NEARLY TWENTY THOUSAND horses and other equines were euthanized in the Republic of Ireland between 2010 and 2020, according to government figures.
It accounts for over 70% of the total number of equines seized under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Horse Control Act 1996 over the past decade.
The figures also show that since 2014 there has been a steady decline in the number of horses and other equines seized in Ireland, with the number of seizures dropping from nearly 5,000 in 2014 to 819 in 2020.
By law, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM), local authorities and the gardaí have the power to seize a horse or other equine if the animal is considered to be in danger or as a threat to others.
According to figures published by the department, 27,723 horses and other equines were seized between 2010 and 2020. Among them, 3,010 were subsequently recovered by their owner.
County Limerick seized the largest number of equines during the ten-year period, when 2,970 were brought under the control of the local authority. Of these, 71% were subsequently euthanized.
Limerick figures show that 310 other equines were recovered by their owners and 364 were relocated between 2010 and 2020. 199 others were reported missing by authorities.
The city of Galway has euthanized 95% of the equines it seized between 2010 and 2020, with figures showing that 292 were seized and destroyed by the council until 2018.
Elsewhere, Roscommon County Council has not seized a horse or other equine since 2014, while Cavan had a 0% euthanasia rate from 2010 to 2013.
However, no equine has been relocated or recovered in Cavan since 2014, pushing the rate of euthanasia in the years that followed to 100%.
Between 2010 and 2020, Leitrim County Council seized 255 equines, but only one of them was subsequently relocated.
Since 2014, the DAFM has paid a contribution to local communities for each horse or equine seized “to help reduce costs”, although the total costs are not covered by the department.
The department will pay up to € 375 to a local authority if an equine is seized and then euthanized. The subsidy drops to € 200 if a horse is relocated or € 125 this happens to an equine other than a horse.
No subsidy is paid to a council if a horse or other equine is recovered.
A number of equine charities in Ireland rescue, rehabilitate and repatriate horses and ponies that have been released from pounds or returned by members of the public.
Martina Kenny, one of the co-founders of My Lovely Horse Rescue, explains that the association has not seen the number of equines captured decrease in parallel with a drop in the figures on the number of horses seized by local authorities.
“Our numbers are huge,” she said.
Joe Gormley, who works with Forgotten Horses in Galway, also described the process of negotiating with local authorities to seize an abused or abandoned horse as “informal”.
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He says some city workers who have the power to seize equines lack the expertise to do so, and says the gardaí sometimes has to help.
“Gardaí appears to be more aware of his role as an authorized agent under animal health and welfare laws,” Gormley says.
“They have helped us rescue a number of horses over the past year under these provisions.”
Although fees vary from county to county, the cost for a member of the public to pick up a horse in Dublin can go up to € 1,200.
Under the law, the owners of these horses are liable to prosecution.
Owners have five days to pay the fee and if they fail to do so, the horse is “knocked out or relocated” by the council pound.
As a result, Gormley also says that many horses are left in pounds to die when seized.
“It’s actually cheaper to go out and buy a horse in the market than it is to bring one out,” he says.