Many people, when they get a dog, do it to accessorise their lives

Our relationship to animals is one of possession, a human privilege. It would be both kinder and safer to reframe that relationship as one of guardianship

The meet was set. A car park off the M50. She opened the back of her van, whipped out a scanner and established which puppy was ours. She handed him over quickly. He was tiny, his eyes still had that bluey hue of very young babies. The arrangement was just like a puppy farm deal, but the exact opposite, because I was meeting Marina Fiddler of Madra, a Galway-based dog rescue service that rehomes abandoned dogs and other animals. This fella – we’ve called him Ranger – was one of seven Border Collie pups found outside a Galway dog pound where they were left overnight, cold, wet, covered in poo, riddled with worms and fleas. He was eight weeks old.

No one was more surprised than my husband to find we were now the adoptive parents of a second Collie in the space of a year. Except maybe Plum, our first Collie, whom we adopted in 2021.

Our friends are slightly appalled, “Irish twins?” The latest addition to our family, arriving just 12 months after the last, is ridiculous: his belly still swollen and crusty with scabs. But with his tartan bib, enormous fluffy ears, freckled nose, and a mouth stitched on like a teddy bear, he soon won over those who thought he was a four-legged friend too far.

I am at a loss to understand the dumping. Marina explains that in Madra’s rural catchment, these tend to be accidental litters of farm dogs, generally working animals like our Collies, whose reputation for being highly intelligent is sometimes code for higher maintenance to time-poor consumers.


I look at their cute faces and wonder if they would, left to their own devices, go on a killing spree, like the dogs who killed 80 sheep in Tipperary last week. The incident came on the heels of another 50 sheep killed in December by two dogs in Offaly, and 12 killed in Kildare. In the wake of these incidents, Cork County veterinary officers have called for a requirement that dog owners take out liability insurance.

Meanwhile in Dublin, in the courtyard of the Red Stables in St Anne’s Park where “dogs must be kept on a lead at all times”, I’ve come upon a Staffordshire Bull Terrier wandering about while its owners queued for ice-cream, and we’ve watched a Cavalier King Charles be fatally injured by another dog. Another friend’s Cocker Spaniel was attacked as she walked it on a lead on the beach; the owners of the attacking animal, an XL – or American – Bully, screamed at her “run”, as it approached. We say, “It could have been a child.” And sometimes it is. Nine-year-old Alejandro Miszan was also mauled by an XL Bully (not a breed on the restricted list) in November. This is a perennial occurrence. As with violence against women, for decades we have stopped and shuddered. Then forgotten about it until it happens again.

In Sweden and Switzerland, dog owners’ insurance is a requirement. While there is merit in the proposal, given the high cost of insurance in Ireland, creating another class of insured persons would be unwise, and the requirement to have it impossible to enforce.

Existing laws do need to be improved and enforced. For example, dogs are legally required to be microchipped, but, nonsensically, the four Irish microchip databases do not join up, and are not linked to the dog licence, another legal requirement. Lynn Boylan’s Animal Health and Welfare (Dogs) Bill 2022, at second stage in the Seanad, seeks to remedy that.

Further, ownership of certain types of dogs needs to be banned. This opinion is a political crowd pleaser but won’t be popular with some animal welfare advocates. These breeds are often abused, baited and end up stuck in rescues. They have too much power to risk them ending up in the wrong hands.

It is a given that greater resources are needed to educate, investigate and enforce existing laws. Last December, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue announced funding of €5.8 million, an increase of €2 million, to 99 animal welfare charities.

But no amount of money or regulation can do away with hoarding (accumulating large numbers of companion animals who end up being neglected) or abandoning animals, or recklessly or intentionally letting them harm others, without a change in mindset and a zero-tolerance approach to animal cruelty, recklessness and criminality.

Many people, when they choose to get a dog, do it to accessorise their lives. Barking badges of strength, sexiness and success. When anyone admires our puppies, before they ask, I’m out with, “they’re rescues… they were dumped”. I’m guilty of curating too. Yes, most pet owners give them a good life, but assign them our emotions, dress them in ridiculous kerchiefs. The worst of us bully them, lock them up, neglect and torture them. Our relationship to animals is one of possession, a human privilege. It would be both kinder and safer to reframe that relationship as one of guardianship, and the privilege is in caring for, protecting, guiding and safeguarding them.

Marina believes the increasing number of suffering animals is symptomatic of a wider malaise: anxiety, financial woes and mental health difficulties. Madra has assisted Galway County Council in dealing with 275 animals in five hoarding cases, over the past few years. The people involved were often isolated, impoverished and some struggled with mental health issues. Animal welfare is not the hot topic on the doorstep, but the human and economic consequences of our failed stewardship should be.

Angela Ruttledge is public affairs manager at Food Cloud