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Stray Thoughts


An Official Apology to the ISPCA

February 5th, 2015

On 23rd December 2014, Lost & Found Pets Ireland published a comment on the Facebook page of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“DSPCA”) in response to a posting by the DSPCA in relation to puppy mills. I am the owner of Lost & Found Pets Ireland and accept full responsibility for the publication of this comment. The said comment contained an allegation that the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“ISPCA”) was involved in money laundering or other illegal activities in conjunction with the online advertising website Done Deal. This allegation is completely false and I confirm that nothing was known to me at the time to suggest that there might be any truth in such an allegation. I also fully accept that the ISPCA has never at any stage received money from Done Deal. I hereby retract and withdraw this allegation and apologise unreservedly to the ISPCA and its staff for any damage or distress caused.

Suggestion for Change to Donedeal Pet Classifieds Animal Abuse Policing

June 14th, 2014

While some of us push for genuine and tangible change in the way Donedeal manages sellers, as it puts in place measures to make them legally responsible for the content they publish and assumes full responsibility for the policing of said ads itself rather than using the free labour of concerned activists (not that it has agreed to do any of that yet but hey, I’m an optimist), the issue of how the ads can be most effectively policed remains a pressing one.

It is clear that whatever ad monitoring Donedeal claims to be doing itself still isn’t working.

It is also clear that in the absence of any solution for this from either the ISPCA, Dogs Trust Ireland or even Donedeal for the past 4 years, there needs to be some fresh thinking here.  So, I have a suggestion, but first some background.

The Background

As mentioned above, due to necessity, a community of Donedeal policing activists has grown up.  I can’t think of any other situation where members of the public are willing to do the work a private company should be doing itself, 100% for free while that company continues to earn and grow.  So it is quite apparent that people aren’t doing this for any personal gain, but rather because of their genuine care for animals – you know, the kind that Donedeal claims to have itself.  Well, I believe the efforts of those people should be directly and publicly rewarded rather than Donedeal, particularly as many of these people are now becoming so demoralised from continuing to see a never ending stream of these ads with no over all tangible progress being made to stem it.  Since it is clear that they are not doing the work for personal gain, I am sure they would be agreeable to having their reward passed back into the cause of bettering life for all Irish animals.  So, here’s the idea.

The Idea

Immediately, using its substantial, existing web development resources, Donedeal would re-purpose petaware.ie from the perceived lowest budget possible, self-serving, cynical PR exercise aimed primarily at improving it’s own image around the area of animal welfare concerns, into a hub for crowd-sourcing the policing of its pet ads.  The site would basically gamify locating ads for removal based on a clear and simple list of published, pre-defined problem listing indicators and for each ad found, the finder would be publicly acknowledged on the site and be able to nominate a standard donation fee to an animal welfare charity of their choice.  I would also like to see an accompanying phone app for this purpose, so folk could participate when commuting etc.

I would see this standard donation fee being sourced from all the funds that Donedeal is currently spending, arguably on its own image enhancing efforts such as spayaware.ie, a basically good initiative who’s credibility they are clearly now damaging, as they should be cleaning up their own mess before they go out preaching to the public about how they should be treating their pets.  The donation amount should be high enough to encourage public participation beyond the core current activists as well as to strongly incentivise Donedeal to make tangible progress in reducing the problems it has failed to address to date – I would suggest €100 per find.

The problematic indicators for ads that people would check against could include but not necessarily be limited to:

  • Ads for illegal events such as horse fairs / road-races.
  • Ads with images showing inappropriate treatment of animals including unsuitable living conditions for bitches and pups.
  • Ads from sellers advertising multiple animals and litters of puppies.
  • Ads offering restricted veterinary medicines.
  • Ads selling questionable dog training/deterrent devices.
  • Ads selling puppies/dogs with illegally mutilated body parts such as docked tails.
  • Ads for guard dogs.
  • Ads for animal trapping equipment.

This gamified DoneDeal pet ad policing site would have a different ad display interface so that users could more quickly review the ads. It could have badges for users, e.g. – find 5 ads, get the “I’m now house trained” badge!

Just to be clear, I do not see this idea as a long-term solution to the problem of these ads. I believe that the only realistic long term, and indeed, fair solution, involves making sellers legally accountable for the ads they publish and Donedeal responsible for bringing them to account as the one who is profiting from providing the platform they are using.

As always, comments are more than welcome.  Keep up to date or have your say on Twitter using the #petsb4profit hashtag.

5 Years Old Today

June 9th, 2014

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not to post this.

Today marks the 5th anniversary of my launching this site.  In previous years I’ve viewed this anniversary as a happy occasion, characterised us as the little site that could, run up fun graphics for Facebook and Twitter and thanked everyone for their continued support but this year I’m sorry to say, I’m just not feeling it.

When I started this project in 2009 I was most definitely naive and idealistic.  I had just adopted my own first rescue dog and was full of enthusiasm. In my innocence, I thought that hard pressed animal rescues and charities would welcome this idea with open arms, particularly when the service was free and not competing in any way with their fund raising or even sponsorship efforts and only helping raise public awareness of the plight of all Irish animals in a new and engaging way.  I invited rescues, charities and the pounds to open a discussion of how we could better tackle the common problems they had and even offered my web development skills for free to try to help address them.  In reality, right from the start, I met with sometimes vehement opposition even including personal  and nasty abuse from a small but influential number of people and their allies who felt that they ‘owned’ the area of lost and found pets in Ireland.  The odd thing about this was that much of the opposition came from parties I had actually gone to privately previously for advice on how the site should operate, who were invited to co-operate and who were given early access to it for feedback purposes in the first place and indeed some of the abuse came for people I thought were friends.  None of this was about the welfare of pets, it was essentially a one-sided turf war.

In fact, to this day, the only charities who I feel have really embraced this idea in any way close to what I had originally envisioned are Galway SPCA and  Kildare & West Wicklow SPCA, both of whom kindly carry our listings.  We have also had great support from private entities such as Topdog.ie, counntryhounds.ie and whatswhat.ie who I guess weren’t caught up in the politics but as for the rest of the rescues, charities and pounds, the response has been at best ‘meh’.

Due to all the negativity and questioning of my motives from the start, I decided to back off and go my own way, opting to build out facilities on the site and to develop our own communities on the social networking sites and let the rest of the animal welfare community go their own way too – it would of course have been great (and easier) to have them on-board but at the end of the day, organisations make their own choices.  This strategy has worked out reasonably well, the project has grown substantially on zero budget, I have had a chance to experiment, learn and build my web development, SEO and community management skills, fun is had, support is given within the community and the odd pet gets reunited in the process.  I have even had some tentative interactions now from organisations  which were initially quite hostile to the project but by and large I think its fair to say, we have remained outside the greater animal welfare community and I frankly don’t think that has been a bad thing

But at the end of the day, no project is an island and I suppose it was inevitable that I was going to crash into that greater Irish animal welfare sector at large again eventually – it seems that time has come.

I am so down today because I am in utter despair at the state of this community in Ireland at present, very fearful for its future and frankly, I am angry.

In recent weeks here I have written a couple of pieces in relation to the ISPCA, Dogs Trust Ireland and Donedeal which at this point over 1,000 of you have read. I think its no secret therefore that I find it appalling that these two major charities, who I would assume, receive funding from the public largely on the understanding that they will take a principled stand on animal welfare issues, are apparently only too eager to give Donedeal animal welfare credibility via their very public support, even if it means thumbing their nose at another major venerable charity who has acted in this matter purely on principle in the process.  I have been invited by a very senior member of the ISPCA to have a private discussion on this issue, leaving the public who fund them out of the loop.  I politely declined.

To all intents and purposes, it seems as if somehow, one (relatively small) business in Ireland is backed by two of our largest animal welfare charities to allow a certain level of ongoing animal abuse in the course of its business operations as long as it is willing to provide some funding to approved projects and other gestures in return.  I can only surmise that the animals who continue to suffer are seen as just acceptable collateral damage. How many abuse cases are deemed acceptable, 5, 50, 500? Your guess is as good as mine – these arrangements have been made in private.

I’ve been told I don’t understand the nuances here.  To me, there are no nuances, you either support and endorse those who facilitate animal abuse or you do everything you can to oppose them.

I believe this is simple.   In situations where the interests of animals are at odds with the interests of businesses, all animal welfare charities have a duty to the public who fund them, to be clearly and indisputably on the side of the animals and those who seek to protect them,  not on the side of the businesses.  When that doesn’t happen, not only do the charities who disregard this principle lose credibility themselves but also the entire sector does too, and good people start to believe that it’s OK to make bad compromises when they watch the ground slip from beneath them as principles are quickly eroded for the sake of  ‘pragmatic arrangements’ without vision or ambition.

There was an article in the paper yesterday where the ISPCA called for a ban on ‘sulky’ racing.  One has to wonder, if the race organisers came to the ISPCA and offered to give 50% of race proceeds to a project of the ISPCA’s choosing, saying that horse injuries and deaths were relatively rare, would the ISPCA be as facilitating of them as it has been DoneDeal?  How can anyone credibly call for a ban for one activity that leads to abuse and not another?

That’s all bad enough, but what really breaks me here is the silence of the other animal welfare charities and rescues on this erosion of principles and frankly, the apathy of the public, yeah you.

It is not enough sometimes just to click ‘like’ on Facebook.  If you feel something is wrong here, you need to contact these charities and businesses and tell them you expect better.  Or maybe ye all really just don’t give a crap and the likes are really just more about being seen to care than actually caring.  Charities and rescues, are you really willing to be bought off for a few free ads and the lowest of the low budget spay/neutering awareness website replete with pet classifieds marketing blurb?  I simply can’t fathom why people aren’t up in arms about this.

You can call me  a self righteous, attention seeking whiner, I don’t care, I’ve been called worse in the life of this project and beyond it believe me. You can ask me who the hell I think I am to speak this way.  Who the hell are you?  I have spent well over 5 long years, 365 days per year, in my own time, and at my own expense, earning my right to speak my piece here, so suck it up.  If you have evidence to prove that any of what I say here is incorrect, let’s be having it, the comments are open.

I guess I am saying it is hard to run this, day in, day out for over 5 years from just the sheer grind, but even harder to run it in the face of such cynicism and apathy and now particularly against the backdrop of an Irish animal welfare sector where leading charities are apparently so lost.

But I am not looking for sympathy here, I am looking for honesty, integrity and action or even, at this point, just an ounce of inspiration and hope – today it’s hard to see it.

So, happy birthday folks.

 P.S. To keep up with developments or share your thoughts on this ongoing Irish animal welfare Donedeal funding/championing scandal check out  #petsb4profit on Twitter

Please Note:  Today, Thursday June 12th, I have been contacted by Dogs Trust to say that they do not receive funding from Donedeal with I am very happy to pass on.  However, I still have very serious concerns over the relationship between Dogs Trust Ireland and DoneDeal.

Spay Aware Ireland 2014

June 8th, 2014

Unfortunately this year we can not endorse Spay Aware Ireland 2014 due to funding for this project coming from DoneDeal.ie who gain substantial animal welfare credibility from their involvement despite clear evidence of ongoing abuse via their classified pets platform.

If DoneDeal are truly committed to animal welfare they will cease providing this platform for abuse. ‪#‎petsb4profit‬

We continue of course to advocate for owners to spay and neuter their pets and we do so ALL YEAR ROUND.

I would ask all those below to reconsider their position on this matter. Does funding justify support of a certain level of animal abuse?

Pete the Vet Ispca Allianz Ireland Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dublin MAXI ZOO IRELAND Pedigree LoveMyPet.ie The Irish Blue Cross Dogs Trust Ireland Dogs Trust Feral Cats Ireland Pedigree Ireland MADRA – Mutts Anonymous Dog Rescue and Adoption Ash Animal Rescue

Our Response To Mark Beazley of Dogs Trust Ireland & DoneDeal on Online Pet Classifieds

May 24th, 2014

Introduction

On May 15th, Irish classified ads website DoneDeal.ie published a blog post attempting to defend itself from a statement by the Dublin SPCA which raised several serious animal welfare concerns it had with the pets classifieds published on DoneDeal.ie.

Since DoneDeal have opted, probably wisely, to disable the commenting facility from at least this particular blog post on their site, I have been forced to respond here to the points raised by them, the ISPCA and Dogs Trust Ireland.  I intend to do this over 3 separate posts.  You can read part one here.  Here’s part two.

I have reproduced the content of the blog to provide context and sense for my responses which are in bold text to distinguish them from the DoneDeal content.

Response

Mark Beazley, Executive Director of Dogs Trust (who formerly led the ISPCA), Dogs Trust is Ireland and Europe’s largest dog welfare organisation.

Dogs Trust may be Ireland and Europe’s biggest dog welfare organisation but I’m not sure how exactly that size is relevant here.  The size of the DSPCA is obviously limited by their stated geographical reach (the clue is in the name folks) – does that make them less caring, less efficient, less prudent, less aware or less qualified to critique DoneDeal’s behaviour – I don’t think so.  In fact if anything, I think the size of Dogs Trust and the ISPCA only serves to raise the question as to why these large and influential charities have decided to step in behind a relatively small (in the greater scheme of things) commercial concern such as DoneDeal rather than use their resources and influence to galvanise public opinion and call a halt to the provision of this platform for animal abuse.  Unfortunately, animal welfare and prudent financial considerations are frequently opposing forces – just as they are in this case.

We have concerns around the sale of dogs in the same way we have concerns around dog sale through classifieds but we recognise that the sale of dogs online is here to stay.

As I already pointed out in the first blog post on this matter, we get what we are willing to support and we will never get any progress with such a fatalistic defeatist attitude.  DoneDeal, as the largest animal advertiser in Ireland have created the largest platform for unscrupulous sellers to take advantage of unsuspecting buyers at the expense of the animals they sell, with the full support apparently of two of the country’s largest animal welfare charities.  As long as they have that support, nothing will change as there will be no commercial pressure to bring change about.

We have been working with DoneDeal and other online organisations to make sure adequate measures are in place to protect dogs being sold and also those who are buying them.

Well unfortunately in the past 4 years since, according to the DSPCA, DoneDeal failed to act on undertakings given on animal welfare, we have clearly seen that whatever measures you are referring to have simply not been effective.  Can you describe these so called ‘adequate measures’ and give details of how and where they have been implemented and detail successful prosecutions against those who transgressed them?  I asked the same of the ISPCA a week ago and am still awaiting an official response.

Can you explain to us how these unspecified measures tangibly address the following issues:

• Advertising of an unauthorised Horse Fair in Kildare in March.
• Images showing inappropriate treatment of animals including unsuitable living conditions for bitches and pups.
• Sellers allowed to advertise multiple animals and litters of puppies.
• Selling of restricted Veterinary medicines.
• Selling of questionable dog training/deterrent devices.
• Selling of puppies/dogs with illegally mutilated body parts such as docked tails.
• Selling of guard dogs.
• Selling of animal trapping equipment.

We have also worked closely with DoneDeal to promote the rehoming of rescue dogs.

Looking at the DoneDeal site as someone who builds websites myself, I note that on the main DoneDeal Animals Page there is absolutely nothing about animal welfare whatsoever, never mind adoption or re-homing.  The page could be depicting a list of any inanimate commodities.

DoneDeal animals

Just another inanimate commodity listed for profit

In addition, posting relatively small text links to try to encourage people to adopt when they are on a site with the express intent of purchasing a dog of a particular breed and age is, I would suggest, unlikely to be very successful.  In fact, the only place I even see adoption mentioned is a small text link under the search box which I would feel most site users are unlikely to even notice.  Personally I would assume it was just some kind of disclaimer or help link and ignore it.  Contrast that to the way the prices on each ad stand out – no missing those!

DoneDeal says it promotes dog adoption

DoneDeal’s idea of promoting dog adoption

Have Dogs Trust Ireland been provided the independently verifiable number of visitors who follow this adoption link as a percentage of the overall visitors to this page so you can judge its effectiveness yourself and if so, can you please share that figure to put our concerns to rest?  Has any A/B testing been done of alternative layouts with the aim of improving this percentage? Since you are polishing DoneDeal’s halo with the reputation of your organisation, I would expect at least that they are providing you empirical measurements of the success of these measures and those who fund your organisation have a right to see them.

Even on the individual listing pages, if we simply use the ratio of the area of the screen devoted to the ad itself and facilities to contact the seller and share the ad to the area devoted to animal welfare blurb and the visual interest assigned to each by the graphic design as an indicator, it is clear how much importance DoneDeal really places on the welfare of the animals it advertises.  There isn’t even a call to action on this page anywhere to adopt.  I note even the banner ad on the page is bigger, brighter and more graphically appealing than the animal welfare section.

No call to action to adopt

Small and muted screen space given to animal welfare information Who exactly is it that shops for friends online?

We are working with many organisations in this area but DoneDeal in particular has put in place measures that will improve dog welfare based on suggestions we have made.

Again I respectfully ask, what measures specifically have DoneDeal (in particular) implemented which meaningfully and positively impact the welfare of the animals it advertises.  In addition who are these other organisations and is the DSPCA one of them?

Have Dogs Trust Ireland decided on some arbitrary level of abuse they are willing to accept on the DoneDeal website before they will request the suspension of ads?  I ask this as Dogs Trust Ireland say they got DoneDeal to suspend the publication of classifieds in the run-up to Christmas.  If this is the case, it clearly shows that Dogs Trust can modify DoneDeal’s behaviour if it chooses to.

Undoubtedly, there is more work to be done but measures like this are moves in the right direction.”

Well Mr Beazley, I will certainly give you that, there is obviously a lot more that needs to be done but I would certainly not feel we are moving in the ‘right direction’ at all when 2 of our largest animal welfare charities would row in behind a commercial venture providing a platform facilitating so much animal abuse and unscrupulous selling to unsuspecting buyers rather than support another charity with similar aims.  It’s enough to make anyone wonder what exactly happened for the last 4 years between the parties from the DoneDeal blog post since DoneDeal gave the udertakings they subsequently reneged on.  You can rest assured this website intends to continue playing its part moving forward on this issue.

Finally, while I can of course only speak for myself here, I have to say that when I give some of my hard earned money to a charity, I trust that that charity is operating on firm principles, not commercial/financial convenience.  I hope I’m not the only one.

As always, all comments are welcome.