'˜We do all we can to rescue these horses...'
In 2016 the RSPCA's 24-hour emergency helpline received 1,153,744 calls from members of the public.
That’s equivalent to 3,152 calls per day, 131 calls an hour, or one call every 27 seconds.
The figures highlight the alarming rate at which concerns regarding animal welfare are expressed to the charity, as their ambition to ‘have a world in which all humans respect and live in harmony with members of the animal kingdom’, sits at the forefront of inspectors’ minds.
While taking day-to-day calls and investigating information given to them, those working for the RSPCA also focus on the bigger, long-term issues that appear to be plaguing the country.
According to the charity’s regional press officer for the south west, Suzanne Norbury, that includes issues regarding exotic animals, the puppy trade – irresponsible puppy breeding – and the equine crisis – the dumping, abandoning, or fly-grazing of horses – as has recently been reported in The News a number of times.
Suzanne said: ‘We help animals in all kinds of situations, anything from them being struck by a car or dumped, like horses often are – it’s a full spectrum.
‘Over the past year the equine crisis we’re facing has stood out to us as a charity, but it’s actually been an issue for a number of years. It’s something that’s of massive ongoing concern.
‘In 2015 we investigated 15,965 complaints about the welfare of horses in England and Wales.
‘Fly-grazing a horse or group of horses is when their owner leaves the animals to graze on land not owned by them, or land they don’t have consent to let the horses graze on.
‘That land is often inappropriate for the animals and puts their welfare at risk.
‘They can escape or consume ragwort, trip over, injure their limbs, get out onto the road, and so much more, as they often do.
‘Some of the horses we find dumped don’t have horse passports, and aren’t microchipped or identifiable.
‘It’s hard to say why exactly they get abandoned because there are a variety of possible reasons. We’re actually keen to find out more about why it happens and this is where members of the public can act as our eyes and ears.
‘We and other equine welfare charities believe part of the crisis is down to the over-breeding of horses.’
A horse passport is a small booklet or smart card that identifies a horse by its height and species. It’s based on a veterinary surgeon’s identification of the animal, who is microchipped and has a silhouette completed with all its markings.
Horse owners can be given unlimited fines if they’re not able to show a valid horse passport for an animal in their care. Despite this, Suzanne said the cost of buying a horse passport doesn’t stick out as one of the reasons why the animals are dumped, as they are only about £25.
The passport contains medication pages which include a declaration stating whether or not the animal is intended to enter the food chain. Vets need to see this section of the passport before they treat an animal to determine what medication can be administered. If the animal is not signed out of the food chain it limits the drugs the animal can be given.
The passport system protects food safety and enables the UK to continue using veterinary medicines that are not safe to enter the food chain.
Suzanne, 34, added: ‘It’s sad how much time our inspectors spend looking at welfare concerns regarding horses, the equine crisis is heartbreaking for us all.
‘We ask that people unable to cope with the animals seek advice in the first instance rather than dumping or abandoning them, because the RSPCA are here to offer support, advice and education, as well as rescuing animals.
‘As a charity we do all we can to rescue horses, but often by the time we’re called it’s too late and the horses are already in far too poorly a state for us to be able to help them.
‘We can only investigate when we have information and evidence about who may have dumped an animal, and equally, it’s important for people to remember we are a charity and have to act within the law.
‘We don’t have legal powers to remove an animal who belongs to someone, even when they have been left to fly-graze, and it’s only the police who can take them and place them into our care when a vet has said there is there is evidence they are suffering. We are a charity that’s sometimes confused with a government department.’
Anyone who is cruel to an animal or does not provide for its welfare needs may be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison.
Funding for a National Equine Database was withdrawn by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2012, but new proposals approved by the EU in September 2014 confirmed the UK must establish a central database for passports.
Suzanne added: ‘The possibility of having one central equine database is something the RSPCA is extremely keen to support and is encouraged to see this mentioned in the recent Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report.
‘One central database would allow local authorities, landowners and welfare charities to quickly identify the owners of fly-grazed and abandoned horses, thereby encouraging responsible ownership of equines.
‘We encourage all local authorities to get in touch with us and find out more about The Control of Horses Act, and how they can work with us to offer support and education around horses.
‘The act allows councils to take action quickly and we have previously designed training day workshops to help them make the most of their relatively new powers, which should deter irresponsible horse ownership and drive up welfare.’
The RSPCA urges anyone who has any concerns about the welfare of a horse, or any other animal, to call them in confidence on 0300 1234 999.
Many horses that have suffered are also in need of good, responsible homes.
n To apply to adopt a horse, pony or donkey please visit rspca.org. uk/homesfor horses