Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013: Post-Enactment Scrutiny (Resumed)

Mr. Tim Kirby:

I am a qualified veterinary surgeon with 20 years of practical clinical experience of all species, across both the UK and Ireland. During this time I have also served as a trustee for several animal welfare organisations and have been a firm advocate of animal welfare and health at all times. I currently also sit as a member of the Veterinary Ireland companion animal committee, and represent the group at a European animal working group level. In a personal capacity I am also a member of a joint UK and Ireland puppy farming stakeholder group attempting to resolve that major issue, which also represents more than 40 independent and government-affiliated bodies.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic it is not only a time for reflection, but also a time for change. Over the past two years we have witnessed the ever-increasing demand for pets by the public, and the resorts to which some will go to in meeting these demands. What was very evident, and something I witnessed first-hand as a clinician, was the mismatch between supply and demand throughout the pandemic. As a result, the imbalance created by an insatiable public demand created the perfect void for supply by opportunistic individuals, with the sole purpose of generating vast personal wealth. At a time of huge emotional strain and stress on both families and individuals during what was the greatest health challenge in modern times, some unscrupulous breeders seized the opportunity to capitalise and extort. With the demand for certain breeds such as brachycephalic, otherwise known as brachys for short, including French bulldogs, pugs and shih tzus at unprecedented levels, the supply of these puppies was seen by many as a passport to riches at any cost. As a result, more and more people resorted to using artificial insemination in their dogs which increased efficiency and maximised the chances of greater output, that is, greater numbers of puppies and greater profit.

Artificial insemination is not a new practice and has been performed in canines for many years. It has been used particularly in cases where dogs are in remote geographical areas and cannot travel to mate naturally. Derivatives of this procedure also include the more invasive transcervical insemination, TCI, technique and surgical insemination. It is worth noting at this point that surgical insemination is an illegal practice in the UK, whereas as all three forms of canine insemination can be performed legally in Ireland. In the case of surgical insemination, it is necessary for the recipient to undergo general anaesthesia, as a surgical incision is made through the body wall into the abdominal cavity. Thereafter, the uterus is identified and the uterine tubes are inseminated. The patient is surgically repaired and recovered from anaesthesia. This procedure is highly invasive and requires considerable anatomical skill, knowledge and experience in ensuring the best possible recovery for the patient. Alarmingly, such a high-risk procedure is being performed by untrained, unskilled lay persons, which is at a compete contravention of the Animal Health and Welfare Act.

With the soaring public demand for designer puppies, the suppliers of these have identified the commercial and practical ease offered by all forms of insemination techniques. As a result, we are seeing more fertility clinics emerging in an attempt to match the insatiable demand with a faster and on-order supply of designer breed puppies. Such fertility clinics are highly unregulated places that lack any veterinary or professional contribution. In essence, they are dungeons of misery for many animals, as the unskilled, untrained people there perform invasive and illegal acts such as blood sampling, invasive swabbing and, in cases, the highest-risk surgical insemination procedure. It is also believed among many veterinary professionals that Caesarean sections are being performed in some such fertility centres, which, in itself, is a highly disturbing concept. Attempting to subject any animal to such invasive surgery without the appropriate skills, procedures or medication is a gross violation of the most serious nature. The emergence of such unregulated and abhorrent fertility clinics has been mirrored across the UK and Ireland and is a trend which seems to be increasing. Such facilities are in clear breach of many animal health and welfare laws and Acts, not least the five freedoms that underpin all animal-based legislation globally.

In addition to compromising animal health and welfare, veterinary procedures are being illegally carried by unqualified lay persons who are in possession of medicines which are only licensed for veterinary use. In total, the existence of such fertility clinics pose one of the most serious risks to present and future generations of dogs and, as a result, must be tackled head on by the Government. Public education, awareness and vigilance regarding the existence of such centres must also be prioritised.

Coupled with the emergence of fertility clinics, is the re-emergence of ear cropping in the past 18 months, in particular. This hideous practice is solely driven by a human desire to create a better looking dog, where floppy ears do not conform to such a preposterous notion. As with designer breeds, the driving force behind the demand for ear cropped dogs is purely and simply people. People are choosing such dogs based on looks entirely and, in some cases, ignorant of the abject cruelty inflicted on the poor dogs in cosmetically designing such ears. Ear cropping is an absolutely cruel, wholly unnecessary and purely cosmetic procedure. There is no scientific, biological or logical justification for such a barbaric act. It is shunned among all my professional colleagues and it needs to be shunned by every citizen of this country. There is no place for such a procedure in modern Irish society and it is harrowing to think that such brutality is taking place out of public sight. Ear cropping is happening in facilities without any veterinary supervision and without anaesthetic or even pain relief. It is without doubt one of the most callous and visceral forms of animal cruelty. Removing a dog’s ears not only deprives it anatomically, but it also severely restricts its ability to communicate and express itself. Dogs use their body language, and ears especially, as a means of expressing their emotions, and removing part or all their ears has a catastrophic effect on their overall quality of life. I believe that the term "ear cropping" should actually be replaced with the term "ear chopping", as that better represents the lack of humanity and absolute brutality involved. Without doubt, a hotline to Government agencies should exist where such cases or suspected cases can be reported in confidence.