Adopt, don't shop. That’s the message animal welfare organisations want to send out loud and clear to prospective pet owners this Christmas. Cathy Davey is best known as one of Ireland’s finest singer-songwriters, but she’s also the co-founder of My Lovely Horse Rescue, an animal rescue charity. Cathy spoke to Ray D’Arcy about what happened with people getting dogs during Covid:
"It was kind of a lovely thing that happened during Covid – the pounds emptied. Everyone fancied getting a dog to nurture and look after over Covid. What we’re seeing now, 2 years later, is probably half those dogs are being sent back to the pound."
This has made a regular problem worse because, as Cathy explained, pounds and rescues now have twice the number of dogs that they usually have:
"We have the existing number of dogs that people don’t want and the additional dogs that were bred for to facilitate the people who wanted them, so it’s more, more, more."
Such was the demand during Covid that ridiculous amounts of money were being paid – upwards of €2,000-€3,000 for puppies. The Covid-related surge in demand led to mixed feelings for Cathy and her colleagues in My Lovely Horse Rescue:
"We were so overjoyed that dogs were getting to spend time with people who were home, but we knew it was coming and every rescue centre worth their weight in gold were saying, 'Lads, there's a tidal wave coming.’ ... What’s going to happen all these dogs when people go back to work and the dogs have separation anxiety because they’ve had their owners with them all the time. Suddenly they’re left alone and then the behavioural issues arise."
Cathy reckons that most of the people getting dogs during the pandemic were doing it for the first time, so they didn’t have the experience to cope with the kind of challenging behaviour they may have seen from their pets once they returned to the office.
"For your average person who’s like, ‘Why is my dog tearing up my couch when I go away? I can’t deal with this and the stresses of extra costs.’"
My Lovely Horse Rescue came about when Cathy met sisters Martina and Deborah Kenny, the other co-founders. Cathy was involved in dog rescue at the time and it started happening a lot that a dog rescue situation would also involve horses and no one knew what to do with the horses. Cathy watched it develop into quite the crisis as horses were put down because there was nowhere for them to go. And then the three founders took action:
"We just decided to open our doors and it was a new venture, it was a way of helping another species. I grew up with horses, but just as a hobby, you know, when I was a kid I had a pony in the garden. So now I know I knew feck all, but at the time I was like, ‘Oh, I know a little bit about it.’ And we all learned together and it developed into this monstrosity of wonder."
Now, the monstrosity of wonder has hundreds of animals in its care. It has three farms, a lot of foster homes and it provides all the veterinary care and the feed for the animals in foster care, as well as the ones in the centres. There are horses, dogs, goats and pigs. Pigs? Don’t they all live on farms already?
"One of the problems is people don’t see pigs and understand their behaviour. And they became quite fashionable to have as pet pigs and then the reality kicks in. And they’re not being neutered and so you’re getting multiple piglets from people who aren’t neutering them. And they’re under the radar as well. The Department of Agriculture wouldn’t know how many there are."
Pet pigs – who knew? The number of people that are trying to leave unwanted animals with shelters and rescues is alarming – Cathy tells Ray the situation is desperate – and that’s why charities have come up with a campaign for Christmas – Adopt, Don't Shop:
"It’s a brilliant campaign that we’ve launched and it’s just asking lots of celebs to say, in the way that they can, with their dog beside them, ‘Adopt, don’t shop.’ If you’re interested in getting a dog, giving a dog a home, there are incredible dogs who are couch potatoes, who are sitting in a cold kennel, you know, because it's not in someone’s home, it’s outside, these kennels in pounds and shelters. They would love to be beside you."