs because their owners have decided to make space for a Christmas puppy. They’re bored with the older dog, so they’re getting rid of it in favour of something new, cute and Christmassy. A lovely little Christmas puppy. I kid you not.

A woman who has worked in animal welfare for several decades was quoted in the piece as saying that this is a relatively new phenomenon. She’d only started to come across in recent years, she explained, adding that she attributed this heart-warming trend to Ireland’s modern, disposable culture. It was a nationwide phenomenon, she said, and not linked to anybody’s economic background. It was just about attitude: ‘If we don’t like something we get rid of it,” she told the reporter. Does this surprise you? It certainly doesn’t surprise me.

Dumping an old family pet to make room for a pretty new baby pet, has nothing to do with ignorance but everything to do with callousness. We live in a massively wasteful society where if we don’t like something we throw it away. Look, for example, in the public waste baskets on our streets and you’ll see the half-finished sandwiches and containers still full of coffee or soft drinks. That endemic wastefulness now seems to extend to living creatures. As a result, ‘boring’ older dogs, long-term pets who have been with a family for years, and who have developed a strong bond with family members — even if that bond is not, apparently, reciprocated by the adults in charge — are being abandoned at pounds, rescue centres and Traveller halting sites to make room for more picturesque versions.

Some owners don’t even have the decency to leave their former pet at a rescue centre because the centre will (and very justifiably) charge them up to €200 to cover the cost of micro chipping, neutering and vaccination.

Would it matter to these former owners to hear of their pets’ trauma and sense of devastation by the abandonment? Would they care that their dog won’t eat, won’t look at anyone in the rescue centre, and hides behind beds?

This woman said that it would be kinder to put an elderly dog down than to abandon it at a shelter or pound, such is the emotional impact of abandonment on a family pet. That’s the problem though. Just about anyone can run out and buy a cute little puppy without ever bothering to check what kind of breed it is (so that you’ll know how large it will grow,) how much exercise it requires, the amount of food it consumes and what its temperament is likely to be like, or even whether it suits their lifestyle.

Furthermore, there’s nothing to stop us, if, after a few weeks or months or maybe even years down the road, we decide that this formerly delightful animal is not, after all, a good match for us — and we abandon it. Another issue is that many Irish people now buy dogs from puppy farms, which, say experts, means they’re not always healthy animals, and can be predisposed to developing illnesses.

When this happens, and the dog needs veterinary care — and that doesn’t come cheap, let’s face it — some dogs are abandoned. Out the car window with them and off back to the puppy farm for a new model...

Which, of course means, that instead of taking a dog from a rescue centre and giving an abandoned animal a decent chance, people are encouraging the spread of puppy farms where in many cases pups are bred and reared in a cage in a big shed or some re-purposed farm outhouse on an isolated back road. Google it.

Puppy farming, it seems, is one of Ireland’s more uncomfortable agricultural secrets — the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last year estimated that, conservatively speaking, puppy farms annually produce about 30,000 of them, primarily for export. It’s a big, lucrative and very well-organised industry which is valued at up to €20 million.

You know what? Think twice. Don’t abandon your old pet in favour of a cute new puppy. Have a heart this Christmas and don’t support puppy farming.