On Monday, 24th February, I set off for Castletownbere on the beautiful Beara peninsula. I was to meet Shonagh, one of the excellent vets from Kenmare Veterinary Centre. With her was Shadow (picture to come), an adorable three-legged rescue animal representative, and we’d all been invited to input to the Beara Community School‘s CSPE Animal Rights Action Project on behalf of KLAWS Kerry.
I want to share the visit here – just because I can’t contain my delight. But I also want to summarise the issues that came up (so many!), with relevant links for the class to follow through – and I thought it would be appropriate to share that information too.
Trap Neuter Return workshops and information sessions around the country in the coming months, and am somewhat more distracted than usual (more about that coming soon!).
But the gang, of course, had a copy of the questions when I got there – great questions, around a topic I’m passionate about. So I was flying!
Shonagh had prepared a summary of responsible guardianship, which touched on many of the questions raised – and I listened with interest, along with the rest of the class, putting my hand up where appropriate (Have you ever been scratched by a cat? Er … yes!). And then it was my turn *woot!* I had a ball! It’s so great to see a group of young people so interested in animal welfare – it did my heart good. And I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my own and KLAWS experiences within this much-needed voluntary sector.
And what really MMD – at the end of the class, one of the girls came up with a card she’d designed herself – a terrific design based around KLAWS logo – and inside it were signatures from the class and a ‘thank you’ to KLAWS for helping them out (picture to come soon from Shonagh!). AND a donation to the organisation from a whip-round they’d had amongst themselves. I was blown away by the care, consideration and empathy of this crowd of teenagers. Maybe there’s hope after all!
And, to cap it all, we were fed soup and baguettes before we were sent on our way! If all school visits are like that I’m totally up for many more like it. I want to send Big Thanks to the project participants and their teacher, Margaret Keohane, for making us feel so welcome, for looking after us so well – and for inspiring us with their interest and care.
3G CSPE Animal Rights Action Project 2015
Civic, Social and Political Education seeks to be affective and to equip pupils with the skills and understanding of processes which enable them to see, decide, judge and act. Its employment of active and co-operatively structured learning methodologies enable and empower the pupil to become an active and participative young person. ~ Department of Education, CSPE Syllabus, Government of Ireland, Dublin, 1996
Being happily child-free, I’d no idea about this inspiring education programme. And was delighted to be asked to participate. It goes without saying, enabling and empowering responsible citizenship around animal welfare and rights issues is central to what I do with Animal Advocacy.
The questions the project raised were relevant, interesting and well thought out. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share them with you, and to give the class some extra information and links to follow up on. Each question is followed by Sabine’s response from KLAWS in quotes. And I’ve followed that with additional information and relevant links. I’m doing this quickly, so am not including everything that’s out there. And, since my knowledge is influenced by my animal rights leanings, I’ll not be able to give a balanced amount of links for every side of the discussions. But the information’s out there – and in some instances I’ll suggest further lines of enquiry to follow up on.
I hope you find it useful. But do keep in mind, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animal welfare.
The rest of this article is also published in pdf for ease of reading:
Introduction to Animal Welfare
But before we look at the questions I think it’s important to look at the definitions of Animal Welfare and Animal Rights, and how the positions differ. Where do you, as an individual, stand on the continuum? For the majority, it’s seldom straightforward. See What Kind of Animal are You? for more information.
The basics of animal welfare are considered in terms of the Five Freedoms.
And also keep in mind – when we’re talking about Animal Welfare we’re more precisely talking about Non-Human-Animal Welfare – humans are animals too! It’s easy to forget that.
And lastly, while I do foster dogs from time to time, my own experience is primarily with felines through TNR and fostering – as a result my own responses will reflect that.
1. How long has KLAWS been active in Kenmare?
Not much to add there really, except to note that KLAWS is pretty active, not just in Kenmare, but throughout Co Kerry, due to its widespread support and volunteers.
2. Where did the idea to start KLAWS come from?
A few individuals noticed a large number of stray cats and dogs around the Kenmare area and tried to catch, neuter and rehome some of them. When it became apparent that the veterinary costs involved were too high to take on, a public meeting was called. More people were willing to help and KLAWS (Kenmare Locality Animal Welfare Society) was formed.
While I’ve done a variety of voluntary work for KLAWS, I’ve also volunteered for a number of other organisations around Co Cork, nationwide and abroad. My work’s included: Trap Neuter Return (my main interest), fostering, animal transport, enews, webpage design, fundraising, homechecks & adoptions, adopting difficult-to-home felines myself and arranging the odd lunch (gotta have a light side!). These include RAWR, Cork CAT, Community Cats Network, CSPCA, West Cork Animal Welfare Group, DAWG, Feral Cats Ireland and New Start Cat Rescue.
One of my FAQs is I’d like to open a rescue centre – how do I start? Find out more at the link.
3. How often do you rescue an animal?
Nearly every day.
In 2013, an average of ten dogs were killed every day in Irish pounds. Although a horrific number, it’s a huge improvement on the 45 that were killed every day in 2005. An average 42 dogs were found every day by pounds nationwide, either abandoned, found or surrendered, in 2013. I did an analysis of the Cork City, County Cork and Nationwide stats in 2013 – you can see it here. And you’ll find links to the annual stats from the pounds here.
Note that dog wardens are responsible for dealing with stray dogs. But rescues often step in. As a result, it’s important for rescues to develop good working relationships with their wardens, where possible.
Questions: What does ‘rescue’ mean? If you take a stray animal in and don’t neuter it – is that rescue? If you take an ill animal in and don’t take it to a vet – is that rescue? If you see a young wild animal on it’s own – is it necessarily abandoned? Should you pick it up? If you steal an abused animal from its guardian – is that rescue? (No – it’s illegal, and the guardian will most likely just get another animal to abuse – the answer is prosecution and prevention.)
4. What were some of the worst conditions you found when rescuing animals while volunteering for KLAWS?
Dogs left behind starving in sheds or closed-in areas after owners moved away. Dogs, puppies, cats, kittens, horses left abandoned/dumped in the middle of nowhere with a few ‘lucky’ ones being found near death due to starvation, injuries and ill-health.
the whole story here.
Questions: Animal abuse includes both cruelty and neglect – what’s the difference? What should you do if you see animal abuse? Who should you call? (ISPCA Cruelty Helpline.) Can you think why people might not report abuse? How could they be persuaded?
5. Do you find that there are many cases of animal cruelty where the owner of the animal is responsible?
Sadly there is still too many of those cases. Sometimes it is a matter of ignorance and lack of knowledge because people believe a sick or injured animal is able to recover by itself.
Sabine is talking about Freedom 3 – Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. I’ve found neglect more common than outright cruelty, as Sabine says. And sometimes it’s difficult to identify the guardian – microchipping will help.
Here’s where I brought up the huge correlation between animal abuse, child abuse, domestic abuse and elder abuse – known as The Link. This link is so well documented that, in the States, social services and animal welfare services work together wherever they find abuse. Chances are, if someone is abusing an animal, they’re also violent in other ways, psychologically or physically. If you don’t report animal abuse, you may be enabling other crimes. See Understanding The Link Between Violence Towards Animals and People.
Questions: Animal Rights would use the word ‘guardian’ rather than ‘owner’ – can you explain why? Who ‘owns’ stray animals? If no-one owns them, who is responsible for them? Legally? Morally? If someone feeds a stray cat for a couple of days, are they responsible for her? What if they feed her for four months? A year?
6. Do you find that KLAWS is busy over the Christmas holidays more than the rest of the year?
Not much of a difference to the rest of the year. We believe it has to do with less numbers of pet owners in rural areas compared to urban areas.
As Shonagh pointed out, often it’s the period after the festive season, even two months later, when most rescues and pounds find their intake shooting up as people grow bored with the companion they took in. Some rescues don’t adopt out just before Christmas for this reason. But if rescues homecheck, I feel there’s no reason not to home at this time. Rescues that home check have fewer returns than rescues who don’t. It’s as simple as that.
Questions: Why Home Check? If most people see animals as disposable products, does that make it okay? What if the government legislates in that way? If we could understand why people abandon animals could we change their behaviour? Or prevent it?
7. Do you find it easy to rehome animals that have suffered serious injuries in the past?
It is never easy but eventually we find the right home, however long it might take.
Many companions who have passed through my house and heart through fostering have arrived in a terrible state, either through cruelty, neglect or abandonment (which is probably the ultimate neglect). Some of them don’t make it – we’re just too late. Many of them respond well to veterinary treatment – others we thought were near the end show an enormous will to live. I have a gallery of some of the worst – many of the images are disturbing but it also shows some very rewarding recoveries – The Ugly Side of Animal Welfare and the Rewards. People can be very sympathetic towards disabled animals, and sometimes finding homes is relatively easy. But it’s doubly important to homecheck in these instances, to ensure potential adopters are fully aware of what they are taking on.
In my experience, the hardest to home are those with short life-expectancies, or whose ongoing medical treatment is likely to be longterm and/or expensive. Usually they’ll end up in long-term fostercare – or adopted by someone like myself. But it’s important for rescuers to rehome whenever they can – it’s all too easy to end up with large numbers of permanent residents. And that’s not always best for the companion animal.
I currently have five permanent residents (Curly, the cutest genetic mutant ever; Moe, ataxia; Dutchess, asthma; Miss Tipsy, elderly, toothless, arthritic; Barley, mild ataxia, chronic snots) and three long-term fosterees from KLAWS (Larry, FIV+, chronic snots; Rodney, FIV+, Lexi, healthy!). Four long-term residents is normally my maximum, to be able to give them enough individual attention. Some rescues have forty, some over one hundred.
And money is important for rescues – whether animal welfare or animal rights, there’s no point in spending so much you find you can no longer afford to carry on with rescue. This happens all the time.
Questions: Were we right to spend money on the animals in the Ugly Side gallery? Some of them? All of them? How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye to an ailing companion? (You seldom will. Ask the vet.) What do you do if you have several sick animals desperately needing veterinary treatment and no money to spare?
8. What is the most common diseases found in rescued animals and how is it treated?
Usually worm infestation which can lead to death particularly in young puppies and kittens. Dosing with various worming products is the common treatment. Flea infestation is also a problem as this can lead to other illnesses (check with vet). Use of anti-flea products would be the usual treatment.
Apart from parasites, amongst the felines population flus and herpes are common in cats that haven’t been cared for. Both diseases are treatable and, if they’d been caught early needn’t have been a problem at all. In some cases the herpes is so severe the cat will need her eye removed. These diseases can easily be prevented through vaccination. Companion cats should be vaccinated at eight weeks, given a booster three weeks later, and vaccinated annually from then on. For dogs it’s similar.
Undernourishment isn’t a disease, but it’s a common problem in rescue animals. This can then lead to low immune and vulnerability to other diseases. If extreme it can kill. It’s important not to overfeed an undernourished animal, but to build up it’s food intake little and often.
FIV/FeLV are not common, perhaps 2% of the population if Ireland’s population is statistically similar to the US and UK.
Questions: Is not vaccinating a companion animal neglect? How about not worming? When we pick up ill abandoned animals we have to consider – have they become ill through abandonment, or were they abandoned because they were ill?
9. How many animals do you rehome every year?
Nationally, the pounds rehomed 38% of the dogs they took in, they passed 39% to rescue and killed 23%. But many of the pounds don’t home check. This means that a good percentage of the homes they rehome to will, in turn, abandon the animal.
Questions: I’m afraid I’m running out of questions at this stage 😉
10. What is the most commonly rescued animal?
Dogs and cats.
Housing different species in the same kennels is not often workable. So many rescues cater to specific species or breeds. TNR is different from rescue and deals with cats only. Some sanctuaries will focus on horses. Seal Rescue Ireland, as you might guess, rescues abandoned and ill seals. Irish Wildlife Matters is an excellent resource for Irish wildlife. And guess what the National Exotic Animal Sanctuary caters to? Many rescues include information provision and awareness raising around their animal of choice as part of their services.
11. How many volunteers do you have in KLAWS?
Around 20 active volunteers with various responsibilities like manning the phone, catching, collecting animals, TNR, taking them to and from the vet, fostering, carrying out homechecks before rehoming an animal, helping in the KLAWS Shop, fundraising, educating people, etc. Then there are KLAWS Members who pay an annual fee of €25 to support our work.
Keep in mind that any rescue will have a core group. Most rescues in Ireland consist entirely of volunteers. Only larger rescues and government welfare organisations have paid staff. Not many people realise paid staff are something to aim for – someone who is paid to do the job and turns up every day as a result. For most people in the core groups, animal welfare is central to their lives. Many spend all their savings. But the organisation could never survive without the myriad people who input to any extent, large or small. Some people enjoy management, most people like to get on with one thing – eg. fostering, transporting. Almost nobody wants to do the accounts. And they need doing.
Having a group of people means a pool of varied skills – one person can never do what a group can. But the downside is personal differences, especially in animal welfare. It’s a very emotive subject and, partly because of the varied philosophies (remember the welfare/rights divide), there is a great deal of falling out. The biggest problem in animal welfare is the people.
Questions: What skills would it require to get a group of disparate people to work effectively together? How would you deal with differences in philosophy? With dispute? Who’s going to do the accounts?
12. How often do you put down an animal?
Only in very rare cases where an animal would suffer due to a medical condition and couldn’t be saved.
KLAWS is a No-Kill Shelter and many rescues aim for this. Many pounds are Kill Shelters. Low-Kill Shelters lie somewhere in between. Definitions here. No-Kill Nation has excellent information on No-Kill strategies.
Note that language can be very important, and emotive, when discussing these issues. Euthanasia is often used wrongly – it’s also called mercy killing. Euthanasia is
the act of putting to death painlessly or allowing to die, as by withholding extreme medical measures, a person or animal suffering from an incurable, esp. a painful, disease or condition.
Killing a healthy animal is not ‘euthanasia’, it is ‘killing’. But the inappropriate use of the word ‘euthanasia’ is less emotive and more ‘bearable’ for those who might have a problem with ‘killing’.
Questions: Think of a shelter that takes in hundreds of animals in a day, and only homes one hundred a day (it happens in the States) – what are their alternatives? If you had to make decisions about killing healthy companion animals in such a situation, how would you choose who died? Why do you think No-Kill strategies are more successful in wealthy areas?
13. What is your primary source of funding?
Income from the KLAWS Shop and various fund-raising events. For example, we have a table quiz coming up on the 27th of March in the Brooklane Hotel.
The government allocated €1.8 million to animal welfare organisations this year. This is an increase of zero on last year. If I’ve done my maths right, this is 2% of the allocation to the greyhound and racing gambling industries who received €64 million – an increase of €14 million. Note that the pound statistics not only exclude all the animals dealt with by rescues, they also exclude the enormous numbers of ‘disappeared’ greyhounds that result from the racing industry.
Questions: Who do you think should be funding rescues? Government? The public? The wealthy? Should they be able to fund themselves? How? What percentage of income from dog licences goes towards rescue? Should any of it? Commercial greyhound racing is illegal in 39 states – why?
14. What advice would you give to people when caring for their pets?
A cute little kitten and a cute little puppy will grow up to live with you for many years to come. Cats are somewhat independent and don’t need training but they do crave love and company, and need to be fed well to be healthy and fit to catch mice and escape danger like a fox or dog. They also need suitable shelter if living outdoors, like a shed with straw bedding on a farm. Regular worm and anti-pest (flea, tick) treatment and vaccinations ensure that cats are less likely to pick up diseases. It is most important to have cats spayed/neutered at an early age (4 to 6 months) to keep numbers at a sustainable level and to prevent inbreeding.
Puppies need a lot of loving attention to be house-trained and learn some basic rules like recall (to come when called), walking on a lead, sit and not to jump up on people – and very important to be socialized with people and other dogs. Dogs need exercise – how much depends on the size and breed. So its very important to get the right dog for your circumstances; ask yourself if you have a large enough and secure property for the dog to get a good run, or if you have the time and energy to take the dog for long walks. Maybe a less energetic dog is more suited to your needs.
All dogs big or small are dependant on their owners to be looked after. They need suitable shelter, food and water and regular health checks, worm, flea and tick prevention treatment and vaccinations.
Most dogs are bred for a purpose – like sheep dogs for herding sheep, terriers for catching and killing vermin or springer spaniels for hunting – and when kept as pets need a lot of play time or they get bored and depressed and often misbehave.
Dogs should be spayed/neutered between 6 and 8 months to prevent unwanted puppies.
Last but not least you want to be sure that you can afford to keep a pet animal. There is nothing more heart breaking for both you and your animal, than if you have to give up an animal you love and that loves you! We have seen this happening all too often!
So when you have thought about and considered all these points and would like to give a Rescue Animal a good loving home, we will be happy to try and find the right companion for you – and the Animal will be sure to love you back.
For every Animal homed through us we have to ask for a Donation to cover Vet bills and Food.
Note that cats can be neutered at eight weeks or 1kg, so long as they are healthy – it’s called Early Age Neutering. Unfortunately it’s not common in Ireland just yet.
Also note that cats should not be fed cow’s milk. I know a lot of them love it – but I’ll bet you love lots of things that aren’t good for you – if you don’t, you know someone who does. Cats are lactose intolerant – and very young kittens in particular can become seriously ill, even die, if they’ve cow’s milk in their diet. Orphaned kittens should be fed a mother’s milk substitute, available from vets. Older cats drink water.
Cork County Council have a good summary of the legalities of dog guardianship here. Full summary of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) here. There’s very little legal back-up for cats. For information on animal welfare legislation generally see here.
Questions: Why are dog guardians legally required to keep a collar and tag on their dog? Why is microchipping going to be a legal requirement for dogs soon? (One reason for both is directly related to rescue.) Why do you think neither are required for cats? Should it be? There’s no specific legislation for animal welfare organisations – should there be?
15. Do you agree keeping animals in zoos and circuses to entertain human-beings is selfish and inhuman?
Yes and this should be outlawed!
It’s very ‘human’, but it is also ‘inhumane’. Animal Welfare would say ‘no’, Animal Rights would say ‘yes’, inbetweenies would say ‘it depends’.
Zoos – as with many animal rights issues, the general public wants them, the scientists want them, some more traditional conservationists want them, businesses, tourists and tourism, etc. – they’re here to stay for the foreseeable. Certainly in Ireland.
Questions: What do you think of the issues raised in Until There Are None? How do you feel about Fota Wildlife Park? If zoos are here to stay – what is necessary from an Animal Welfare perspective? From an Animal Rights one?
16. Bullfighting, fox hunting and whale-hunting are part of some countries traditions. Do you think that Spain, England and Japan have a right to continue these traditions?
Absolutely not – and hare coursing in Ireland would fall under the same category!
As I said in class, they have a legal right to continue. Every democratic country’s legislation is written and rewritten by the government voted in by the people. And the majority rules. Moral rights and legal rights can be the same, or they can be miles apart. Beliefs are often formed from inadequate information. People have argued in the past, and still argue today, that animals have no feelings, no emotions, no consciousness. Modern scientific study prove otherwise. But people are resistant to change.
And finally, it seems relevant here to mention Marc Bekoff – one of my favourite scientific animal authors. He writes very accessibly for the public, on animal behaviour, cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds) and behavioral ecology. He writes about animal consciousness and social behaviours. If you want convincing, scientific arguments for animal rights – he’s your man.
Questions: Do people get the government they vote for? In my own experience, poorer countries often have a worse animal welfare record than wealthy ones. Why would that be? What percentage of the Irish population do you think would adhere to Animal Welfare philosophy? What percentage Animal Rights? What percentage Irish politicians? How do people form their moral philosophies? How are they changed? Can they be?
Did you make it this far? Wow! Congratulations! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about issues that I’m passionate about. I hope you found it useful. You guys are the future. I hope you make it a good one – for both human and non-human animals. Thanks for inviting me to your school!
I talked about Animal Welfare through to Animal Rights. Other animal philosophies include: Animal Ethics, Conservation and Deep Ecology.
Differences in animal philosophies can often lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings in the animal welfare community. As can a misperceived association of violence with animal rights campaigners (in fact the percentage of violent campaigners is very, very small). Perhaps disputes could be minimised if everyone interpreted animal rights the way Marc Gold described the notion in 1995 (quoted in Waldau, 2011):
“The term animal rights is nothing more than a useful kind of shorthand for a movement based on the recognition that non-human animals live purposeful emotional lives and are as capable of suffering as humans … kindness and tolerance for those different and weaker than ourselves are amongst the highest possible human aspirations.”