A question has been bubbling in social media circles for some time: why does a pro-animal welfare group like SpayAware accept funding from Donedeal, the main website involved in online puppy sales in Ireland?
The SpayAware team appreciates that many people may find this difficult to understand, but they do need to remember that we are genuine animal lovers, making the best decisions that we can, bearing in mind that our aim is to get the message out as strongly and loudly as possible to the Irish public. The SpayAware team made a policy decision to work with all groups concerned with animal welfare in Ireland, with the aim of us all working together to make this country a better place for animals. We refuse to engage with the public criticism of other animal welfare groups that has been – and still can be – a regressive feature of the animal welfare landscape in Ireland.
Our campaign is dedicated to solving the problem of mass destruction of dogs and cats in Ireland, and it’s important that we have the backing of as many other animal lovers as possible. I am writing this blog post specifically to spell out clearly why we made the decision that funding from Donedeal is acceptable.
Back in the late 1990’s, the first National Forum on Animal Welfare was called, and the problem of the high level of euthanasia of unwanted dogs in Ireland was top of the agenda. At that stage, over 20000 dogs were euthanased every year. The delegates agreed that three actions were needed: following that meeting, people on the ground put those actions into effect.
- Improved liaison between dog pounds and local animal welfare groups: now most pounds have good connections with animal welfare groups, and there is a steady flow of animals out of pounds to be rehomed via local partners.
- Discounted spay/neuter for those who cannot afford the operations: Dogs Trust introduced their national subsidised spay/neuter scheme and have since funded the spay/neuter of over 90000 dogs.
- Improved awareness of the need to spay and neuter: the concept of Spay Week was formed to try to change the culture of the Irish pet owning public so that spaying/neutering became the natural choice.
Throughout the 1990’s, Spay Week ran every year, highlighting in the national media the importance of spaying and neutering dogs and cats to solve the issue of over-production of puppies and kittens.
The campaign has been run by a small group of volunteers, with the continual backing of Veterinary Ireland, and with its financial costs covered by a range of supporters, including Dogs Trust, Allianz Pet Insurance, Maxizoo, ISPCA, and others.
Our costs are not high, but we do need to pay to engage a PR company and professional photographer to coordinate press releases and photoshoots (and we have achieved national exposure in newspapers, television and radio every year, without fail). We also need to pay for the design, printing and postage of large colour posters which are sent to vets and animal welfare groups across the country. It costs money to send out a message to the population of Ireland, and the more money that’s available, the more can be done, and the more strongly the message can be sent.
What’s been achieved?
Since that first National Forum, a great deal has been achieved: the number of dogs being destroyed unnecessarily has reduced dramatically from over 20000 to less than 4000. This figure is still far too high, and we will continue our campaigning for spaying and neutering into the foreseeable future. We have recently changed our name from Spay Week to SpayAware, so that the campaign can run all year round, rather than just in the last week of May.
It has always been a challenge to raise funds to allow us to do our work: we do not receive a government grant, nor do we fund raise directly from the public. So we are always ready to listen when offers of funding become available.
When I was contacted by the CEO of Donedeal three years ago, despite my initial sense of unease (accepting money from a puppy seller?), I agreed to meet him for a discussion. I was taken aback at that meeting: I was expecting a hard-nosed businessman, yet the person I met was an animal welfare enthusiast, who told me that he wanted to make “a difference” to the Irish animal welfare scene. He was a dog owner who believed that on-line animal sales were there to stay, and his mission was to continue to sell animals, but to do it as responsibly as possible, and to direct the profits from animal adverts into promoting animal welfare in Ireland.
Now, I could have stopped right there and taken the high moral ground, saying “it’s wrong to sell animals online”. Full stop. “I will not help you promote animal welfare.”
But this man seemed genuine. He showed me screenshots from other countries where the website owners have no qualms about animal welfare. I saw photos of emaciated puppies on hard, dirty concrete floors. I saw bull-terrier type dogs with cropped ears being sold as “fighting dogs”. I saw many adverts of a type that we never see here in Ireland, because Donedeal stops them from going online.
Our discussion that day convinced me that if Donedeal chose to stop advertising animals, they would be replaced almost immediately by a different website with far fewer (if any) controls on the depiction of animals for sale. Those who campaign against Donedeal would have achieved a Pyrrhic victory. Donedeal would have gone, but their replacement would be a far less animal friendly version of exactly the same online market place.
Have DoneDeal made a difference?
Three years later, is there any evidence that Donedeal is making a difference?
- They monitor the dog adverts continually. Any complaints about an ad are addressed within hours, and if necessary the ad is removed. Any person who advertises too many breeds or too often is permanently banned from using DoneDeal again. Donedeal has rules on the sale of dogs in classified ads, so that obvious breaches of animal welfare are not allowed (e.g. “fighting dogs”, or “puppies available for Christmas”).
- They allow animal rescue groups to re-home animals through their web site for free.
- They are helpful in passing on information about animal sellers to the Gardai or other agencies such as the ISPCA if any investigations for animal welfare issues are needed.
- They give 50% of the revenues from the dog section to projects involving education on animal welfare, including SpayAware, National Microchipping Month, Feral Cats Ireland and others. That’s 50% of the income from the adverts: if the running costs of their website and VAT are taken into account, this must be close to 100% of the profit.
We can all agree that in the ideal world, perhaps there would be no buying and selling of animals. The reality is that there are willing buyers and sellers out there, and they are always going to seek ways of linking up.
The future for online advertising
In the UK, the issue has been addressed by the setting up of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) in 2001 by the main animal welfare organisations to combat the growing concern about the irresponsible advertising of pets for sale, rehoming, or exchange.
This group sets minimum standards for online advertisers: as it happens, Donedeal is in full compliance with these – you can check for yourself by reading them here. Animal welfare groups in Ireland are currently working on setting up the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group (IPAAG) to engage with the on-line industry in Ireland in the same way as PAAG. developing local guidelines for sellers and buyers to ensure that welfare of the animals being advertised is protected.
Meanwhile, the best we can hope for is to have a market-leading online forum that operates in keeping with internationally accepted guidelines, and that diverts profits towards promoting animal welfare. I genuinely believe that in Donedeal, that’s exactly what we have.