In Ireland we have animal welfare legislation to be somewhat proud of, but as the saying goes, sadly ‘it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on’. Like Monopoly money – it covers the department on the board table, but is worthless in the ‘real world’! We are good at these things in Ireland: pretending we are really good at stuff – like loving animals like our own family. Now where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, as I held a miniature pony eating ragwort to survive whose bottom lip had been bitten off by the owner’s dogs. Reported: twenty-five times to the department by a rescue centre, by me, and by concerned members of the public. 25 reports versus 0 visits by the (paid) authorities to act. If I told you what it took to get a vet out that I paid for – you would probably stop reading this! But he did say, he loved that tiny little defenceless pony, like his own family.
So let’s get the law into the spotlight! In case any (paid) nominated authority named in the animal welfare legislation has forgotten.
‘If you own or keep a horse or similar animal, it must be microchipped and must have an official identification document, known as a horse passport.
These requirements are under EU Regulation 504/2008 which, along with later amendments, has been transposed into Irish law. They apply to all members of the horse family, including ponies, donkeys and crosses, officially known as equine animals.’
In addition, ‘if you keep the horse in a control area designated under the Control of Horses Act 1996, you must have a horse licence for it as well as the microchip and passport.
You are liable for any injury or damage caused by your horse to other people or to property.’
Now could the legislation be any clearer? You could say as clear as when a traffic light goes red, you don’t press on the brakes and speed through a pedestrian green light – because – well, you would be breaking the law and you might kill someone. Just like the thirty sulkies recently on the Cahir to Cashel road or the run away cart and horse in Dublin City the other day. Yes, all owners breaking the law and someone might have died as a result.
Yesterday My Lovely Horse Rescue (unpaid) went to the aid of a mare who had nearly buried herself in mud. She had an horrific leg injury and was down for hours. They did their best but the best thing for this poor mare was to put her to sleep. Of course it would be a lovely thing to let the owner know – except this horse had not the required legal identity. No microchip. No owner has come forward either! Funny he hasn’t checked on his mare in 24 hours and notified the guards that she is missing.
Tonight MLHR are with Dublin Fire Brigade tending to another mare down with her foal. Now if the owner was responsible or identifiable, Dublin Fire Brigade would not be there and the volunteers at MLHR would be mucking out stables, doing the night feeds or God forbid, at home relaxing.
Today I fed a stallion at the side of the motorway. He stands on gravel. Thousands of people drive by him everyday. For most he is of little significance. The truth is – the land here is starved of anything for him to forage on. It is NRA land so it’s not a green pasture but I’m now keeping him alive with daily hay drops. If he would die over night I would stop feeding him immediately to get him away from his owner, but death by starvation is horrific. And more so for horses. Their stomach constantly produces acid. So can you imagine what an empty stomach goes through. His owner has a lot of horses and does not own one blade of grass. Reported to the authorities; he still has a lot of horses.
In nine years I have never seen any appropriate or proactive intervention from department vets when I have reported dying horses. A rescue friend in another county says she gets support from her department veterinary officer. But shouldn’t the law be the law and not be dependent on the personality of the official. One pony I dealt with was locked in a shed for twelve days with no food or water. The department vets visited the owners and had a ‘chat’. A local man broke the lock on the shed and I had to buy the pony to keep him alive. No, not the answer but a law that keeps giving nothingness makes ordinary decent people either into criminals or colluders by feeding these people’s animals or buying them to save them. I did get a letter from the department telling me I was part of the problem. Now that’s ironic! If I’m part of the problem – what would they be?
Did I mention the barrister in the West who kept a thoroughbred mare and foal by the coast during the harshest of Winters with no shelter or feed. His horses were seized only to be returned to him by a judge. You could say the law is an ass but that would belittle all the equines right now licking moss, eating mud or drinking from dirty puddles to stay alive. That would belittle all the foals being backed or hitched up to sulkies. That would minimise the pain of thoroughbreds left uncovered and starving this Winter by ‘should never have horses’ owners.
I could write about nine years of my heart-breaking horse rescues and the ones I lost. But to get emotive now is not what the illegally held horses of Ireland need or the legally held abused ones. They need our Minister to get out of his ‘meat meetings’ and get down to My Lovely Horse Rescue and listen to them. They are the ones like other rescuers in every county in Ireland who are not clocking off for the weekends or after 6; they are not the ones reading cruelty cases on a database and dismissing them – they are the ones out there on the ground being proactive. If you took them out of the equation – imagine – actually, I don’t want to and you probably don’t want to either.
I often ask the owners of horses I keep an eye on – ‘tell me, what are their names?’ And they never have any! No chip, no passport, no land, and no name. But there is one definite in this argument: the law is on the side of these horses! It says so in black and white!
Do you ever think about all the car accidents involving a horse being on the road? Did you ever think that might be a horse breaking out to get to grass? If you were starving and in pain – wouldn’t you do anything to stay alive? So enforcing the law matters to them mostly and to us! My life or your life might just depend on it.
Last night the mare put to sleep to end her suffering was named as Francesca. Remember that name. Remember the hours she spent waiting in cold mud seeping into her severed leg! Remember she should not have been there if the law there to protect her was enforced or acted as a real deterrent to these cruel cowboy owners. Imagine what she went through for hours in horrific pain all by herself.
Please ask Minister Creed why his own legislation is not being enforced consistently by his own department? Maybe ask him what he and his officials were doing tonight when MLHR volunteers were yet again on their knees in mud saving a horse that his legislation is there to protect? Maybe just ask him, why can’t he just do his job?