It's my own fault.
I shouldn't look on Facebook. Or, perhaps I shouldn't have 'Liked' half the Animal Charities in Ireland on Facebook. Then I wouldn't have to be confronted with the realities of furry life in this country.
The trouble is, I'm not great at sticking my head in the sand, either.
The realities don't make pleasant viewing, by and large, although there are (mercifully) lots of happy endings.
I know there are also lots of excuses for why things are so bad. Ireland has been in the grip of recession for a long time now. People are poor, hard-pressed, struggling to keep things together, losing jobs and homes. And, let's face it, other countries are just as bad...
But actually, the longer I think about it, the more pathetic any excuse seems to be.
This isn't Syria, or the Phillipines. We should be responsible for the animals in our care, and yet animal welfare in Ireland is in a truly shocking state.
Of course, I know there are lots of eejits like me who would give their last crust to the cat (not that my cats would look at crusts); who'd perch on the floor because the dog's got the sofa, and rush outside in a thunderstorm to make sure the outdoor critters have their umbrellas up.
|Two happy endings for two Rescues, thanks to ForDogsSake DogRescue and Great Hounds in Need|
Bur sadly, there seem to be many, many other people who just don't give a damn. Either that; or they're blind, deaf and dumb, or - worst of all - they actually choose to take out their frustrations and anger on any animal who comes within range.
It appals me to the point of sleeplessness that anyone can willingly harm an animal, yet people do it all the time.
It appals me that people can see animal abuse and neglect going on under their eyes - next door - down the road, and do nothing about it.That people can literally watch an animal die of starvation, or neglect, or injury, without intervening.
And that so few people do the one thing they could do to help - neuter/spay their own. Loads of charities offer vouchers to help with the cost of this simple operation, yet the country is overrun with strays and unwanted litters.
Mayo Cat Rescue has trapped, neutered and returned over 250 stray cats in their area this year. That is aside from all the other rescue work they do. Yet, in truth, as Maureen (who runs the charity) says: 'It's a drop in the ocean'.
If only people would look at the wider picture and see that not neutering adds exponentially to the whole sorry mess.
Considering how relatively small the population of Ireland is (somewhere round the 4 million mark), why is the animal problem so big? There seems much to answer for, and yet so few people being brought to account. And that is despite the fact that in many abuse cases, a whole parish might know what is going on.
Perhaps, worst of all, is the fact that those in an 'official' capacity appear to do least of all. From the government down, they pass the buck round and round while in the meantime, the animal charities have stepped in to pick up the pieces.
There was a picture on Facebook this week of a dead foal lying on rough grass. The photograph showed that the ground all around the poor little creature's feet and body was just a mire - it must have spent its last hours thrashing its hooves - in pain, or trying to get up perhaps. The photo was taken by Animal Heaven Animal Rescue, who responded as soon as they were called, but were too late to save the foal, although they did take its poor mother and 3 other horses away.
|A poor dead foal. Photo: Donna Tier via PAWS Animal Rescue who were instrumental in helping these horses|
AHAR is a charity that had already rescued 93 equines and 27 dogs this week, the horses from all corners of the country, both North and south. They have been on the road day and night, responding to calls to pick up horses that were starving, horses that had been dumped, horses that might have been destined for the illegal meat trade (until that bubble burst), horses that are left-overs from the good times when everyone was breeding right left and centre to make an extra buck.
Why is it always the people who are prepared to do something who end up doing everything?
About the dead foal and its mother, a local woman told this charity: 'I have been on to everyone I can think of about those poor horses, from the county council, to site owner, to environmental officer and at the end of it all, hit a brick wall. The final word was that..it all boiled down to money and what it would cost for each horse to be removed to the pound...no one would take responsibility.'
So a foal is dead, and an un-funded charity takes in the unwanted animals. Again.
What would happen if the charities didn't act until they had the money 'in place'?
They rely solely on donations? What if it's a 'thin' week - as so many weeks are?
I saw another horse picture on Facebook recently.
I couldn't make out what it was at first. I can be a bit dim like that, but afterwards, I couldn't get the image out of my head.
|Photo: Hungry Horse Outside|
Were the owners of this horse aware of its condition? The follow-on question is inevitable. If not, why not? They were, apparently, aware of the rescue attempt being made by another of this country's amazing charities, Hungry Horse Outside, but they didn't put in an appearance - then or later.
When I saw the picture, I truly thought the horse was dead, but incredibly she wasn't, and in HHO's care, she is gradually coming back to life, but to quote the charity: 'She is so unhappy, it is heartbreaking. She is being treated like a princess by the volunteers but she has lost the sparkle...she is completely uninterested in life itself. Despite all the love and care...she is unhappy.'
Some wounds don't go away overnight - if ever.
|Rachael, well but still unhappy. Photo: Hungry Horse Outside|
Back in September, I was shocked into silence by the state of some of the hens I helped re-home as part of LittleHill Animal Rescue & Sanctuary's 'Great Escape' in which 7000 chickens were saved from a battery. (You can read about it here.) The birds, in just 15 months of life, had gone from healthy young pullets to lifeless, dull dabs of skin and bone, some of them almost completely featherless, a few too far gone to want food, water or even freedom.
A Year in a Cage.
It would make a good title for a play.
Sadly, it wouldn't be a comedy. Possibly a farce. Definitely a tragedy.
|Yah Bird after several weeks of rehabilitation. She was almost completely bare to start with|
With care and individual attention, alongside those things that hens ought to be able to take for granted - like fresh air, a bit of space, natural light, shelter, somewhere to scratch - most of them are now completely restored to health and well being.
But the battery was re-stocked with another 7000 bright-eyed pullets long since.
It's not illegal, after all.
|A typcial battery. NOT the battery in question Photo: Facebook|
|Yah Bird now|
Not everyone is as lucky as the Escapee hens.
Being a long-dog lover, it's the plight of greyhounds that wrenches my guts. Perhaps the most gentle dog on the planet, the only mistake greyhounds ever made was catching our eye by running too fast. We'd never have focused on them, out of the ordinary, otherwise.
|Photo: Martin Usborne (seen on|
They are bred and bred, always hoping for that one dog who will make it to stardom and earn megabucks, but like everyone else in this world, very few make it that far, and if they do, the bright lights are short-lived.
I'm sure there are some decent racing greyhound breeders out there - at least, I hope to God there are - but the sorry truth for unrecorded numbers of greys is that once they're injured, or past it, they are 'disposed of.'
For a lucky few, this might mean being handed over to a rescue. For countless others, it means having their ears hacked off at the root (if using a stanley knife qualifies as hacking) being taken to remote woodland or a quarry somewhere and shot. They are tatooed inside their ears, so traceable. Some, God help them, are just left without food or water (possibly muzzled) lying in their own mess in tiny cages, until nature takes its course.
But the possibilities don't end there. Some greyhounds end up on a vet's pristine table, while all the blood is drained out of their bodies. They are then, of course, dead, but the blood is very useful. The dog is not.
Some unlucky dogs are exported to places like Spain where, if that's possible, life as a greyhound will be even tougher than it is here.
The gambling public don't get to see all that.
Would they care?
If the question: 'What happens to these animals?' hasn't flagged itself up in their heads, then probably not. Those who do care don't support the dog racing industry by partidipating in it.
If you want to find out more about ex-racing greyhounds, or join a protest, contact Shut down BelleVue Greyhound race track in Manchester who work tirelessly trying to stop greyhound racing and abuse of these beautiful, gentle hounds.
I'm sure there are lots of people out there who aren't involved with greyhounds. Or mutts. People who stick to purebred dogs because then you are paying for provenance, you know what's what and you can be sure of what you're buying.
It's a nice idea - but can you be sure?
If you have ever bought a puppy, did you see its mother and the place where it was reared?
Did you see anything except the room/office/van the dealer wanted you to see?
If you did, well and good. Hunky dory and tickety boo - thank heavens for dealers who actually breed dogs because they love dogs, not cash. But you surely got one of the lucky ones.
If you've ever bought a puppy that got sick soon afterwards, or didn't socialise well with people, or - worse - died - then start asking yourself serious questions.
For vast numbers of young dogs being sold out there, the truth behind the seller's sunny smile isn't so good.
More pups than you would believe are bred on puppy farms, from worn-out bitches confined for life to breed like machines in small, possibly not very clean cages, until they too are past use.
Don't buy a dog. Choose a Rescue. You'll never regret it - and nor will they. (And that goes for cats too - every animal, probably - though I don't know how many rescued gerbils there are out there...)
If you read my blog regularly, you'll know that generally I'm a pretty positive sort of person who tries to be fairly upbeat about life, but there just doesn't seem to be much 'upbeat' in all of this.
There seems, instead, to be no end to the ways in which people can make a dog suffer.
Charlie was found one winter's evening in a ditch. It was a miracle anyone saw him at all, really.
Julie, from Offaly SPCA, climbed down into the cold water and mud and somehow managed to pull him out. It was quite hard work because he was half dead, had almost no fur, was covered in injuries and was sticky and greasy.
|Charlie, in Julie's car after being pulled out of a ditch Photo: Offaly SPCA|
It took umpteen baths with warm water and gentle hands to remove the coating embedded in Charlie's skin.
Perhaps fortunately, almost all the rest of his fur came away with it, revealing bites, holes, wounds...
Between them, the vet and the charity volunteers worked out that it was -cooking oil. Old, sticky cooking oil, like a pan that isn't ever washed, just used again and again. It's not uncommon, apparently. If you smother a dog in cooking oil before using it as bait in a dog-fight, it makes the whole thing so much more entertaining and fun. Of course, it doesn't stop the dog being bitten and savaged. In fact, it probably winds the attackers into more of a frenzy, because they can't get hold of their prey properly.
What a great world we live in.
It took months for Charlie to get better. The wounds got better soon enough, with treatment. The continuing baths got his skin back to normal function, and eventually his fur started to grow again. But the other wounds? Do the wounds inside ever totally go away? His foster 'mum', and now his permanent 'mum' have brought Charlie over the threshold into a new world where he knows happiness and love, but who knows what goes on inside a dog's head. I have had rescue dogs all my life, and the ones who have been really damaged, no matter how happy they become, are only every a shadow away from their memories. All you can do is keep the shadows away.
Fortunately, love is great for banishing shadows.
|Charlie today - loved and part of a family Photo: Offaly SPCA|
|Charlie sporting a rather splendid hat - his best friend's tail! Photo: Offaly SPCA|
Charlie's story is bad enough, but sadly it's only one of many. And some contain a different kind of horror.
The tale that is snaking round every lane and down every chimney in these parts at the moment is something I can barely bring myself to think about.
There has been a courtcase, apparently. (For once.)
Someone eating in an ethnic restaurant in a town close to us found himself chewing on something that didn't 'chew'.
Apparently, it proved to be a microchip.
Which, apparently, proved to belong to a dog stolen from the other end of the country.
It is grotesque, but turning away and pretending it isn't happening doesn't make it go away.
I couldn't run an animal charity. I'd be too involved with every case I was called to. I'd never be able to let an animal go. I'd worry myself sick over every creature I hadn't been able to help. I'd lie awake even more than I do, haunted by the horror stories. But thank God for people who do run them. They work tirelessly, they face ignorance, brutality, cruelty, abuse and neglect on a daily basis, but somehow they maintain a positive outlook and keep going. They are on call 24/7 with nothing that could remotely be called a routine, or a social life, or a planned 'day off'. And far from being paid, most of them are up to their ears in debt.
What happens when their credit runs out? Do they play 'Eeny-meeney-miney-mo' about who gets rescued and who doesn't?
As I am writing this, the wind is raging out of the north, hurling hailstones at my windows. Winter looms on the horizon, racing up behind us, snapping at our heels.Thank God my dogs and cats are all in, snug in their beds, dreams of supper dancing in their heads, a warm fire kicking in the belly of the stove. The hens are in their henhouse, huddled together on the perches, their heads under their wings.
But what of the creatures up and down this country who have no one and no where?
Two friends and I, in a small attempt to help animal charities throughout Ireland, have started something small, which we hope might grow. We are all creative people - art and craft people, sewers, knitters, photographers, and we thought that if we could add value to anything we could give, it might be worth more.
We've called our venture Creating Creature Comforts because that's what we do - make things that, we hope, enhance life. What we'd like to do is sell some of the things we create in order to provide some basic creature comforts for needy animals in the care of Irish Rescues. Anything that we can give to help towards food, shelter, medical treatment and finding permanent homes, has got to be better than nothing.
A lot of people in Ireland these days - especially artists and crafters - don't have spare cash to give, but they might be willing to give something they create. I've been knitting and crotcheting patchwork blankets for just this reason. One-off colourful throws for a sofa, playroom, nursery, TV chair, petbed...
|Handmade throws for sale. €65 each plus p+p - of which €25 will go to an Animal Charity (approx 38%)|
What do you make?
We'd love to hear from you if you'd like to join in. The idea is to offer items - singly or in bulk - for sale, and give a minimum of 25% from each sale to one of Ireland's hard-pressed charities (which leaves the producer money to pay for materials etc). If we can get this going, maybe we could even feature a 'Charity of the Month', and highlight what they do while raising a bit of cash for them. It goes without saying that we don't want anyone who already gives to a charity to stop doing so - this is something completely outside that loop. We hope that maybe, by coming at the same problem from another angle - people looking for crafts, gifts, cards etc - we can even get more (and different) people thinking about the animals around us. Who knows?
It's worth a try.
The first project we are undertaking is a 2014 calendar. The photographs are by Martina Killian, and feature the animals on her own smallholding. The pictures are warm and often amusing and represent the side of life we all need to focus on - animals living the lives they ought to be living.
You know what they say, big oaks etc - everything has to start somewhere. You may already have bought a calendar, but hey! Put one in the loo, or the kid's bedroom, anywhere, and help us raise money for animal charities in Ireland. €5 from each calendar will be split between Sligo Animal Rescue - you've got to start at home! - and LittleHill Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, the charity which brought us together to form this small endeavour.
A website is on its way, but for the moment Creating Creature Comforts is on Facebook, and this blog.
You can contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org or by leaving a comment below.
Please buy a calendar and help us create more happy endings - it will be great reminder throughout next year of how things can be for animals if we all work together!
We can re-write the old rhyme:
Catch a Rescue -
Don't let go!
|Some pictures from our 2014 Animal Charity Calendar|
Calendar €10 plus €3.00 p+p (we can post worldwide)
To pay via PayPal or a card, go to the Buy Now button in the right hand column of this blog, near the top of the page.
Or go to Creating Creature Comforts Facebook page and use the link there.
Thank you for helping.