There are some things that we can’t do much about. And the weather, unfortunately, is one of them.
The sub-zero temperatures, snow and ice of a few winters ago, for instance. This year an incredibly wet summer has resulted in a severe shortage of animal feed and land that never seems to have dried out.
Many farmers were forced to house their animals in order to protect their fields and animals. And this, of course, meant that these animals had to be fed, using up previous supplies of winter feed way too early.
This winter, it’s going to be especially hard on those animals for whom no one is prepared to take responsibility. Horses are being abandoned in greater numbers.
As the economy worsens, the value of many so-called “ordinary” horses has plummeted. And, in a straitened economy, this has resulted in increased acts of cruelty, suffering and abandonment inflicted on equines by some unscrupulous people who seem to have no discernible moral compass.
Tess, a four-month-old foal, is one such unfortunate animal. She was found, apparently lifeless, on a public green in Mallow. But Tess — as her rescuers named her — wasn’t dead, though she was very close to it. She was weak and unable to stand, collapsing several times when helped to her feet.
ISPCA inspector Lisa O’Donovan found that, under her woolly coat, Tess was extremely emaciated. Enquiries made locally suggested that her mother had died three or four weeks previously. But as has become all too common, Tess had no microchip and no one was claming responsibility for her.
Luckily for Tess, she was promptly transferred to the safety of the ISPCA’s Victor Dowling Rescue Centre, where she received treatment, nourishment and warmth, probably for the first time in her life.
It was the Friday of the recent bank holiday weekend, and temperatures had dropped dramatically. Had Tess not been rescued, she would almost certainly have died where she lay, alone and unmourned by anyone.
“It’s a sad indication of what lies ahead over the winter period,” Lisa O’Donovan warned.
Tess has shown some signs of improvement and has, according to her carers, a great spirit and a strong will to live. But she still has quite a battle ahead of her.
I was alarmed by an advertisement I’d seen recently, someone who was selling farm machinery and who added, almost as an afterthought: “Colt foal, take it away”.
Colt foals seem to be having a particularly hard time of it and have been found tied on the side of the road, abandoned in remote forestry areas, or simply left in a field because they are considered to be more trouble than they are worth.
But, however hard times are for someone, there can be no excuse for this sort of behaviour, quite apart from the fact that it is illegal. If an animal is ill and deemed beyond recovery, it is the responsibility of their owner to ensure that it is humanely euthanised.
And if economic conditions mean an owner can no longer afford to care for their animal then it is that owner’s responsibility to see that it is surrendered to a responsible welfare organisation. No ifs, buts or maybes…
I have long had a huge respect for people like the ISPCA’s Lisa O’Donovan, who daily face ignorance and cruelty in their attempts to protect animals like Tess.
* Lisa, the last few winters have been bad enough for horses. What are you seeing so far this year?
>>“Well, because of the bad summer, feed is expensive and hard to come by and the value placed on many horses continues to decline. And there are some people who seem to think that if an animal has no value then they no longer have to bother with it. So yes, there are more horses in trouble. Our centre in Mallow, Co Cork, is full to overflowing.”
* I know you also run a horse adoption service too. Has that been affected?
>>“I’m afraid it has. In the present economic circumstances, people are no longer able to take on a horse, especially in the winter when costs of caring for an animal are that much higher. We are getting more calls all the time about equines in distress and our resources are increasingly stretched to the limits, so that we can only step in to help those animals that are in the worst conditions. The horses are coming in. But they are not going out.”
* How long have you been an Inspector for the ISPCA? And now are you able to cope with some of the things you have to deal with?
>>“I was a veterinary nurse for six years before I joined the ISPCA. And it can be difficult work sometimes. It’s hard to believe how cruel and thoughtless people can be. I was involved in one case where we came across a young horse around Halloween who had actually been set on fire then tied up and left to suffer. If we hadn’t found him he would have endured a long and painful death. We named him Bert, and although his recovery will be slow, we are hopeful. Even after everything he’d been through, he’s a lovely animal, calm and very gentle. It was a barbaric act and it’s shocking to think such things are going on in what we perceive as a civilised society.”
* Difficult though that must be, there must be huge satisfaction in such rescues as the pony you recently helped to retrieve from a river — with the help of the Cork Fire Brigade.
>>“Yes. They were wonderful. And that pony’s doing really well. And even in those worst case scenarios which are thankfully rare, and we can’t save an animal, at least we know that we have put an end to their suffering in a humane way. But apart from acts of cruelty like the one I’ve just mentioned, what we are seeing more of is a ‘survival of the fittest’ sort of mentality. Young or weak animals are increasingly being left to fend for themselves.”
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