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At a local area committee meeting on 17 June, Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dháliagh put a question to administrative officer at Dublin City Council, Patricia Colfer, asking what is being done to address the issue of the mistreatment of horses on public land.
Ní Dháliagh cited the charity My Lovely Horse Rescue, which finds new homes for abandoned horses across Ireland, along with returning horses to their original owners, who claim there has been an increase in reports of both stray and abandoned horses in the Dublin South Central area.
“I’ve noticed loads of horses being kept in the city,” Ní Dháliagh said over the phone Thursday.
Mistreatment of horses is not a new problem for Dublin City Council. Last year, the council spent €145,276 on euthanising horses which could not be returned or re-homed.
Representatives for My Lovely Horse Rescue say that the problem of abandoned horses is getting worse. They’re calling for Dublin City Council to change its approach regarding how it deals with the issue of abandoned horses.
An Increase in Abandoned Horses?
Usually, there is an increase in abandoned horse reports toward the end of the Summer, says Martina Kenny, the founder of My Lovely Horse Rescue. She says this is because children are off school and are often looking for something to do.
“It’s usually the two or three Summer months that are a nightmare but the nightmare started way earlier because of Covid-19,” says Kenny.
Kenny says that people have been ringing the charity every day to report stray horses. These calls have been coming from all over the country too, she says.
Dublin is the worst offender, and has a “particularly bad” problem with unlicensed horses, who are oftentimes neglected, she says.
“These horses are neglected badly. They are tied to a green with no food or water. Only eating the bit of grass around them,” says Kenny.
The owner of an unlicensed horse has not met the legal standards and requirements required for horse ownership. Under the Control of Horses Act 1996, all horses must be chipped and have a specialised animal passport.
Although Kenny has noted a spike in abandoned horses around Dublin – 103 horses were reported to My Lovely Horse Rescue between April and June this year, according to their records — Dublin City Council say they haven’t seen a corresponding increase.
“There has been no noted rise in numbers,” said a spokesperson for the council.
In 2019, between April and June, 12 horses were seized in the Dublin City Council catchment areas according to a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Marine and Food.
Ensuring the Welfare of Animals
When asked how many fines they had issued for the unlawful ownership of a horse, spokespeople for both An Garda Síochána and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine stated that the responsibility falls on local authorities to enforce the Control of Horses Act 1996.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council, however, stated that it does not issue fines for unlawfully owning a horse.
Dublin City Council did not respond to a follow-up question on who is in charge of issuing fines for this offence.
Kenny feels that the laws around horse ownership would be better enforced if there was an official that specifically looked after the welfare of these animals.
“I went to Amsterdam last in January to meet the ambulance service for animals and the animal police,” says Kenny.
These are like regular police but they look after the welfare of animals, says Kenny.
“They are also interested in the prosecution of people that mistreat these animals,” she says.
This idea is not new to Ireland. The introduction of a horse warden was put to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Michael Creed in 2018 by independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan.
“We have dog wardens and litter wardens so could the Department not give the lead with the local authorities?” O’Sullivan said.
There has been an overall decline in the ownership of unlicensed horses so a horse warden would not be necessary, Creed said at the time, in response to the question.
“The number of horses being seized nationally continues to decline from 4,923 in 2014 to 1,603 in 2017 and 806 to date in 2018,” said Minister Creed, in response to O’Sullivan.
Introducing a horse warden, or an animal welfare officer, has worked in other cities, like Swansea, in south west Wales.
“It was a cultural issue. We had children as young as ten owning horses. They saw their parents owning horses and they saw them putting horses on council land,” says the manager of Swansea County Councils Trading Standards team, Rhys Harries by phone on Tuesday.
The low price of horses played a factor in Swansea, too. In parts of the local community, you could buy a horse for as low as ten pounds, he says.
As part of their strategy to lower the number of unlicensed and abandoned horses, they established hot spots, where the problem was worse and began to monitor those areas, says Harries.
“We don’t monitor the entire area of Swansea, just the hotspots and then new ones that are trending”, he says.
They put up fly-grazing sign posts up on council land too, which meant that it was illegal for horses to graze on the land.
“Under the Welsh regulations we have fly-grazing on our land, so we are able to sign-post land, and if we find horses on it we can seize them for a fly grazing issue or a welfare issue,” says Harries.
Harries and his team work closely with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
The RSPCA deal with the cute furry pets while Harries’ department looks after larger animals such as horses, he says.
“When we started dealing with horses, we didn’t have an outlet for them, so we did have to euthanise them, now we have a charity who looks after them, and tries to find them a new home”.
But the numbers of abandoned horses has decreased significantly, with these measures, says Harries.
“We would have had quite high weekly numbers in the beginning, but now what we would’ve gotten in a week, we’re getting in a month,” he says.