Control of animals

Almost 20,000 horses euthanised after being seized by local authorities over past ten years

The figure represents more than 70% of equines seized from 2010 to 2020.

NEARLY TWENTY THOUSAND horses and other equine animals were euthanised in the Republic of Ireland between 2010 and 2020, government figures show.

It represents more than 70% of the total number of equines seized under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Control of Horses Act 1996 over the last decade.

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 almost 5,000 in 2014 to 819 in 2020.

Under law, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), local authorities and gardaí have the power to seize a horse or another equine if the animal is considered to be in danger or to pose a threat to others.

According to figures released by the department, 27,723 horses and other equines were seized between 2010 and 2020. Of these, 3,010 were later reclaimed by their owner.

Limerick County seized the highest number of equines over the ten-year period, when 2,970 were taken under control of the local authority. Of these, 71% were later euthanised.

Figures from Limerick show that a further 310 equines were reclaimed by their owner and that 364 were re-homed between 2010 and 2020.

And 183 equines are unaccounted for nationally between 2010 and 2020.

Galway City euthanised 95% of the equines it seized between 2010 and 2020, with figures showing that 292 were seized and destroyed by the council up to 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 equines were re-homed or reclaimed in Cavan since 2014, pushing the euthanasia rate in the years since then to 100%.

Between 2010 and 2020, Leitrim County Council seized 255 equines, but just one of these was later re-claimed* by its owner. A total of 114 were rehomed and 140 euthanised. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Leitrim County Council said, “Leitrim County Council employs reputable contractors to carry out duties in relation to the Control of Horses Act 1996. Every effort is made to find suitable homes for unwanted and stray horses in all circumstances. Unfortunately, in some cases stray equines are unsuitable for rehoming and euthanasia carried out by a Veterinary Practitioner is the only viable option.”

Control stats

Department subvention

Since 2014, the DAFM has made a contribution to local authorities for each horse or equines that is seized “to help alleviate costs”, although the entire cost is not covered by the department.

The department will pay up to €375 to a local authority if an equine is seized and later euthanised. The subvention falls to €200 if a horse is re-homed or €125 this happens to an equine other than a horse.

No subvention is paid to a council if a horse or other equine is reclaimed.

A number of equine charities around Ireland rescue, rehabilitate and re-home horses and ponies that have been released from pounds or surrendered by members of the public.

Martina Kenny, one of the co-founders of My Lovely Horse Rescue, explains that the charity has not seen the number of equines it has taken in decrease in line with a drop in figures on the number of horses seized by local authorities.

“Our numbers are huge,” she says.

Joe Gormley, who works with Forgotten Horses in Galway, also described the process of dealing with the local authorities to seize an abused or abandoned horse as “informal”.

He claims that some council workers who have the authority to seize equines lack the expertise to do so, and says that gardaí sometimes have to help.

“Gardaí appear to be more aware of their roles as authorised officers under the Animal Health and Welfare Acts,” Gormley says.

“They have assisted us in the rescue of a number of horses in the past year under those provisions.”

Although fees vary from county to county, the cost to a member of the public to reclaim a horse in Dublin can be up to €1,200.

Under legislation, the owners of these horses are liable for prosecution.

Owners have five days in which to pay the fee and if they don’t, the horse is “disposed of or re-homed” by the council’s pound.

As a result, Gormley also says that many horses are left in pounds to die once they are seized.

“It’s actually cheaper to go out and buy a horse on the market than it is to get one released,” he says.

*An initial version of this article said that just one horse had been re-homed in the Leitrim County Council area. This should have said re-claimed. 114 horses were re-homed in the area over the decade. 

Bethany Langham
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