Dublin City Council plans to expand its animal welfare unit this year as it puts more resources behind efforts to clamp down on animal cruelty across the city.
It is also investigating the use of drones to identify issues in public places, including parks and on beaches, said Richard Herlihy, an administrative officer with the council.
“We are running a drone investigation in Ballyfermot this week so we will know a lot more about what we can do with that type of technology,” said Herlihy, in a presentation on 20 June to councillors on the North West Area Committee.
The council currently has four staff in its animal welfare unit, he said, but by the end of this year there should be eight outdoor staff backed up by four office workers.
At the moment, with so few staff the unit can only respond to complaints, he said. But with a bigger team, he hopes to increase patrols of parks and beaches.
“I would hope that our presence would be much more evident,” he said.
Councillors welcomed the advances that the council has made in tackling animal cruelty and neglect in the city in the last two years.
“From where we started, which was the disaster of Ashton Pound, to where we are now is night and day,” said Green Party Councillor Caroline Conroy.
In 2020, a dog warden at the pound called the Gardaí to say two dogs there had been incorrectly administered a euthanasia drug. The next year, six people – including a vet and the owner of the pound – were sent forward for trial accused of animal cruelty offences. Earlier this year, the owner, David Stone, was fined €30,000.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney, who chairs the animal welfare oversight subcommittee in the council, said she is pleased that the animal welfare unit is recruiting more staff.
“The staff are really committed and I’m very proud of them,” says Heney, on the phone on Monday. “We are aiming to achieve zero tolerance of abuse and neglect of animals – particularly dogs and horses – in our city.”
While some of the discussion at the meeting touched on horses, Herlihy said there are fewer issues with those these days. Many young people are more interested in motorsports, he said.
Instead, the most serious challenge at the moment is dealing with aggressive dogs, said Herlihy.
Dealing with dogs
There are around 33 dogs in the council shelter, most taken because of aggressive behaviour, said Herlihy. Most of those are restricted breeds, he said.
“Our shelter is constantly full,” he said. “If we had five more pounds we could fill them with the issues there are at the moment.”
Heney said that the council turns to private kennels in Newcastle in South Dublin County Council. Gardaí and council staff would find it easier if there was a municipal dog shelter in the city, she said.
At the meeting, Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Connaghan and independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly both wondered if the council could do more to prevent its own tenants from breeding dogs.
Especially, they said, if those dogs are restricted breeds – ones which by law have to be kept on a strong short lead and muzzled in public.
Restricted breeds aren’t allowed in social housing. “If you are not allowed a restricted breed, how can you be allowed to breed?” said Reilly.
Herlihy said that council tenants aren’t allowed to breed dogs or keep restricted-breed dogs in their homes or gardens.
Also, the council has only issued one licence to allow dog breeding across the entire city, he says. “Anything else you are talking about is illegal.”
Reilly also asked whether the council euthanises the dogs that it seizes. That might put people off reporting neglect, she said.
Herlihy said that the council doesn’t have a policy of putting down the dogs it seizes unless told to by the courts, which can issue a “destroy order”. Courts may do that if a dog has bitten someone for example, said Herlihy.
More than two years ago, councillors set up a subcommittee to oversee animal welfare in the city.
It has made major progress, said Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor who chairs the committee.
Council staff are working closely with Gardaí to tackle abuse and neglect of animals, she says.
The next step is to set up a municipal dog shelter and keep working towards the goal of eradicating animal abuse and neglect in the city, she says. “We will continue to work to eliminate unnecessary suffering.”
The animal welfare section is getting the resources it needs now, said Herlihy. “There is money being invested and we are taking animal welfare very, very seriously”
Herlihy said the animal welfare unit works with Gardaí, animal-welfare charities and other council departments, including local area offices.
Criminal charges are ordinarily a matter for the Gardaí, while council staff focus on welfare, he said. “Our first priority is, we are going in to see, are the animals okay?”
Most dog owners are very responsible, says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council. Still, more frequent patrols in parks can help to educate dog owners about the relevant rules, says the spokesperson.
“With some exceptions, dogs must be leashed and, in some cases, muzzled,” they said. “All dogs must be licensed and microchipped. Breach of these rules carries fines that are issued under the relevant acts.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says the council has not started using drones yet. But they “could become a useful tool in deciding where to deploy our scarce resources to best effect”.
“This is, of course, subject to vigorous testing and compliance with the rules of use of such devices in an urban setting,” said the council spokesperson.