We regret to inform everyone that we are closing our doors and ceasing our voluntary work as of now. This will be my final article for animal welfare. And in it, I’ll explain why I’m closing rather than setting up as a charity; why animal welfare needs people like me; and other bits and bobs.
I’ve written so much, I’m including a Table of Contents below, so you can skip to whatever interests you… but I should warn you, it’s a bit of a brain dump!
- The Charity Regulators
- What Will Happen?
- Why Not Set Up a Charity?
- Animal Welfare in Ireland
- In Conclusion
The Charity Regulators
My decision to stop volunteering comes in the wake of communications from the Charity Regulators requesting that I either register as a charity or cease volunteering. This is because I am promoting a charitable purpose, and am not registered with the Register of Charities. Sections 41 and 46 of the Charities Act 2009 set out the relevant offences. They added:
“Please be aware that an offence under the 2009 Act carries with it maximum penalties on indictment of a fine not exceeding €300,000 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.”
Needless to say, this was a bit distressing.
It never occurred to me that the small-scale voluntary work I do would come under their remit. I have always highlighted that I am not a charity, and I don’t solicit donations beyond adoption fees (which don’t begin to cover the expense of the voluntary work I do, with vet owings permanently hovering around €800). In fact, I have always encouraged people to donate only to charities and even then, only to charities they’ve visited and whose policies and practices they agree with.
In fact, when I consulted my lawyer, he too thought my work was too small scale for the Regulators to be concerned with.
But it turns out it’s not.
Before I go any further I have to say I can see where the Charity Regulators are coming from and have no quarrel with them – and neither should you! It must be next to impossible to police small-scale volunteers like myself. There are many who, unlike myself, prey on people’s good will. And the regulations are set up to stop them. Unfortunately they’re going to stop me too.
What Will Happen?
Animal Welfare Volunteering
Realistically, I will still foster & rehome to an extent. Specifically, I think everyone should help any cat that turns up on their doorstep – so those cats are in luck. And you’d be surprised how many appear on my road and in my back garden.
However, if you come across a cat in distress, you will have to help them yourself – I will not be there for you or them. And you should help them, by the way.
Kingdom Cat & Dog Rescue (KCADR) have incredibly kindly agreed to have me foster under their charitable umbrella. I will still pay for the vet bills, as they have little enough money as it is. But the bill will be in KCADR’s name, and the donations will be paid to the charity. Any donations given regarding the cats I take in, will go towards their KCADR vet bills (as always), either directly, or through KCADR.
But fostering is all I will do. And, of course, caring for the (currently ten) permanent resident cats in my care.
I will no longer do any TNR. I might do TNR workshops again in the future, but not any time soon. I won’t help stray animals, liaise with the dog warden, post on social media. I won’t maintain the TNR webpages, or add to them. I won’t be doing information provision or awareness raising. No animal transportation, no finding and encouraging volunteers. No posters, flyers, or any kind of graphics. No more articles, enews, publicity, webdesign, activism. No more forms or paperwork. I’ll stop networking (tho I’ll stay in touch with all my animal welfare buddies!) – no more homechecks for other orgs, no more sharing of posts, no more extra fostering or TNR for other animal welfare groups. No more helping the public with their animal welfare queries; no pointing them in the right direction; no need to deal with the ones who are cruel, neglectful and/or ignorant. I won’t have to deal with rude nor hateful people. I won’t have to watch animals die because I got there too late. Or agonise while their recovery is uncertain. No more picking up dead dogs, run over because their neglectful guardians consistently let them stray.
No more compassion fatigue.
I’ll stop doing Protect Whiddy Island Hares FB page – hopefully someone else will take it over – even more hopefully, it won’t be needed soon and they’ll stop cruel coursing.
Drogheda Animal Rescue (DAR) have agreed to take on the TNR Manual and its webpages. Over the coming month, I’ll be updating the pages and helping them transfer them to a new domain with a new design. They are a fabulous rescue and TNR organisation, and I’m grateful to them for carrying the Manual on.
Webpage & Social Media
While DAR will take over the TNR Manual, the rest of the webpages will go. Animal Advocacy’s domain will remain for just under a year and redirect people to the new pages, so you don’t lose them!
The Twitter account will be deleted – I never really used it anyway. The Facebook page … i haven’t decided yet – it has so much history for me I don’t want to lose it. Initially, I’ll change it so that no-one can post or contact me through it and include this article at the top, so visitors can be made aware of what’s going on. In the long-term, I may simply make it private, so no-one can see it but me.
The firstname.lastname@example.org email will be shut down by the end of September. I worry that adopters of my felines may not be able to contact me. I love getting updates and don’t want to lose touch. I will have to think about what to do about that. In the meantime, you can contact me through my personal FB page.
Why Not Set Up a Charity?
I’ve been an active committee member in several charitable organisations, both in the UK and Ireland. And I’ve initiated two charitable organisations in West Cork.
Firstly, back in 2006, I was inspired by a book, Hard Rain by Mark Edwards. I found a fantastic team of people, similarly inspired, and we formed SEE Ltd. SEE became Sustain West Cork, no longer in existence, set up to inform, enable and inspire sustainable lifestyle choices through awareness raising events and information provision.
Next, in 2009, this time inspired by my reading and experience of Trap Neuter Return, I suggested to Jennifer Carroll we start a local TNR group. We got more people on board and RAWR (Rural Animal Resources) was born.
In all instances the work involved was enormous – in the case of RAWR, full time 7 days a week for nearly two years. In some, there were distressing and unnecessary personality clashes; in one I was bullied to the extent I cried myself to sleep before meetings.
Since 2011, I’ve been volunteering as an individual – networking with other organisations, but making my own decisions and commitments, without the stresses and compromises of running a charity.
Time & Stress Commitment
Most animal welfare charities in Ireland, aside from the larger ones with funding to pay for staff, are managed by a very few people – often two or three. They may have several other volunteers fostering, fundraising, etc, but most of the work falls on the shoulders of the directors. And the work is substantial. There’s the webpages and social media, fundraising, accounts, managing volunteers, graphic design (forms, information sheets and publicity), dealing with the public, ensuring animals are health checked, neutered, vaccinated and microchipped, rehoming, etc etc etc.
I do most of this with Animal Advocacy but, because it’s just me, I can take breaks when it gets too much for me – and compassion fatigue and burnout have been heavy burdens for me since 2005. For a functioning charity long breaks just aren’t possible – there’s always something needing doing.
A charity has financial & time commitments before you even start doing charitable work. There’s the time and costs involved in setting up the charity in the first place. And you need around €2-3K on hand every year to pay an auditor.
Someday I may try and figure out exactly how much I spend every year on the animal welfare work I do. And how much comes in from adoption fees, and occasional extra donations, (I have all the paperwork, but pulling it together is an Impossible Task for me.) I decided to do a rough calculation here – and am quite horrified at what I spend (my income is from minimum wage, part time work).
I take in around 25 foster cats annually.
- Some just cost me the vaccination, health check, microchip and neuter. Most are not well when they come in and cost significantly more. If I average that to around €150 per cat, we’re talking €3750 per annum.
- If I get a full donation fee for all 25 fosterees, at €60, that would total €1500.
- I get extra donations from adopters sometimes. Probably around €300 per annum.
- My resident cats are all rescues who have stayed with me because, for reasons of age, health and/or temperament, a home can’t be found for them. They’re all costly vet-wise – a conservative estimate would be around €1350 a year.
- Finally, cats needing dentals at €500 a pop have been a recent thing. Let’s say 2 a year – another €1000.
- RAWR pay for the neutering when I TNR. So that’s blessedly €0.
- There’s all the food, litter, toys, diesel – not even going to think about that. Though I get food donations from RAWR, which take the edge off.
- I also don’t want to think about how much I’ve spent on equipment over the years – cages, carriers, traps, specialised equipment, etc.
- Oh, and there’s the webpages and domain name – around €150 annually.
- There’s probably more.
So, I’ve conservatively estimated outgoings of €6250, with income of €1800. Deficit of €4300 out my pocket annually.
And that’s just me, one person. As soon as full on charity work starts, this is a fraction of the outgoings to be expected. Fundraising becomes as important as the charity work – and some charities have more volunteers involved in charity shops than they do on the ground with the animals.
Government funding is abysmal – animal welfare charities get €3 million, a miniscule fraction of the income given to racing industry (€64 million) – the latter being responsible for much of the problems in animal welfare that the charities respond to.
And if you look at the division of the €3 million to animal welfare charities (details here):
- 5 organisations get half the total, 1.5 million (100-485K), between them: DSPCA, ISPCA, Irish Blue Cross, Donkey Sanctuary, CSPCA
- 12 organisations get more than one third of what’s left, 600K (30-75K each): mostly SPCAs, plus a couple of horse orgs, LAW, PAWS, Ash and Cork DAWG
- 35 orgs get between 12 and 27K, again totalling just over a third of what’s left from the first 5 – 634K
- The last 53 organisations get 10K or less each, some as little as 1,000. Together these orgs get less than a third of the total left after the top 5 have had their share – 258K.
Guess which end of that scale I’d be.
It’s also apparent that some charities get nothing. This could be their own choice – if they’re only going to get €1000, it’s hardly worth the time, effort and conditions to apply.
West Cork rescues and TNR groups in Co Cork are at the bottom end of the scale:
- Cork Cat Action Trust, Blackrock, Co Cork €15,000
- West Cork Animal Welfare Group Ltd, Clonakility, Co. Cork €17,000
- Rural Animal Welfare Resources CLG, Rockmount, Drimoleague, Co Cork €13,000
- Community Cats Network, Glanavaud, Kilbrittain, Co Cork €9,000
AND with RAWR already fundraising in Bantry, my hometown, I certainly don’t want to be competing with them for resources – a lose-lose situation for both of us.
If you remember my guestimate of my own, small-scale fostering costing over €6K annually, you get an idea of the enormous shortfall for these larger groups. It’s only through their fundraising efforts, and the generosity of the public, that they survive at all.
Animal Welfare in Ireland
The problems are overpopulation, inadequate legislation, inadequate enforcement of legislation, inadequate provision and funding of animal welfare organisations – and, ultimately, lack of human responsibility.
Over 300,000 kittens are born in Ireland every year. Of those 180,000 kittens die before they are 4 months old. What kills these kittens in Ireland? Hunger, disease, exposure and people (see Kitten Mortality for more information). There are no statistics for how many felines are killed in shelters. (Estimates from ANVIL Ireland.)
If you think about what I do – I just take in the stray cats that don’t have people to help them, ie. I don’t take cats from people who want to ‘get rid of’ their companions – I just take the kittens that fall out of cars, the strays with no-one to help them.
So, in my town, that’s around 25 cats and kittens a year. According to Wikipedia, there’s around 1365 villages (including suburbs) in Ireland. So, assuming Bantry is typical, that’s 34,125 stray felines in the republic annually. Keeping in mind, this doesn’t include surrendered felines nor those who aren’t found and die or end up living ferally.
In 2018, in Irish pounds alone (ie. not including rescues), on average, 38 dogs were taken in every working day – that’s nearly 200 a week. 27 were strays, 10 were surrendered and 1 seized; 7 were reclaimed each day, 9 rehomed, 3 were killed, 18 transferred to rescue. The Department of Agriculture stats indicate that these figures have been decreasing since 2005, but it’s not because we are solving the problem – it is because rescue centres and dedicated individuals are getting to these dogs before they are destroyed. This is not a solution, it is a band-aid over a broken leg. (Stats from gov.ie.)
The ISPCA has only 9 cruelty inspectors covering 17 of the 26 counties of the republic. So it looks like 9 counties can do what they want (although some charities do cruelty cases too).
Really, to me that says it all. But add to that the funding I mentioned earlier – animal welfare charities get €3 million, a miniscule fraction of the €64 million given to the racing industry. Animal welfare is obviously not a priority here.
Solutions include TNR, Neutering, Decent Legislation and Enforcement of that Legislation, adequate funding for rescue and TNR organisations – and organisations across the board that can cope with the problems.
Immediate solutions include Responsible Pet Ownership & Individual Responsibility – a public that acts responsibly towards the non-human animals it shares this planet with … but that’s not going to happen without legislation and its enforcement. CATch 22.
While the larger charities, mostly SPCAs, have enough funding to pay staff, most of the animal welfare orgs and individuals I work with are volunteer only. The public doesn’t seem to realise that. We’re not paid, nearly all of us have other work to support what we do. We get calls at all hours of the day. And we answer for the sake of the animals. Currently, we are one of the interim solutions.
I’ve shown, there just aren’t enough rescues in Ireland to deal with the animal welfare problems, particularly in rural areas. In my part of West Cork there’s just RAWR – a TNR organisation, NOT a rescue. Which is why I have been doing my bit.
People like me exist across the republic, rescuing a few here and there and paying out our own pockets. And others will continue to do so.
Now I am stopping, others will have to step up to the mark. If you don’t, who will?
Before signing off, I’d like to thank everyone who’s helped me through the decades – my friends, my animal welfare colleagues, the organisations that have supported me, my fosterees, my adopters – all of you who have given your time and care, who’ve listened when I’ve needed to be heard, and have been there for me when I needed you – you know who you are, my gratitude goes out to you.
To my adopters – I hope you’ll still keep in touch, though you won’t get me through the Animal Advocacy email any more.
To all my thousands of fosterees, cats & dogs alike, you will always have a tiny piece of my heart and soul. I’ll see you at the Rainbow Bridge.
To the many (far too many) people who are cruel and/or neglectful of the living creatures around them – you will burn in a very special kind of hell, make no mistake. I am more thankful than I can say that I won’t have to deal with you any more.
Goodbye from Animal Advocacy. Do keep in touch.
Muriel Lumb, Bantry, Co Cork