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Posts Tagged ‘irish’

Puck Fair: Ireland’s Festival of Animal Abuse?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Every August a small town called Killorglin in County Kerry in the south west of Ireland hosts a festival known as Puck Fair, which organisers tell us has taken place for over 400 years.

As part of this festival, a wild male goat is wrestled and snatched from it’s normally secluded and quiet, natural mountain home, where it can roam freely, to be paraded though narrow, crowded streets in noise and chaos before being imprisoned in a cage in which he can barely turn around, suspended 60 feet above the ground on metal scaffolding in the centre of a heaving central market.

The unfortunate goat is incarcerated there for the duration of the festival, regardless of the weather, while below, over 80,000 revelers party from 9am to past 3am, spurred on by pubs with special extended opening licenses and booming P.A. systems.  While those attending the festival have the luxury of getting some sleep in the early morning hours, the goat must continue to endure the noise and bustle of cleanup crews who replace the revelers at that point on the streets, so it is hard to see how he gets any sleep during the entire 3 days at all.  On the night before he is released, the goat must also endure a fireworks display, something that we all know distresses even pets and domesticated animals, never mind a wild one.

I don’t think it would be any exaggeration to describe the experience the goat must endure as akin to that which your cat or dog would experience were it to be suspended in a cage above Temple Bar for the entirety of Paddy’s weekend or above Bourbon Street in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

How many of us would sanction such treatment of our own pet?  Why is it acceptable to subject a wild animal to this?

The organisers insist this mistreatment of the goat is a 400 year tradition. Well, we did many things 400 years ago which happily most of us have evolved beyond doing now.  We also didn’t have the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 for most of that time, which it appears may be being breached by the festival organisers in their treatment of the poor goat.

The organisers claim the goat IS the festival, yet all over the world, communities still manage to profit from their association with things that are socially unacceptable in this day and age without actually still practicing them, take Salem in the US, do they still burn witches for a tourist buck?  Will the upcoming 1916 celebrations include real armed insurrection on the streets of Dublin to wring a couple of extra euro out of the pocket of international fans of the Michael Collins movie?  The festival could well continue successfully without involving the abuse of a wild animal.

Seems to me that a decision by the organisers to throw off the blinkers of ‘tradition’, to take a more progressive approach to the festival, one that truly celebrates our noble wild mountain goats, could only bring huge positive benefits including the extra publicity and ensure that the festival remains with us for another 400 years.  The alternative of course is the voices of opposition to the use of the live goat getting stronger and more determined and the festival’s reputation becoming gradually more tarnished, perceived as outdated or even barbaric, a throw back to less enlightened times, increasingly out of step with a world where animals are no longer viewed as mere objects of entertainment.

The organisers say the goat is treated “as a king” but kings don’t usually have to be wrestled, kidnapped and caged to make them attend their own ‘coronation’.  They claim the goat is given dedicated animal welfare care but what kind of care could possibly nullify the trauma the animal must endure from the noise and chaos, not to mention the drastic change in his surroundings, the simple lack of mobility for 3 days and the few opportunities for peaceful sleep?  With all due respect, I would suggest that if the organisers think this is an acceptable way to treat any creature, never mind a reclusive wild one, let them get up into the cage themselves for the duration of the festivities for one year and then tell us all how they enjoyed it. 

It’s worth noting that the festival’s longtime goat catcher, Frank Joy, parted ways with the festival in 2014.  Reading what Frank has to say about the goats, it is undeniable that he has developed a love and respect for them. He talks about their intelligence and how they can ‘become very depressed quckly’ and is also a very vocal advocate for our wild goats in general and particularly concerned at their decline in his local area.  This kind of use at Puck Fair is certainly a strange way to celebrate and value such a clever and resourceful creature.

We’re told the vet is groomed, de-flead etc.  The reality is, as anyone who knows goats will tell you, is that male goats are notoriously smelly and I can only imagine that the grooming is done at least as much for the sake of the handlers and the photo opportunities as it is done for the goat’s welfare.  In the publicity shots, the goat always looks remarkably clean.  If, as I suspect, the goat is being washed, he is being stripped of the natural oils that maintain the integrity of his coat and protect him from the wind – a particularly important consideration when you’re confined in a cage with no shelter at the sides.

We’re told that an independent vet regularly inspects the goat.  How independent can this vet really feel as a local who would be perceived as risking €7m revenue for the town were they to say the goat should not be used.

The treatment of the goat isn’t the only negative animal welfare issue relating to Puck Fair,  Concern has also been raised about the welfare and treatment of animals involved in the horse fair which takes place during the festival.

The organisers cite The Gathering and Tourism Ireland as supporters.  Do we really want to continue having public funds spent associating Irish tourism with this kind of out-dated concept – come for the drink and a glimpse of gratuitous goat abuse and hey, you might stay for our wonderful environment, people, music, literature etc.

The organisers also seem to interpret the silence of Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture with responsibility for animal welfare and the protection of our wildlife, and the Department of Agriculture as support for this treatment of the goat.  Is it?  The Animal Health & Welfare Act 2013 seems pretty clear on it’s guarantee for the rights of animals to express their normal behaviour. How can a mountain goat express it’s normal behaviour locked in a cage in the centre of a town above 80,000 people?

Some have criticised those calling for an end to this unnecessary cruelty given all the other animal abuse out there. They say why not focus on all of that.  Well, first off we do, this is not the first time I’ve written about animal welfare on this blog and it certainly isn’t the first time ARAN has spoken up on animal welfare issues.  Goats are members of the same animal group as elephants and ungulates.  It is evident from research that they are substantially more intelligent than other domesticated animals such as sheep and cattle and scientists believe that wild goats are even more intelligent than domesticated ones in order to meet the increased challenges from their situation.

But beyond that, it’s a question of who is sustaining this mistreatment, public bodies using public funds.  It’s simply society-sanctioned animal abuse.  It directly speaks to our poor public regard as a nation for our wild animals and it also serves to desensitise all of us to other forms of animal abuse.  It teaches our kids that using a natural animal for entertainment is OK and spawns another generation of animal mistreatment.  While over 11 county councils nationwide have outright bans on circuses which use animals as part of the entertainment, Kerry County Council stands proudly behind this 3 day wild goat circus.

On the bright side, there is currently an online petition with, as I write, over 23,000 signatures objecting to the use of the live goat at the Puck Fair.  If enough sign it, perhaps the organisers will do the right thing, even if it’s just out of self interest.  You can add your signature by visiting here.

Update:
Since I first published this post, the online petition against the festival stands at close to 24,000 signatures, many of which are from abroad, Puck is generating a great reputation for our country it seems.

On a more sinister note, threats have been issued to ARAN activists who have been told they would be beaten if they attended Puck Fair to protest the treatment of animals there.

Well your majesty, I’ve done what I can for you.

Suggestion for Change to Donedeal Pet Classifieds Animal Abuse Policing

Saturday, 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.

Ireland’s Lost and Found Dogs, Cats & Other Pets Now on Google+

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

In our continuing drive for complete Web domination  for our lost and found pet listings we are happy to announce that you can now find  our official page on Google+ (or Google Plus if you prefer).

A screenshot of Lost & Found Pets Ireland on Google Plus

Our engagement with Google’s social networking efforts has been relatively sparce up until now.  We did have a Google Buzz account to which we piped our listing Tweets and we also had a dedicated Google Wave, I even went so far as to code a bot to automatically respond to listing requests from our Wave participants but both these services have since been axed by Google.

However, it looks like Google+ is here to stay, particularly with the fundamental seachange in search to a social model.  Now when users who are logged into Google (including GMail users as well as those using Google Plus) conduct searches, the results they see are increasingly influenced by the activities of others in their social circles that Google is aware of such as friends, family and colleagues, in an attempt to increase personal relevance of the results.  Much like the Facebook ‘Like’ button, the Google +1 button aims to fuel a recommendation engine for the entire Internet to make its search results, more relevant and therefore more useful to its users, and more users equals more advertising revenue for them. To put it another way, if one of your friends ‘+1′s a particular web page or site, you are much more likely to see it in your results than if your friend had not ‘recommended it’.

So, what does this mean for Lost and Found Pets Ireland and more especially the visibility of the listings here in Google search results.  Well, as with our listings on Facebook, in order to maximise the reach of the listings in people’s searches and their news streams on Google Plus, those who list here should ‘like’ and ‘+1′ their own listings and make a concerted effort to get their family and friends to do likewise in order to get the listing out there to the maximum extent possible.  All pages on the site, including the listing pages, include a ‘+1′ button as well as a ‘like’ facility and I cannot stress highly enough the importance of using these.  While I have done my best to automate the distribution of listings around the web via our networks, the change in search I spoke of above now gives YOU the power to make the absolute most of the technology.

Similar to Facebook Fan Pages, this week, Google opened up facilities to businesses and organisations to create Google+ Pages.  As mentioned above, users = advertising revenue for both Facebook and Google and therefore it is difficult to imagine that Google will not use its substantial lead over Facebook in providing search to promote its own social network by favouring its own ‘pages’ in search results and that is basically why we are now on Google+.  Its also worth noting that our presence on there makes accessing the listings from mobile devices somewhat easier for folk as there are Google+ apps now for all the main phones out there and these will compliment our own mobile site.

At the moment, I am posting listings there manually while I await Google to provide a facility to automate that process as Facebook have.  With on average around 10 listings per day, this is obviously quite a time consuming activity and  I will be closely monitoring (both in terms of user engagement with our Google+ page (whether folk are adding it to their circles and +1′ing the listings & site and in terms of performance of listings in the Google search results) whether the extra effort is really worth it or if I should simply wait until an automated solution is possible so again, you basically get to decide on the resources I put into this.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Google+ and any ideas you may have to make it even more useful for folk using the site.  Just drop a comment below.

Pets in your Pocket – Mobile Site Goes Live

Monday, June 13th, 2011

First off, belated happy birthday to us as the site is now two years old.  As a practical form of thanks to everyone who has given their encouragement, support and advice on this project, I have today released version 1.0 of our mobile site.

Will It Work With My Phone?

The Lost and Found Pets Ireland mobile site should be compatible with the majority of  ‘smartphones’ out there now including iPhone, Symbian, Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile based devices.  While it is not intended as a full replacement for the main website in terms of functionality, I think there is enough there to make it useful for many – especially considering that almost 8% of our traffic at this point is coming from Facebook mobile.

Mobile Site Home Screen

So What Can It Do?

The mobile site allows users to search and view our listings just as they can on our main site.  Search results can be filtered by status (lost, found or both), species (dog, cat etc) and county.  Full listing details are available along with facilities to easily call or text the person who posted the free listing.

If you have a GPS device built into or attached to your phone and a browser that supports it such as Mobile Safari (iPhone/iPod) or a Webkit based browser such as those found on Android and Symbian devices you can view a map which displays the listings around your current location.

Lost and Found Pets Listings Near Me powered by GPS

Finally for now, there is a simple feedback form which you are welcome to use to let us know how you are finding the site, your ideas for improvements etc.

OK, Sounds Good – Where Is It?

Those using mobile browsers will be automatically redirected to the mobile version by default.  You can disable this by clicking on the ‘View Full Site’ button on the mobile site homepage.  For those of you on regular PC’s and those of you who wish to re-enable the default redirection, there is a graphic link just below the logo on the main site.

The Mobile Future

I hope later in the year to release an Android app which will provide full site functionality.  Given the costs involved in creating an iPhone app it is unlikely I will be providing one in the near future without some form of sponsorship.

Final Thanks

Building a mobile site which works consistently across so many different devices is not a simple endeavour  and I want to think some folk for their help with testing, specifically Siobhan Borgo for help on the Android side of things, @CookiieDivine for the indispensable iPhone/iPod screenshots and @SoniaKd and @LindaHayden1 for feedback on the UX.

What’s the Story? Lost and Found Pet Listing Outcomes

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Several times during the life of this site so far, one question has come up again and again; what happens all the lost and found dogs and cats and other pets listed on the site? Up until now unless those posting took a proactive approach and contacted me to inform me of the outcome of their listing there was no way to answer that question for many of the pets that are listed here.

When I started the site, the focus was on getting the maximum exposure for listings possible.  This involved making the process of posting a listing as easy as possible, building out the mechanisms for posting the listings to the third party social networking sites we connect to and working to build up communities of active and involved followers and fans there, optimising the listings for accurate and efficient indexing by the search engines and putting tools in place for site visitors to easily share listings both off and online.  With all that to do, outcomes had to take a bit of a back seat.

But not anymore.  Now when a listing is removed manually, the user is presented with a form which they can complete to let myself and the community know the outcome of their listing – good or bad.  I’m hoping that presenting the form as an integrated part of the removal process will encourage people to let us know how things worked out in their particular case – happy ending or other outcome, we want to know.  However, in line with our ethos of not obliging users to engage with the site any more than strictly necessary to publish a listing, completion of this form is totally optional.

In addition, listings that expire automatically after the 30 day active period will now be flagged with that particular outcome.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be working on mechanisms to automate the communication of these outcomes back to the community which, in additon to keeping you all much more informed, should free up some time for me to start work on building out the next phase of the site.