At the DSCPA's rescue and rehoming shelter, education officer Gillian Bird introduces me to kennels manager Caroline Lambe. Lambe and Bird – their animal-themed names are a running joke – another employee's surname is Swift.
The DSPCA's chief executive ruins the effect by being called Brian Gillen.
All the DSPCA employees, whatever their second names, are passionate about animals.
At first, the site at the foot of the Dublin Mountains seems idyllic. Young volunteers play with puppies. Two excitable small dogs bark at a stubborn- looking goat through a fence (“the goat’s teasing them,” says Bird).
A large recently homed lurcher called Rocco chases a ball for a transition-year student in a high-viz vest. Honking geese (“perfect guard animals,” jokes Gillen) mingle with ducks, goats and a type of hen bred for cock-fighting. Two chipmunks frolic around an enclosure more usually used as an aviary.
A large Vietnamese pig, a misguided 21st birthday present, snuffles around his pen and a roomful of soon-to-be adopted cats listen to Rhythm is a Dancer on the radio. "Cats love music," says Gillen. (He doesn't explain why these cats have such terrible taste.)
It is hard to believe that all of these animals have experienced cruelty and neglect until I meet the new admissions.
There’s a malnourished husky with seven puppies (“found in a drug-dealer’s house by the gardaí”) and two German Shepherd pups whose faces are disfigured by mange.
Whatever you feel about the cat-shooting scene in Love/ Hate (I'm not going to go into that here), it's easy to understand why Bird and Gillen find it upsetting. They wince at the mention of it. They and their inspectors regularly encounter animals who have been shot or burned and, coming up to Halloween, they expect to see a spate of such incidents.
Someone recently brought in a fox that was hanged alive off some school railings. They had a cat shot with a crossbow bolt. “It survived,” says Bird. They frequently get malnourished horses beaten for being unable to run. “And they use nylon blue ropes as bridles which cut into their flesh,” says Gillen.
Dogs and Cats Home
The DSPCA lives by the four Rs – "rescue, rehabilitate, release and rehome".
Started in 1840 and long known to Dubliners as the Dogs and Cats Home, little is known about its origins (records were destroyed by flooding and fire over the years, says Bird). What is known is that it was an offshoot of the RSPCA which was founded in 1932 by Galway man Richard Martin, aka "Humanity Dick", a wealthy landowner known for being tough on tenants who mistreated animals.
In Gillen’s office, he and Bird show me a 1912 report with passages about the state of drinking troughs in the city centre and overworked mules. Last year they reinstated a prize for kindly, cruelty aware policemen, last awarded in 1938.
They are hoping their patron Michael D. Higgins will have a gap in his presidential schedule for this year’s awards.
Although reports of cruelty have grown, Bird likes to think that this has to do with a wider awareness of animal welfare issues. On the other hand, certain types of cruelty have increased with the recession.
“Some people can’t afford to look after their animals and just stop,” Bird says. One painfully skinny, trembling boxer dog wasn’t looked after when its owner died and her husband was too rattled by grief to care.
They tell me of a Great Dane left to starve in a garden because she was “too expensive”.
Many of their animals have simply been abandoned. They have had an influx of discarded puppies in recent weeks because people, for financial reasons, are not neutering their dogs.
They encourage people who want pets to take in a rescue animal. “We say adopt, don’t buy,” says Gillen, and a huge part of their remit is educational.
Their doors are open to the community, they microchip thousands of animals, encourage neutering and they have an education programme they take around to schools.
“We’re about the prevention of cruelty,” says Bird. She thinks much cruelty to animals is perpetuated by people who have problems with empathy and that this can be taught.
Shaking with fear
The sight of badly treated animals, some shaking with fear, is very upsetting. I meet one-eyed dogs, cats with ripped ears and many creatures who are scarred and malnourished. I ask Bird and Gillen how they can face it every day.
“It makes me physically ill to think what people do,” says Bird, “but what keep us going are the happy stories. To see Minnie [the aforementioned Great Dane] bouncing out of the place was a happy day.”
Gillen tells me about a horse pulled from the canal. “She had a medical condition that meant she fell over on a regular basis and she was with foal. When she had the foal, it was one of the happiest days we had in here.”