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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.

5 Years Old Today

Monday, 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

Sunday, 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

Saturday, 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.