Seanad Debate on the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011 – Contribution by Senator Averil Power

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Seanad Debate on the Welfare of Greyhounds Bill 2011 – Contribution by Senator Averil Power

 

I welcome the Minister of State and join my Fianna Fáil colleagues in supporting the Bill. Greyhound racing is a fine sport which, as Senator Ó Domhnaill mentioned, makes a significant contribution to the economy. It is also a great night out at a reasonable cost, which is an important point to remember in the current economic environment.

 

As has been pointed out in the debate so far, the industry is generally pretty well regulated and, on the whole, has a good record. This legislation, by building and improving on the self-regulation that has existed, will help to safeguard the reputation of the Irish greyhound industry at home and abroad while ensuring the animals are properly treated. I support the Bill.

 

I would like to take the opportunity, while the Minister of State is here, to draw the attention of the House to several other animal welfare issues.

 

Firstly, I would like to highlight the delay of the Government in enforcing the new legislation to deal with puppy farms, the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, which was brought through both Houses some time ago but has not yet been signed into law by the Minister, Deputy Hogan.

 

I understand TV3 is broadcasting a special report on puppy farms tonight – Members will have seen the advertisements – and I commend TV3 for keeping a spotlight on the issue.

 

There is no doubt that the majority of people who breed dogs see to their welfare, look after them properly and would not dream of doing them any harm, but unfortunately there are also people who could not care less about the animals that are in their custody, not only neglecting their basic needs but sometimes inflicting incredible cruelty on the defenceless animals they are supposed to care for.

 

There are reports on the ISPCA website, which I read earlier, which highlight cogently and emotionally the reality of unregulated puppy farms. An ISPCA worker reflects, based on his own experience, “The heartbreak of seeing such sociable animals as dogs locked in confined cages/pens, never let out to sit in the sun, never exercised, withering emotionally till they lose all interest in living is too much to accept.” He speaks of seeing puppies, at puppy farms that he has visited over the years with the ISPCA, with flea-infested coats, with backsides encased in excrement, trying to suckle from mothers whose teats are covered in filth. The worst part of his account is the description of the fear that such animals display. He says that because they have never been socialised or handled gently, they cower and freeze when lifted, expecting the worst. Some never recover, as the Minister of State will be aware, from the time they spend in puppy farms.

 

I adopted a dog from a rescue centre five years ago. I don’t know what its history is – you don’t know, when you get a dog from a rescue centre, what its history is – but when I brought him home he was petrified with fear and would cower if anyone went anywhere near him. Now, although he is generally very happy, he still freaks out and gets scared by the slightest noise. No matter how much you look after and train a rehomed dog or reassure it that there is nothing to be afraid of, many animals will live with the scars of their experience for ever.

 

The legislation was passed in the House a long time ago, and the delays in commencing the Act are inexcusable. The Government has stated that it wanted to wait so that it could be introduced with the Bill we are discussing today, but that is illogical and unnecessary. As we have noted, the greyhound industry in general has good standards and this Bill merely supplements those, but puppy farming in general is unregulated, and I do not see why we could not have commenced the Dog Breeding Establishments Act much earlier. I urge the Minister to ensure it is implemented straight away.

 

I would also like to take the opportunity to raise the need for the promised animal health and welfare Bill, which I know is on the Government’s agenda as it is mentioned in the Programme for Government and the legislative programme. It needs to be introduced as soon as possible. Work on this Bill has been ongoing in the Department for years. The last Government started the process of updating legislation that is 100 years old. Under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 – which was amended in part in 1965, but much of it is 100 years old – the maximum fine for somebody who mistreats a horse, a dog or any other animal to an intolerable extent is £25. Obviously, that is not an incentive to behave responsibly. We need to introduce modern legislation with appropriate penalties.

 

In addition to legislation, we need greater public information on how to treat animals properly. Sometimes one meets people who think they are doing the right thing with their animals. Much mistreatment is by people who genuinely care for their dogs but fall prey to myths about what is good for them. People say it is cruel not to allow a female dog to have at least one litter, but do not think about where the pups will end up – in many cases they will have to be put down, and if not, they will go on to have other unwanted puppies. The scandal of the number of puppies that are put down here is something we have never really faced. There are groups such as Spay Ireland which do incredible work and have managed in recent years to bring down the number of healthy dogs being put down from 30,000 to 6,000. They have made incredible progress, but there are still 6,000 dogs in good health being put down every year.

 

We need to make potential dog owners more aware of their responsibilities. The Government, when considering the animal health and welfare Bill, should look to the case of Switzerland, which, as well as having some of the best animal welfare legislation in the world, also has detailed codes for looking after different types of animal and to guide people who are making a decisions about whether to bring home a dog, a cat or another animal. From my experience, dogs are extremely expensive, which many people are not aware of when they take them home. It is not just the cost of food but the cost of veterinary care and accommodation for the dog if one wants to go on holidays, for instance. People need to be fully aware of that and prepared for the costs involved before they bring an animal home.

 

The Government should require that every pet be microchipped. I know this Bill deals with tattooing of animals in the greyhound industry, and the Dog Breeding Establishments Act will ensure that dogs are microchipped in official breeding establishments. However, we need to microchip every dog. The cost is minuscule compared to the cost of keeping a dog properly. This should be required for every dog so that it can be found if it goes astray. Dogs can be registered online at fido.ie. Then if a dog is found, a vet can upload the microchip number so that the dog can be reclaimed straight away. However, microchipping is also important in preventing cruelty. If an animal is found abandoned at the side of the road or mistreated, a vet can tell straight away whom it is registered to.

 

The lack of funding for the animal welfare charities here should be addressed. I appreciate that the Government does not have spare cash sitting around, so we need to examine the licence fee. I think that most people who care for animals would be happy to pay a bit more knowing that money was being set aside for ISPCA and for dog wardens to look after animals that have been cast aside.

 

I fully support the Bill before the House. I urge the Minister of State to ensure the Dog Breeding Establishments Act is commenced by asking the Minister, Deputy Hogan, to sign the necessary orders to allow its enforcement. I also ask the Government to introduce more general animal health and welfare legislation.

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