Belfast Telegraph

Adorable pup Skye is one of many pets left at Northern Ireland shelters as 'unwanted' Christmas gifts

Cute Labrador cross Skye was handed into the Dogs Trust as her owners were unable to look after her
Cute Labrador cross Skye was handed into the Dogs Trust as her owners were unable to look after her
Rottweiller cross Lola and Connie Gilmore
Dylan Paton with long-term rescue dog Verne
Joy Hughes with Boo, a Pom cross, at Assisi animal shelter in Newtownards, Co Down
Gillian Kaydon with Annabelle
Cynthia, a rescued cat
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

It is often said that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas - but that hasn't stopped unwanted pets being dumped at animal sanctuaries across Northern Ireland.

Cats, dogs, rabbits and even guinea pigs are looking for new homes and loving families now that their festive sparkle has worn off.

Dogs Trust in Ballymena has been caring for a nine-week-old female puppy named Skye.

The adorable Labrador cross was bought as a Christmas present for a family by a relative, but heartbreakingly, the pup was handed into Dogs Trust after the owner realised they were unable to look after her.

The message remains the same from animal charity the USPCA - do not give animals as an unexpected Christmas present.

Assisi Animal Sanctuary in Newtownards has already taken in a series of pets in the new year, but are expecting an even bigger influx in the coming months as new owners begin to feel overwhelmed.

Dylan Paton, the dog unit manager at Assisi, has no doubt that a stream of unwanted pets will come into the sanctuary in February and March.

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Rottweiller cross Lola and Connie Gilmore

"There have been a few left in so far, but it's early days yet," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We're expecting a big influx still to come. Dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs have all been left in so far.

"They are mainly adults or young adults. It's not all puppies that get left in.

"They are usually four, five or six months old when they're left in as they start showing certain behaviours, their exercise starts going up or they do a bit of damage around the house."

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Dylan Paton with long-term rescue dog Verne

Mr Paton said however that there are less animals being left in to Assisi compared to previous years, because of information available to prospective pet owners outlining their responsibilities and breeders taking greater care in who they sell to.

"If they're responsible breeders, they take responsibility by making sure the people are ready for a pet," he continued. "They see if people are just looking a cute puppy and if are they actually prepared for the dog they are getting."

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Joy Hughes with Boo, a Pom cross, at Assisi animal shelter in Newtownards, Co Down

In Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary, Margaret Wade explained that while they have not yet had any animals dropped in, there would "definitely" be an influx in the coming weeks and months.

Looking back at last year, Ms Wade said cats and dogs were handed over to the Antrim sanctuary.

"We do usually get them all rehomed eventually, but sometimes it takes a bit longer," she said. "We do have some long-term dogs here, through no fault of their own.

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Gillian Kaydon with Annabelle

"They just haven't been able to be rehomed, but they have a good quality of life here and they get lots of exercise, the best of food and the best of vet care. They're happy."

A spokesperson for Dogs Trust in Ballymena said that puppy Skye was brought into their care by a "responsible" family after they decided the best thing for her was to join a loving household who would care and look after her.

They added that although puppies may be purchased as gifts over the festive season, it can take on average up to five months before they end up in the care of the Dogs Trust.

"We would advocate that anyone thinking about purchasing a pet, should consider adopting a rescue dog," Dogs Trust said.

"Not only will they receive ongoing support from our dedicated training and behaviour team, but they will also be invited to join their local Dogs Trust dog school, so they can continue building the best relationship with their new pet."

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Cynthia, a rescued cat

Meanwhile, Colleen Tinnelly, from the USPCA, said that the animal charity's advice before Christmas was not to give an animal as a pet, especially to a family who was not expecting such a gift.

"We would discourage that because they may not be ready for that wee cat or dog," she added.

"What do we do when it doesn't settle in the house or the owners don't settle with the pet?

"There has to be a lot of thought behind getting any pet.

"You need to think if it will fit in with your lifestyle once you get back into the routine of work.

"Will there be someone at home to look after it? Will there be someone to train it or walk it?"

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