Recession led to Neglect of horses
'I WOULD say the worst of it is over,' said national SPCA president Barbara Bent of the wholesale abandonment of horses, which hit a high point in Wexford over the past two years.
Rescuing dumped and neglected horses became a priority for the society during 2010 and 2011, so widespread was the problem.
Many people who had splashed out on animals during better times struggled to keep them in the postboom era.
The terrible trend turned into a 'crisis' during last year's Arctic winter, according to Barbara, who is based in Wexford. Large numbers of animals were found abandoned on land belonging to other people or on wasteland in rural areas.
Before the economic bubble burst, the Wexford society would have received 50 reports about neglected horses every year.
In the two years up to the end of alst year, it was answering 50 calls every six weeks.
The complaints came from concerned members of the public and gardaí.
'During the boom, a lot of people bought ponies for their children or got into racing syndicates,' said Barbara. ' They bought ponies and horse boxes, built stables and sand arenas.'
' Then the recession hit and a lot of people lost their jobs. Horses are expensive to keep and they couldn't afford them anymore.
' They couldn't afford the livery charges or the training costs. A lot of people got into horses not knowing a thing about them.'
' They didn't look at it long-term. If you buy a horse, it's still going to be there a decade later,' said Barbara, who takes the view that if you buy an animal, you have a responsibility to look after it.
Where possible, following complaints about neglect, the society contacted the owners and persuaded them to take better care of the animal, while continuing to monitor the situation.
If a pony in the garden was a commonplace symbol of our newfound affluence, that rapidly changed to the image of an emaci-
ated and unwanted horse after the money ran out.
The dumping of horses became so widespread nationally that the Department of Agriculture took measures to deal with it.
' The problem was so great two years ago that the department licensed more slaughterhouses,' explained Barbara. 'We now have five factories in Ireland where we used to have one.'
' There are a lot more animals going to factories now.'
It is estimated that in 2011, 17,000 horses were slaughtered in Ireland. In 2010, the figure was 10,000.
' That's 27,000 horses slaughtered for meat. It sounds awful but it's far more humane than leaving a horse starving to death in a field,' said Barbara.
Most of the slaughtered animals would have been considered to have 'no further use', whether for racing or breeding.
The flesh is exported to the continent, where there is a market for horse meat.
The ISPCA president revealed that there has been dramatic reduction in the number of abandoned horses this year.
'During the winter of 2010-2011, the majority of calls we received were horse-related, but thank God there has been a huge improvement. This is due to a combination of factors including the mild winter this year and also the fact that a lot of the horses considered to be low value have gone into the food chain.'
'I think we're over the hump. We're not getting anything like the number of calls that we did.'
Barbara praised the proactive approach of the department and local authorities, including Wexford County Council, in responding quickly and efficiently to the problem.
The county council used its powers under the Control of Horses Act to bring abandoned animals to the pound in Urlingford.
'We all worked hard,' said Barbara, adding that the Wexford Society currently has three horses in care, one of which was found in an emaciated and dehydrated state three weeks ago.