'Worst Christmas ever for abandoned pets', say Northern Ireland animal shelters
An animal shelter which helps to re-home stray, abused and unwanted dogs has said this Christmas was the "worst ever" for abandoned pets.
Almost Home Northern Ireland, based in Moira, took in 15 dogs over the past few days - one pregnant with eight puppies.
They are among 58 dogs, including two litters of new puppies, and 17 cats and kittens currently being cared for.
Karen Matthews, who founded the charity in December 2013, told the Belfast Telegraph: "Things couldn't get any worse".
"The phone didn't stop ringing over Christmas and our volunteers gave up so much of their free time to help the cats and dogs who were in need over the holidays," she said. "We opened another block of kennels to look after more dogs over the festive period and within one day all 15 spaces were full. We were able to help more dogs because of the dedication of our volunteers, but there were so many more we weren't able to save. Only about 10% of our dogs are surrendered in person, the rest are saved from abuse and neglect or taken in from the pound.
"It breaks my heart to see more people giving up and abandoning their pets year after year."
One of the worst cases the shelter dealt with over Christmas was Robyn and her sister, who were found in a field in Derrynoose near the border. The pups, just weeks old, had been out in the cold for at least 24 hours and were desperately ill.
Karen said: "Robyn and her sister were picked up by the dog warden and brought to us but only Robyn survived the journey, her sister had to be put to sleep on the way here because she was suffering from hypothermia and her gums were very pale, she was a very sick puppy. Thankfully Robyn managed to survive her ordeal and after being fed through a drip for two weeks is now doing well.
"She is a little collie but might be a cross and will be re-homed when she is strong enough."
The shelter saved two pregnant dogs over the Christmas period. Roxy had a litter of five but lost one and Duffy gave birth to eight puppies which survived.
Amid the gloom, Karen and volunteers have worked hard to ensure the dogs find permanent homes.
"Nine dogs were booked yesterday and, of course, we still have to do home visits and second visits but it's great to see so many people who are interested in helping out," added Karen.
The Mid and East Antrim Animal Sanctuary in Antrim and Assisi Sanctuary in Belfast also reported difficult Christmas periods and have warned that they expect to get even busier as January draws in.
A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Animal Sanctuary said: "The phone didn't stop ringing over Christmas with people asking us to take their pets, especially older dogs and cats. Now we are bracing ourselves for the puppies who were unwanted Christmas presents."
One of the most appalling cases of animal neglect was reported in Strabane over Christmas when a dog was dumped in a bin to give birth to her puppies.
Dusty, named after the bin she was found in with her litter, sadly passed away not long after she was rescued on December 20. Just two of her six puppies have survived.