Animal cruelty in Ireland: How are we doing? Legislation (yes), Enforcement (no), Punishment (no). Podcast from Pete the Vet

This week on the Pat Kenny Show, we discussed the issue of animal cruelty in Ireland. To listen to the podcast, click on the play button at the foot of this page.

The latest cruelty case: kitten abuse

Earlier this week a video emerged online showing a young kitten being brutally abused in the west of Ireland. A man was shown putting the cat on a frying pan before picking it up and throwing it in the air. He then kicked the animal, before picking it up again and throwing it across the room. The kitten can be heard miaowing and vocalizing in distress. Gardai are now investigating after the footage was reported. A charity, My Lovely Horse, was involved in helping the kitten, taking it to the vet for treatment, and they have called for more discussion about animal cruelty in this country.

It’s really important that those involved in the abuse of this kitten are brought to justice. Studies have shown that when people commit acts of cruelty to animals like this, they cross a mental hurdle; they discover that perhaps they get some sort of buzz from doing this appalling thing, and it makes it easier fro them to do it again, to other animals. And worse again, having crossed this mental hurdle, they are also more likely to commit similar acts of violence to other humans. Every single serial killer in jail in the USA started their career on animals, then moved on to humans. Arguably, if they had been brought to account after the early episodes of animal abuse, they may never have started to kill people.

So what is the story about the laws to protect animals in Ireland?

It is true to say that traditionally, animals have not been well served by old fashioned attitudes in Ireland. In the past, animals were often seen as utilitarian objects, with dogs being used on the farm and cats catching rodents. Many people had little sympathy for their suffering, being content to drown puppies and kittens, and treating older animals with contempt. Fortunately, this attitude has now largely changed, with most people recognizing that animals are sentient creatures who feel pain, fear and suffering just like humans. This is in line with the way that scientific understanding of animal consciousness has changed over the past 30 years. It’s now recognized that animals feel just the same as we humans would feel when they are subjected to physical and mental abuse. Most people are now appalled by cruelty to animals. And the law has changed to match this change in attitude.

The good news is that now, animals are given comprehensive protection from abuse under Irish law. Under the relatively new Animal Health and Welfare Act, 2013, the penalties for crimes of this type could include a fine of up to €250,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.
However the fact that such penalties exist does not mean that they are applied. When passing sentence, a judge has the final say, and there is a tradition of taking both aggravating and mitigating factors into account. In one recent serious cruelty case in a Dublin court, the judge gave a suspended sentence after noting that the man had been on prescription drugs at the time, and that he cared for a child, and was a “contributing member of society.” He decided that the better interest of society would not be served by the man going to jail. This caused upset amongst many animal lovers. The ISPCA, DSPCA and Dogs Trust all expressed their shock and dismay at the leniency of the sentence.

The problem is that lack of a jail sentence in animal cruelty cases sends out the message that Irish society does not take animal cruelty seriously. The independence of the judiciary is an important part of Irish democracy. Judges need to be trusted to take the fairest, most appropriate actions taking all of the circumstances into account. But many of those involved in animal welfare in this country have been calling for a long time for the issuing of broad sentencing guidelines for offences committed under the Animal Health and Welfare Act. There are defined maximum penalties, as noted above, but the severity or leniency of the punishment is up to the individual discretion of judges. And to date, sentencing has definitely been on the lenient side, which means that so far, the new legislation has not acted as a deterrent to others contemplating animal cruelty.

So what should people do if they witness animal cruelty?

They should definitely not stay quiet.
The best option is to contact the ISPCA  – the quickest way is to call their cruelty hotline on 1890515515
Or if you go to the ISPCA website you can complete an online form giving all the details including location etc, and you can do it anonymously if you wish.
People should also remember that one of the key issues is that evidence must be gathered for a court case to be effective and this is not always easy to do. So if you see anything amiss, use your mobile phone to gather footage, and pass it on to the authorities.

Finally, if this country is serious about tackling animal cruelty, more resources need to be given to those trying to help animals. In particular, the ISPCA needs more funding to be able to put more inspectors on the road. Currently they only have 8 inspectors to cover 17 counties, they can only offer a Monday to Friday service, and they have a huge workload. Not only do they have the cruelty cases that keep coming up, but they also have to deal with the logistics of handling any animals that are seized or surrendered. They receive nearly 20000 calls every year. After hours, the Gardai have a responsibility to attend emergencies relating to animals but in reality, they don’t see this as a priority. And they often don’t have the equipment, facilities or skills to deal with such situations effectively.

So, Irish government: please put more funds towards enforcing the animal welfare legislation.

Questions from listeners about pets

The following questions were answered on air by Pete: you can hear his answers in the podcast below.

  1. My kids want a pet. I refuse to get something hairy or large. Should I get a goldfish, a terrapin or a hamster? What’s safest and easiest? Claire
  2. Is there anything other than Dentastix that can ease a dog’s bad breath? Anna

To listen to Pete answering more questions, watch the Facebook Live video session that he does every week after the show.

To listen to the podcast, click on the play button below.

Listen to the podcast:

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