If there is a word to sum up the political zeitgeist in Ireland over the past decade, it must surely be “compassion”. The 2010’s were the decade when official Ireland set out, flanked by an armada of well-funded NGO’s and supported by a media thirsty for change, to right the wrongs of the past. In the name of compassion, much has changed. We are told that we now live in a more caring society, one that is governed by people who care, with institutions that empathise, and a society that brims with kindness.
So, it is strange, then, that Dublin City Council was warned several years ago that employees at its contracted dog pound were strangling dogs to death and did nothing about it.
Three years ago, a dog warden with Dublin City Council, Darren Reid, made a protected disclosure to the Department of Housing, Heritage, and Local Government about goings on at the Ashton Dog Pound.
In that document, which runs to over twenty pages, a number of allegations were made. The allegations run from the very serious – for example, it is alleged that employees of the pound actively harassed a member of the public who had complained about their conduct – to the truly horrifying. One dog, a collie, had nipped the heels of two children. It was ordered to be put to sleep. According to the protected disclosure, employees of Ashton Dog Pound first tried to poison it, but failed. They then tried to starve and dehydrate it – to “weaken” it. Eventually, it is alleged, they strangled the dog to death with its collar.
This, remember, is the Dublin City Council dog pound – if you live in Dublin, it’s the place where your beloved pooch will end up, if he happens to wander off one evening.
A greyhound with a broken leg was denied treatment, and left to howl all night in agony, the document alleges. A “friendly” dog which tried to greet a warden was picked up by the ear, and physically thrown into the back of a van. Employees urged other employees to run dogs over in their vans – inside the Ashton premises – if they broke free.
The list of alleged cruelties is too long to document, and too horrifying to recount. It is alleged that the owners of Ashton Pound make about a million euros a year – most of it, remember, from the taxpayer – for running this institution, which is portrayed in the protected disclosure as a kind of Buchenwald for stray dogs.
The document, it should be said, is given enhanced credibility by the string of complaints that have been made against Ashton Pound in recent years.
Last August, my colleague Gary Kavanagh, in a very well sourced story, reported that dogs at the pound were routinely left to die in pain.
In fact, as early as a year ago, Gript was being contacted by people very familiar with Ashton’s operations to make complaints. All of those complaints had the same theme: Horrifying cruelty to animals, conducted in the name of the people of Dublin.
At the time, we assumed that Dublin City Council was simply unaware of all this, and that our reporting – especially if it was widely picked up in the rest of the media – might make Ashton’s various state contractors sit up and take notice.
Little did we know that they were already aware.
The Gardai are presently investigating cruelty and other offenses at Ashtown. One staff member has been arrested. Despite this, it retains contracts from all three Dublin regional councils to act as their official dog pound. Animals are still being taken there daily, to face who knows what kind of treatment.
This is a story about dogs, of course, and not people. There are some readers who just won’t care that much about dogs, and that’s their right. But if that’s you, then perhaps its time to stop thinking of it as a story about dogs, and think of it instead as a story about how this state functions, and how “compassionate” it really is.
It’s not as if we haven’t seen this kind of thing before. In the last decade, we have seen exposes of horrendous cruelty in nursing homes, for example. We have seen exposes of cruelty in creches, too. Heaven forbid what might be exposed if someone was to investigate Irish slaughterhouses.
For all that we purport to be a “compassionate” society, there remains a willingness to turn a blind eye to the most abominable cruelty being perpetrated in our midst.
The people who run Ashton Dog Pound are guilty, at minimum, of completely failing in the duty assigned to them by the taxpayers of Dublin. That they retain their contracts, their income, and their right to take dogs from the street, is a national disgrace. And it should make us think about what kind of country this really is.