The stray dog issue: overseas and in Ireland. Podcast from Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

Stray dogs are a significant issue in many countries, from India to Ireland. Listen to the podcast below to hear the discussion.

Stray dogs

When I was away in India and Sri Lanka, the high numbers of dogs roaming the streets was very obvious and quite shocking. These street dogs are often neglected, with severe skin disease and high parasite burdens. They have short lives, estimated at just 3 to 4 years, dying of preventable problems like Distemper and Parvovirus.
This type of situation is true for many countries that people visit on holiday and often there are usually local groups doing their best to deal with this, using neutering, microchipping and vaccination schemes
Here in Ireland, back in the 1980’s, there used to be hundreds of dogs roaming freely, and it was common to see dogs wandering around on their own.
In the early 1990’s, 25 years ago now, there was a concerted effort by animal welfare groups, vets and local authorities to improve the situation, using a number of methods including subsidised neutering. The effect has been dramatic in a very positive way. In general, people are now more responsible for their dogs than in the past, although of course there are many exceptions, and there is still a serious problem.

Progress on stray dogs in Ireland

As tangible evidence of the improvement in dog control, the number of stray dogs has reduced by 50% since 2004, and is currently at 12833 arriving at the nation’s network of dog pounds every year. And there has been an even more dramatic reduction in the numbers of dogs being euthanased – down by 90% in past 15 years – currently 1674 per year.
These improvements have been largely due to concerted efforts by Local Authority Dog Control Service, dog welfare charities, media, and the general public in highlighting and addressing the issue of stray and unwanted dogs
However, these figures are still high compared to UK and many other European countries. For example, the number of stray dogs per human population is 1210 per million in UK, while in Ireland, it’s 2640, so it’s more than double the rate, which means we can still improve things in this country
And the number of dogs euthanased per million humans is 53 in UK, but 352 in Ireland, which is seven times higher. Again there is plenty of room for improvement.

What can be done about to improve the stray dog situation further?

  • Dog control regulations – people are rarely fined or taken to court for allowing their dogs to roam. Tighter enforcement would stop people from being so lax and avoid unwanted pregnancies.
  • Dog license enforcement – there are only around 300000 dog licences, while there are estimated to be 800000 dogs. The risk of being fined for not having a dog license is seen as being very low. If everyone paid for a licence, there would be more funding available to help with dog control in other ways.
  • Microchipping. This is now compulsory, which helps to reduce the number of “lost” dogs, but still probably only around half of the country’s dogs are chipped. Better enforcement of this would be easy to do, and would increase compliance.
  • Voluntary private neutering. Awareness campaigns (such as Spayaware) are helpful to persuade people to get their own pets spayed – there are plenty of good health reasons to do this, and it is the best way to control the production of unwanted puppies
  • Assisted neutering schemes. There are various schemes to help financially disadvantaged people to pay for their dogs being spayed/neutered. Ask your local vet or animal welfare group if you need help.
  • Education. Animal welfare – including population control and responsible dog ownership – is now on the primary school curriculum in Educate Together schools, and it would be helpful if this was extended to include all primary schools.

Should the Irish government be doing more to help?

The government has played a positive role in helping tackle dog welfare issues, including spaying/neutering via ex gratia payments of around €2.3 million euro per year which are paid directly to animal welfare groups around the country. These are targetted to support the outstanding work by rescue centers and other volunteers in rehoming, neutering, vaccination and microchipping.
This forward thinking approach has helped achieve the reduction in destruction rates in pounds and has directly reduced costs for local authorities
People take it for granted, but it is unusual: in the UK, for example, the government gives no such funding to animal welfare groups; they are all financed by private voluntary donations from the public. Animal welfare in this country would be far, far worse without this governmental support.

What else can be done?

Apart from the measures listed above, there have been calls to try to focus more tightly on areas that are particularly out of control, with calls for research to gather more data  about exactly where the worst problems lie

  • Breed-specific measures? There are suspicions that specific breeds could have higher incidence of turning up at pounds (e.g. collies, lurchers) and efforts could be made to target these breeds. This is already being done to some extent but perhaps greater focus would help even more.
    This is already being done to some extent (e.g. the private charity Dogs Trust have a special Collie neutering scheme aimed at farmers)
  • Funding from other areas? The Irish Greyhound Board receive  €16 million per year, which makes the €2.3 million given to animal welfare groups seem paltry. It has to be stated that this funding comes directly from a levy on bets made on greyhound races, so arguably there could be justification for this to be used primarily for the greyhound sector (i.e. self-funding). But perhaps there could be some more focus on help given to spaying, rehoming etc of greyhounds from this funding source.

There are many possibilities, but the main thing is that those concerned about the issue – vets, animal welfare groups, government departments and others – are all determined to find an answer, and they are all talking to one another in an effort to move things forwards. Watch this space in coming months and years.

Questions about pets from listeners

The following questions were asked by listeners to the show: to find out the answers, listen to the podcast below.

  • Why does my Springer Spaniel often has red eyes.  Terry
  • My dog is 12 year old mixed breed. He had a grand mal seizure on Sunday but is taking longer to recover this time..can he be brain damaged now ?
  • My dog has a kind of stye on the edge of her eyelid, weepy but not itchy, what can I do? thanks June
  • Our 8 month old male cat is driving us crazy by peeing in baskets of clean laundry! Turn my back for a minute and he’s done the damage. My laundry skills will never match the speed of his pee. He was neutered about 3 weeks ago and is healthy and happy with access to outdoors. He is litter trained and does his poo’s as well as many wees in the litter. Emer
  • I have a 13 year old jack Russell. He had an ear infection a year ago and on bringing him to the vet she said he had many other problems such as kidney failure and didn’t feel he had much more time left. A year on he is still here but I’m finding it very hard to look after him and wonder if it is time to put him down. He still enjoys daily short walks although he struggles, he likes to go. He was always an outside dog but spends all day trying to get into the house and barks incessantly to get in if left out for any amount of time. His home is in the kitchen now. His breath, his overall odour is hard to bear regardless of getting a bath. He has become quite senile and toilets round the house frequently. He used to be an overweight dog but despite an insatiable appetite he has continued to lose huge amounts of weight. We are finding it very hard to look after him at this point but the fact he still has an appetite and goes for his walk is making me feel guilty for even considering this. What would be your advice on this, would a vet even consider putting a dog to sleep if he is not in serious pain? Or am I being total selfish is thinking of putting him to sleep?

The full podcast can be listened to below.

Listen to the podcast:

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