EXCLUSIVE: Ashton Dog Pound searched by Gardai over animal welfare concerns

Ashton dog pound, which has received millions of euro in public funds, was searched by police on Monday of this week, with return visits on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gript understands that the move came after Gardai were informed of the recent death of a dog in the pound and potential issues with the control of a highly dangerous veterinary medicine within the pound. 

The dog that died had been administed a drug called Dolethal, a highly controlled substance normally only used by trained veterinarians. Dolethal is usually injected but in Ashton it was given to dogs orally; mixed in with their food.  A vet we talked to told us that that Dolethal, when properly injected, offers a very quick and humane way to euthanise an animal but that the dog in question could have lived for up to 2-3 days as the Dolethal destroyed its body and shut down its central nervous system, effectively slowly suffocating the dog over a period of days.

In recent months, Gript has been contacted by several whistleblowers with grave concerns about the welfare of animals at Ashton Dog Pound. We talked to multiple vets in relation to this story, none of whom believed it was appropriate to use Dolethal in the way it was being used in Ashton. Its usage in Ashton was described as “horrific”, “mind-boggling”, and “absolutely unbelievable.” One vet broke into tears when discussing how a dog had died.

Sydney Nagle, the vet on call for Ashton, told us that he believed the dog would have died within hours and that he had never witnessed a situation in which an animal given Dolethal could have survived for days.  

Nagle told he first saw the technique of administering Dolethal through food when working overseas, where it was used to deal with animals with rabies or who were incredibly aggressive. 

Multiple sources familiar with the pound told us that general staff had been told to administer Dolethal by the management of the pound. The staff worked off an estimate of the dosage required, based on the weight and temperament of the animal, given to them by Nagle. Nagle told us that it was incredibly difficult to weigh an aggressive animal, and there was always a margin of error with administering these drugs, but that the dosage given to an animal by Ashton staff was the correct dosage “about 90% of the time.” 

A vet would then, a couple of hours later, enter the pound and administer Dolethal intravenously, euthanising the animal. Sources told us this practice had been going on for years, and that this had been done to hundreds of dogs over the past few years.  

Nagle initially told us that “to his knowledge” there was only one incident, involving two animals, in which a vet had failed to follow up the initial Dolethal dose. Gript understands, however, that there have been multiple instances in which vets had failed to arrive after the initial administration of Dolethal. We were told that when that happened the dogs would usually die overnight and staff the next morning would move their carcasses to the freezer. 

We put that claim to Nagle and he amended his response to say that “there is a possibility” that there had been other instances in which a vet did not follow up on the initial administration of Dolethal, but that if that did happen it was likely “a while ago”, but that he wasn’t “100% sure.” 

Nagle told us it was necessary to have Ashton staff dose the most aggressive dogs before vets attended the animals in order to allow vets to carry out their work safely. He said that the staff in Ashton needed to be the ones who sedated the animals as it was “impractical” to have a vet hang around for a couple of hours waiting for the drug to kick in. 

Nagle stressed that this method was reserved purely for “the most dangerous animals”, but sources told us that this was not the case and non-aggressive, older dogs were also routinely given Dolethal by staff.  

We put that claim to Nagle and he told us that he had never seen a situation in which a non-aggressive dog was administered Dolethal. However, he also told us that he did not see the animals prior to their sedation and that the decision to administer Dolethal to an animal was the responsibility of Ashton; “that’s their call” he told us.  

Nagle told us he was unaware of any legal reason why the general staff of Ashton would be prohibited from administering Dolethal to animals, and that “my main concern was that the medication was logged and we would check the correct amounts were being administered.” Finbarr Murphy, the CEO of Veterinary Ireland, told us that Dolethal is “licenced by the Health Products Regulatory Authority as Veterinary Practitioner Only (VPO), which means that it can only be administered by a veterinary practitioner” and that any concerns about its improper use should immediately be brought to the attention of the Department of Agriculture. 

We put the opinions of the other vets we spoke to, who condemned the useage of Dolethal, to Nagle and he told us that “Should they be put in the same position that I have been put in, with so many dangerous animals, they may have gone the same route. There are very few vets that have to deal with this number of very vicious animals. Since we started doing this none of my vets have been injured, none of the staff were injured, and none of the animals I’ve seen have been in obvious distress.” He asked, “In my position, what would they have done?” 

The Department of Agriculture are currently assisting the Gardai with the investigation of the pound. The management and owners of Ashton Dog Pound failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.

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