Don’t buy dogs at Ballinasloe Horse Fair: Pete the Vet on Ireland AM

To watch the video with Pete discussing the horse fair on Ireland AM, follow the link at the foot of this page.

The background to the horse fair

Ballinasloe Horse Fair is taking place next week: it’s Europe’s oldest and largest Horse Fair, dating back to the 18th century.
In the past, there used to be concerns about the welfare of horses, with many reports of poor animal welfare in animals that were for sale. The ISPCA has worked hard to tighten up on this, with inspectors in attendance on the main sales days, checking animals – and these days, horses tend to be in good condition.
There are sometimes issues with young lads riding horses bareback, and this can be hard to control when there are so many animals and people congregated. The ISPCA are certainly there, ready to take action if they see any infringements of animal welfare.
ISPCA have a control point in a prominent position at the show and they are in constant contact with the show organisers and the gardai, so if anyone sees any animal issues that they are worried about, they should send an alert to the ISPCA team. They should also take photos and videos if they see anything amiss: evidence is important if there is going to be any follow up actions. There are strict laws against animal cruelty in Ireland, so if people break these laws, then they can be prosecuted.

The difference between “less than ideal” and “illegal”

One of the challenges is that there is a difference between what people may feel is “wrong” and what is actually illegal. Some people get upset about things that they see but if they are in good physical health and in reasonable living conditions, then nothing can be done. A dog may look sad in a cage, but if the dog is just being kept in the cage till it is sold, it’s not as if this is its “living quarters” and it is not illegal.
Many people object to pups pups being sold in that environment, but there are also many other people who go to these shows to buy pups, and there is nothing illegal about it, so in our democracy, we need to accept that this is a fact.
The best we can do is monitor the situation to ensure that they are in good health and that their welfare is good, and that no acts of cruelty take place.
The ISPCA can only take action when an offence has been committed. Examples include pups in obvious poor health, or pups with docked tails. They will take action if they see such issues.
Dogs for sale range from terriers, chihuahuas,, whippets, lurchers, German Shepherds, spaniels, all sorts- there could be hundreds of dogs being sold during the fair.
At the moment, all the ISPCA can do is to make sure that any pups are healthy, comfortable, well fed, access to water etc.

The challenge of enforcing microchip regulations

Microchipping regulations mean that all dogs have to be microchipped, but this is not strictly enforced yet. In theory, people should have to present proof of address and photo ID whenever buying a pup, but this does not usually happen, despite the law. In future, it would be good if this could be enforced.

The future of animals being sold in Ireland?

In the UK, they have just introduced a ban on third party sale of pups ban. This would stop this type of puppy sale, as pups can only be sold directly from the home where they have been bred. So in time, this may also happen in Ireland. But not yet.

Should animals at horse fairs be rescued?

Some rescue organisations have been known to go to fairs like this with the specific aim of purchasing animals that they are concerned about. They then classify these animals as “rescued” and rehome them to members of the public. They may spend tens of thousand of euro every year buying such animals.
The problem with this type of activity is that it actually encourages people to bring animals to the fair to sell, and it can actually create a market of the precise type that the rescues don’t want to see.
So it is better, overall, NOT to buy animals that you see in this environment.

What’s the  best way to get a new dog?

If you want a puppy or a dog, then do one of two things:

  1. Ideally, get an animal from a responsible rescue centre – see this website to find rescue animals all around Ireland.
  2. If you insist on buying a pup, make sure that you buy one from a private home (not a puppy farmer) and meet the mother with the pups, in the place where the pups have been reared. If possible, meet the father too (most pups turn out like their parents so this gives you the best possible estimate of what the pup will turn out like).

To watch this week’s video, click on the play button below.


  • Catriona says:

    Wish there was more people like you Pete who with their public status can highlight these things

  • Renee Doyle says:

    So great to see issues regarding animal welfare being highlighted on TV, but we also need to get our legislation on animal welfare changed drasticully to protect animals. Why, after so many petitions, letter writing, pleading etc, does our government choose to ignore the urgency of situatuation? I have now lost track of the number of poor dogs I have seen shut out all day and night in filthy, insecure gardens with sometimes just the very basics, no stimulation, human interaction and sometimes a postage stamp garden to exercise in. Our country’s government must believe that this does not constitute neglect/cruelty, even though our vets and animal welfare groups totally agree that it does. Why would an individual who has been charged with the most horriffic inhumane treatment of a defenceless animal be given such leniency in court and then allowed to still own a dog again after a number of years? Can someone please please highlight this situation on every possible form of media and keep doing so until our legislatuon is changed? I truly believe that if more vets were to be more proactive, as Mr Wedderburn clearly does, change would come much quicker. We have done it in other areas, why not in the case of our defenceless animals, for whom we are the only voice? President Higgins presents himself as an animal lover and is in a perfect position to instigate and encourage change, but I have no evidence that he shows any interest other than in his own two dogs.

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