Scientific Papers

A mixed-method survey to understand the role of dog welfare organisations in Ireland, including reported challenges and potential solutions | Irish Veterinary Journal

The survey was circulated to all 68 eligible organisations. Two of these responses were completed via postal method, and the remaining participants completed the survey online. Initial cleaning removed blank responses (n = 13) and duplication (n = 11) from the database. Additionally, the responses of five DWOs who partially completed the survey were not included as the proportion of the survey completed was between 2 and 24%, indicating that the participant did not progress beyond providing general organisation information such as name and location. Therefore, 39 DWOs providing complete responses, equating to a 57% response rate.

With respect to all 68 DWOs, there was a slight negative association between participation and 2021 funding level (OR = 0.9; 95% CI: 0.3, 2.4). The estimate is imprecise and the confidence interval is compatible with both a positive and negative association between DAFM funding and study participation in almost equal measure. On average, the survey took 60 min.

The 39 DWOs providing complete responses were located in 19 of the 26 counties in Ireland: Munster (16), Leinster (15), Connacht (5) and Ulster (3).

Only these 39 DWOs were considered further.

General information on organisation structure, policies and procedures

Of the 39 DWOs with complete responses, most also cared for cats (90%; 95% CI: 76, 97%) and poultry/other birds (31%; 95% CI: 17, 48%). Most DWOs cared for more than one species, with (n = 12) (31%; 95% CI: 17, 48%) caring for 2 species, and (n = 23) (59%; 95% CI: 42, 74%) caring for 3 or more species. The most common wildlife species (n = 16) cared for, included foxes (n = 9), hedgehogs (n = 5), deer, badgers, otters and bats (n = 2).

Few (13%; 95% CI: 4, 24%) of the 39 DWOs were members of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH) and most (74%; 95% CI: 58, 87%) reported using foster homes to provide care for dogs in 2021. A high proportion of DWOs had written protocols for welfare actions, including rehoming procedures (97%; 95% CI: 86, 100%), assessment of owner suitability (92%; 95% CI: 79, 98%), and euthanasia (85%; 95% CI: 69, 94%). In relation to general protocols for animals under their care, approximately half of the DWOs had written procedures for feeding routines, housing, and cleaning (Table 1). DWOs were asked to report the most common reasons for euthanasia in 2019 and 2021 respectively. Dog bites and aggression were reported as the most common reason for euthanasia (n = 20), closely followed by physical injury (n = 18), while being unable to rehome dogs was the least common reason and only selected by two organisations. In cases in which DWOs selected ‘Other’ as their most common reason for euthanasia, the reasons included illness, old age, and no quality of life.

Table 1 The number and percentage (with 95% confidence limits (CLs)) of 39 dog welfare organisations with written protocols for welfare actions and general caring procedures. These data relate to organisations in Ireland with complete responses to a survey conducted in March–April 2022

Rehoming procedures

At the time of the survey, in 2022, 38 of 39 of the DWOs rehomed dogs. At this time, each of these DWOs followed one or more specific procedures as outlined in Table 2. The procedures most commonly reported by these DWOs included a home visit (100%; 95% CI: 91, 100%), a check on existing animals residing in owners’ homes (95%; 95% CI: 82, 95%) and verification of owner experience with companion animals (79%; 95% CI: 63, 90%). Most of these organisations employed multiple procedures before releasing a dog to a new owner, with 11 DWOs including three procedures (29%; 95% CI: 15, 46%) and 17 DWOs including four or more (45%, 95% CI: 29, 62%). Participants that selected ‘Other’ in response to the question about releasing a dog to a new owner, indicated that home visits were not permitted due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Four other DWOs implemented an online form or questionnaire for dog adoption to assess owner suitability, and one DWO sought references from the private veterinary practitioner. Interestingly, one DWO indicated that they would like to have the capability to determine if a potential owner has convictions in relation to animal cruelty (however, this is not currently possible under the GDPR).

Table 2 The number and percentage (with 95% confidence limits (CLs)) of 38 dog welfare organisations that conducted procedures when a dog was released to a new owner. These data relate to organisations in Ireland with complete responses to a survey conducted in March–April 2022 that re-homed dogs

In relation to fees for rehoming dogs, the majority of the 38 DWOs (64%) requested a fixed amount, and some requested a voluntary donation (26%). The two participants that selected “Other”, indicated that finding a suitable owner and home for a dog is much more important than the financial situation of the owner. One DWO indicated that the fixed amount requested, assisted with necessary neutering, microchipping, and vaccination costs. Additionally, most DWOs reported having a written record of all dogs adopted (97%; 95% CI: 86, 100%) and completed a follow up rehoming check (85%; 95% CI: 70, 94%) (Table 1). Most DWOs (84%) indicated that social media (Facebook, Instagram) were the most effective and influential platforms to use for rehoming dogs.

Rehoming dogs to other regions

Most of the 39 DWOs reported that they did not send dogs to other countries during either 2019 or 2021. Dogs were reportedly sent by DWOs to GB (England, Scotland, and Wales) (39%; 95% CI: 23, 55%), other countries outside the UK (36%; 95% CI: 21, 53%), and NI (13%; 95% CI: 4, 27%) (Table 3).

Table 3 The number and percentage (with 95% confidence limits (CLs)) of 39 dog welfare organisations that sent dogs to selected countries (2019 and 2021). These data relate to organisations in Ireland with complete responses to a survey conducted in March–April 2022

Participants were further asked to indicate the three countries, excluding GB and NI, to which dogs were most frequently rehomed. For the purposes of this study, the data for 2019 and 2021 were consolidated when identifying countries and determining the frequency of movements. Among the 14 DWOs that rehomed dogs to countries other than the UK during 2019 and 2021, the most common destinations were Germany (31%, n = 4), Sweden (31%, n = 4), Italy (23%, n = 3), The Netherlands (7%, n = 1) and Czechia (7%, n = 1) (Table 3).

The most common reason for rehoming dogs to NI was the perception that there are more suitable owners in NI compared to the Republic of Ireland. Overall DWOs that sent dogs to GB and other countries did so because of a perception of insufficient eligible owners in Ireland (Table 4). Among participants that selected “Other”, one reported that “Irish farmers keep breeding to get a good sheepdog. No one wants collies in Ireland; in the UK, they love them and there is more of a demand”. Another participant indicated that they “… only send dogs over to UK or any other country if an owner comes forward from that country. We do not seek new owners from other countries for the simple reason that other countries cannot be the solution for the Irish dog problem”.

Table 4 The number and percentage of reasons reported by dog welfare organisations for rehoming dogs outside Ireland, for 15 organisations that rehomed to Great Britain (GB), 5 to Northern Ireland (NI) and 14 to other countries (Germany, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands and Czechia). These data relate to organisations in Ireland with complete responses to a survey conducted in March–April 2022 that rehomed to these countries

Challenges experienced, and solutions suggested, by dog welfare organisations

In total, 32 (82%; 95% CI: 66, 92%) DWOs either agreed or strongly agreed that all animal welfare organisations should be registered with the Charities Regulatory Authority. Similarly, most DWOs (82%; 95% CI: 66, 92%) agreed or strongly agreed that minimum operational and animal welfare standards should be established by the regulatory authority (DAFM).

When the 39 DWOs were asked to state the extent to which they experienced selected challenges in fulfilling their roles and positively impacting dog welfare on a Likert scale (from strongly agree to strongly disagree), 82% (95% CI: 72, 93%) either agreed or strongly agreed with the assertion that funding was insufficient (Table 5). Moreover, 31 (80%; 95% CI: 69, 92%) either agreed or strongly agreed that limited public awareness in relation to the importance of dog welfare presented a challenge, 30 (77%; 95% CI: 67, 91%) agreed or strongly agreed that there was insufficient capacity to handle the number of dogs, and 25 (64%; 95% CI: 51, 80%) agreed or strongly agreed that insufficient staffing levels posed a problem (Table 5). Participants that selected “Other” to this question, reported that difficulties in persuading dog owners to comply with legislation/rules and government bodies not enforcing regulations (e.g., microchipping and dog licensing) were significant challenges. Twenty percent or more of the DWOs disagreed or strongly disagreed that insufficiently trained staff, insufficient coordination with other DWOs, insufficient engagement with local authorities and difficulty with complying with government requirements were challenges they faced (Table 5).

Table 5 Percentages (%) of 39 dog welfare organisations that Agree or Strongly Agree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, and Disagree or Strongly Disagree that they experience selected challenges in fulfilling their roles

When the 39 DWOs were asked to indicate their opinion on specific solutions to address challenges experienced, almost all (95%; 95% CI: 90, 100%) indicated that subsidised programmes involving vaccination, neutering, and microchipping would be very or extremely helpful (Table 6). Further, 30 (77%; 95% CI: 67, 91%) felt greater clarity about the criteria used when awarding government grant funding would be very helpful or extremely helpful (Table 6). Solutions promoting increased education on animal welfare were also perceived to be beneficial by the DWOs with 80% (95% CI: 69, 92%) indicating that access to standardised training for volunteers/employees and 82% (95% CI: 72, 93%) indicating that access to resources to educate owners on breed suitability would be helpful or extremely helpful. In addition, 30 (77%; 95% CI: 67, 91%) organisations felt that rigorous enforcement of recommendations and policies would be very helpful or extremely helpful (Table 6). Overall, subsidisation of programmes (e.g., vaccination, neutering and microchipping) were felt to be potentially the most helpful solutions with no DWO feeling this would not be so (Table 6).

Table 6 Percentages (%) of 39 dog welfare organisations that feel that selected solutions would be helpful in addressing challenges they experience in fulfilling their roles

In response to an open-ended question aimed at capturing perceptions of appropriate solutions specifically related to challenges experiences by DWOs to fulfil their role, several themes emerged, relating to legislation, education, an overwhelmed workforce, and funding. These themes each reflect the opinions and beliefs of the DWOs.


The majority of DWOs believed that there was limited compliance with legislation among dog owners. Moreover, they felt that legislation, such as that relating to microchipping, is not uniformly or stringently enforced.

Modify the legislation to allow for on the spot fines for non-compliance, for example, a €100 fine for not <having> a dog microchipped”

“Anyone adopting a dog from any charity should produce a current dog licence when collecting their new dog, to bring regulation to dog ownership. We know how many cattle we have in Ireland but when it comes to dogs, it is guesswork. The micro chipping registrations need to be seriously looked at; it is the responsibility of the new owner to re-register the dog in their name”

The DWOs raised concerns about a perceived lack of awareness amongst the Gardaí (Irish police) regarding the regulations outlined by the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 (Act 15/2013), and sought greater collaboration and engagement with local authorities, including local dog wardens.

“While Gardaí are authorised officers under the 2013 Animal Welfare Act, most are unaware of this and regularly pass what are actually crimes under this Act, to animal welfare societies who lack the power to do anything about them”

“More involvement and engagement with local authorities and Garda with animal rescue groups in terms of assisting with difficult dog cases, cases of suspected cruelty and neglect”

The DWOs cited over-breeding and unregulated puppy-farming for fashionable dog breeds as a serious challenge and called for the introduction of stricter regulations on breeding.

“By far the biggest issue facing animal welfare in Ireland is over-breeding. In the case of dogs, whether that be the breeds typically associated with conventional puppy farming e.g., ‘Cockerpoos’, Maltipoos etc which are nothing more than mongrels at the end of the day, along with puppy-farmed toy breeds, factor in the strain the Greyhound industry with its culture of overbreeding this causes considerable stress for rescues….Because Ireland has such an established reputation as the puppy farming capital of Europe, there is a strong movement of young breeding dogs brought into Ireland for ‘Backyard Breeding’ too. So a significant/total shut down of commercial puppy farming, including Greyhounds is needed”

Awareness and education

The DWOs highlighted a perceived lack of awareness amongst the general public regarding the importance of dog welfare and the responsibilities of dog ownership. These organisations believed that there was a need to educate the general public about animal welfare and dog breed suitability and highlighted a need for animal welfare elements to be added to the school curriculum at primary and secondary level.

“More education is needed for the general public in terms of animal welfare, and ability to care and manage dogs, especially those dogs that are on the restricted dog breed list.”

In addition to public education campaigns, the DWOs recognised the importance of standardised training for employees and volunteers and acknowledged that training personnel is a labour-intensive task for an already stretched workforce.

“Access to resources and training for those who are involved in animal rescue especially when handling nervous, aggressive, fearful dogs, and injured dogs, and ability to assess behaviour and temperament of dogs.”

Overwhelmed workforce

The DWOs reported feeling overwhelmed with their workload and struggled to keep up with the many moving components required. Participants felt that their organisational structure is reliant on volunteers and that time spent completing paperwork frustrated dedicated individuals.

“The amount of paperwork, forms and unnecessary form filling achieves nothing for me and is seriously crippling. I am putting in a 14 hour day, 7 days a week with no let up.

“I know from personal experience of running the rescue, and indeed other rescues are the same. It’s all falling on few people, who at this stage are burnt-out.”

Several of the DWOs believed that standards should be harmonised for rescue organisations, to safeguard dog welfare, and that a shared hub or centralised base would be beneficial to encourage collaboration and communication in order to maximise resources.

“There are no standards set for rescues, everyone needs to be coming from the one place.”

“To go forward each welfare organisation needs a Centre/base of its own. Maybe a centralising of one good centre per county would work but welfare people are not good at working together. There is a lot of duplication and also missed opportunities. For example, one organisation has a specific dog, and another has a home for such a dog or breed, there is a huge lack of communication between organisations. Sharing …expertise in behavioural issues. We need a central hub that we can all feed into to share knowledge and to get help. Ireland is small and I believe we could do a much better job if a lot of things were centralised.”


The DWOs reported financial strain, including those associated with veterinary bills and having a consistent team of volunteers. Participants believed that financially subsidised vaccination programmes and a financially subsidised programme for staff/volunteers would assist to encourage sustained involvement and to alleviate workforce burden.

Subsidised vaccination, neutering and microchipping for animal welfare organisations would take a lot of stress away. Less fundraising to do, and more time to deal directly with animal welfare cases”

“The biggest challenge we face is getting volunteers to help out … if the government offered incentives for people to volunteer to help registered charities, we feel that we would be more effective in the work we do as we would have more available people.”

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