Growing up, I was always drawn towards animals. Indeed, I used to tell people I wanted to be a vet. And I did, until I was informed about the birthing process of calves.
Having taken a totally different career path, I occasionally found myself with some free afternoons. This is how I first got involved with MADRA (Mutts Anonymous Dog Rescue and Adoption), a Connemara-based dog rescue and adoption service.
I remember my very first visit to the kennels and how in awe I was of the fabulous work being done by the founders, Marina Fiddler and Tara Nic Dhiarmada, as well as the other volunteers who keep the dogs fed, watered and exercised with very little thanks except for the wag of a tail of course, which I have since learned is often all the thanks that you need.
The kennels were busy that first day and, in my innocence, I thought that all the pedigree dogs must be boarding, as surely no one would surrender a Golden Retriever or a Springer Spaniel? Very quickly, however, it became clear that I had a lot to learn about the dog rescue world, as all of these dogs had been abandoned, surrendered or found straying.
After walking as many of the dogs as I could before my legs gave up on me, I sat down with the founders and discovered some staggering facts about dog ownership. I finally understood why this charity was not interested in re-homing dogs to the first available home and they would only re-home to someone who was a suitable match for the dog in question.
My own dog choices made me cringe, knowing that I had made so many of the mistakes that MADRA come across every day. I too had fallen for those velvety soft spaniel pup ears. I chose a high energy breed when I wasn’t at home all day and should have chosen an older, less active dog. More importantly, I should have adopted from a rescue like MADRA, GSPCA or EGAR, where they could have advised me that my floorboards would warp and my doors would get scratched, among other household destruction. Thankfully, I have great patience and have managed to adjust to my high-spirited but lovable mutts.
Although MADRA is extremely stretched just trying to take care of the day-to-day running of the kennels, everyone involved understands the importance of looking at the bigger picture and helping to educate people who, like me, make silly impulse decisions. This is where my role really took shape, working alongside the other volunteers to organise awareness events, such as adoption days, training days and the MADRA Dog Expo. These events also double up as fundraising initiatives for the €120,000 running costs associated with the two charity shops in Moycullen and Westside, and the fabulous work of volunteers who organise other events for MADRA throughout the year.
MADRA also run training and education programmes in the local community, including visits to local schools to help educate young people about responsible dog ownership, which will hopefully prevent the younger generation making the same mistakes as their predecessors.
These mistakes are evident annually when the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government release the national and local dog control statistics. While the fantastic work of rescues is obvious when you consider the reduction in the number of dogs being put-to-sleep, the saddest part of this figure for me is the massive increase in the number of stray dogs reported each year. The reduced euthanasia rate in Co. Galway (83% in 2005 to 14% in 2011) is fantastic, but the number of dogs being surrendered or found straying in the county has increased by 23 per cent. This does not include the number of stray dogs taken in by members of the public.
This tells us that we need to work harder to educate people and, in order to do this, we need extra support from our community. We also ask all the dog-owners out there to take the time to assess whether they can improve the health and welfare of dogs in their care and in their community by neutering and vaccinating their own pets, getting training if necessary, and encouraging people to think adoption first.