Horse rescue charities in Scotland are facing unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus crisis, with one sanctuary at “bursting point” and another facing closure due to a sharp fall in income.

The UK’s largest horse rescue charity told The Ferret it is currently caring for 409 rescued horses, with staff and volunteers struggling to cope under lockdown restrictions.

World Horse Welfare (WHW) has only Scots facility, Belwade Farm outside Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, where 92 horses are being looked after.

They include five horses recently rescued from England in a welfare case that could result in a prosecution. WHW works with other welfare organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) . When large group rescues are made, horses are shared between its different centres in Norfolk, Somerset, Lancashire and Aberdeenshire.

The charity’s normal stocking level is around 330 horses combined. The large number of horses it currently has is the result of a “rising tide of welfare cases across the UK”.

In the first three months of 2020, WHF took in 107 horses, of which 53 were involved in prosecution cases. Many animals were suffering after being neglected or mistreated.

Normally in welfare cases horses are signed over to the charity for rehabilitation with the goal of re-homing them, albeit they remain the property of WHF for the rest of their lives.

If the prosecution case is not successful, the animals must be returned to their owner. Some cases can take a long time to come to court – sometimes two years – and during that time the rescued horses are effectively “bed-blocking” limited space at its centres.

The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated problems because the rehoming process has been stalled, WHF said. The charity cannot do home visits to vet potential owners, for example.

Peace at last – abandoned horses are put out to grass here.

Su Delve, a spokesperson for WHF said the five horses moved to Belwade Farm in February are part of an on-going prosecution in England.

She added: “Belwade is full, along with the other centres. They (the five) were all from a large welfare case in Northamptonshire involving 48 horses in total. We took 25 of the 48 horses rescued, with five going to Belwade. It will take a long time for these horses to get used to people and rehomed.”

Meanwhile, another animal sanctuary in Aberdeenshire says coronavirus has had a “devastating effect” and it may have to close. Willows Animal Sanctuary, beside New Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, currently has around 500 animals including over 100 horses, ponies and donkeys, as well as 65 cats and dogs.

It is also home to reptiles and around 200 farm animals and birds. The charity operates a strict “no kill policy” meaning it only euthanises an animal on veterinary advice.

The sanctuary is normally open to the public and is reliant on admission fees and sales from its shop to survive. But having to close its doors to the public due to Covid 19 has resulted in a significant loss of revenue.

In short, we have lost over half our monthly income and we are terrified for the future. At the moment, there is a very strong possibility that we won’t be here when all this is over. VIKKY MCDONALD, WILLOWS

Vikky McDonald, of Willows, said that “every penny raised” from admission fees and sales goes straight back into the charity. She added: “In short, we have lost over half our monthly income and we are terrified for the future. At the moment, there is a very strong possibility that we won’t be here when all this is over.

“The majority of our residents are elderly and require specialist care. We are essentially a retirement home and many of these animals have worked very hard for most of their lives and they deserve somewhere special to enjoy their golden years,” McDonald explained.

Appealing for donations, McDonald continued: “We are doing everything we can to fight for their home and keep them safe from whatever may happen next. We have been a charity for 22 years this winter and we have helped countless animals and people over that time. Please help us retain our vital role in the community.”

The Scottish SPCA also told The Ferret it is suffering financial problems and fears its income could drop by 20 percent. It has launched a campaign called Don’t Forget the Animals.

Thankfully, we have not yet seen a rise in abandonments but we are concerned that, as people feel the economic pinch of the pandemic, they may feel they can no longer afford to care for their animal. KIRSTEEN CAMPBELL, RSPCA

Scottish SPCA chief executive Kirsteen Campbell said over 1500 people had cancelled their monthly support to the charity recently. The cancellation of fundraising events and no footfall to the charity’s animal rescue and re-homing centres, had compounded the financial problems.

“We understand the enormous pressure people are under to make ends meet right now, but we’re asking anyone who is able to back our Don’t Forget the Animals campaign and empower us to continue to deliver a vital service investigating cruelty and rescuing animals,” Campbell said.

Since Scotland entered lockdown on March 23, the SSPCA has responded to almost 8500 reports of animals in need and has around 1000 animals are in its centres and wildlife hospital.

Campbell continued: “Our emergency fostering service has allowed us to get over 160 animals out on foster to make sure we have space to keep on taking animals found on strays or seized

“Thankfully, we have not yet seen a rise in abandonment but we are concerned that, as people feel the economic pinch of the pandemic, they may feel they can no longer afford to care for their animal.”

“Abandoning an animal is never the answer. If any individual or animal sanctuary or rescue in Scotland feels they are struggling to cope, they should contact us and we will do all we can to help.”

Photos thanks to World Horse Welfare.

Author: Billy Briggs in The Ferret

  • To cheer you up after that sad story about abandonment, here are some pictures of happy horses and donkeys in Connemara. Pictures by Bill Heaney

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