Never in the field of human emotiveness have so many euphemisms appeared in one House of Commons committee meeting. Not in the debates surrounding the issue of ‘helping’ elderly NHS patients to depart this mortal coil’ with an alacrity that suits the accountants, nor in the recurring knee-jerker of ‘restoring the death penalty’. This was the RSPCA trying to push for legislation that would allow them to kill horses without having to prove who the owner is, without having to wait for a ‘horse feed heavy’ 14 days, and without having to offer the horse for sale at a public auction.
It was left to Lee Hackett of the British Horse Owners Society to put a name to the shire horse in the room – ‘Bad PR’. The RSPCA man couldn’t bring himself to broach the issue, but nodded enthusiastically as Lee Hackett said that all three horse welfare representatives were agreed that the tide of public condemnation of charities that kill the animals they are supposed to be protecting ‘had turned’ – now they felt that it was a ‘reasonable course of action’.
The problem has arisen because we have stopped eating horse-meat. Now a horse is only worth between £5 and £10 at public auction – and public auction is the only solution presently available to the welfare charities that have been called in to look after an ‘abandoned horse’. The definition of abandoned is the issue.
The present Animal Act insists that even if the horse is micro-chipped, the charities have to ring every one of the 75 odd ‘horse passport offices’ within 14 days – and feed the horse in the meantime, in addition to which they must bear the cost of any veterinary care that the horse requires. The cost of this was estimated at £2,000 per horse.
At best, they recoup £5 to £10 at auction – which often means that the original owner buys the horse back, well fed and with its toe nails manicured…..
The euphemisms employed to discuss the practice of slaughtering healthy animals ranged from ‘euthanasia’ to ‘adequate enforcement options’ to ‘additional tools’ – the most common was simply ‘this amendment to the Act’ delivered in stuttering tones or with a voice that trailed helplessly away to nothing…
The RSPCA are hoist by their own petard. Those emotive ads pleading for money to look after Maisie’s much loved cat, dog or even horse with a caring and gentle RSPCA lovingly stroking the animal is belied by the fact that in 2011 they slaughtered 44% of the animals brought into their care – last year one RSPCA carer hung herself in despair when she realised this. At present they have no mandate to slaughter the horses unless they are unhealthy and suffering.
The ‘problem’ has been exasperated by the Irish government passing legislation 7 years ago which allowed to authorities to seize and ‘apply additional tools’ as they call it, to any unfortunate Dobbin whose owner has seen no reason why Dobbin shouldn’t munch the grass growing on land owned by the Local authority – a practice known as ‘fly grazing’. Dobbin’s owners, variously described as ‘impecunious’ or ‘not really able to afford to keep a horse’ have apparently been able to find the funds to transport some 3,500 of these horses across the Irish sea where they are now grazing happily on fertile Norfolk fields….
The image of a piebald traveller’s horse grazing contentedly on the verge whilst his owner peaceably whittles clothes pegs may be a charming one, but as usual, the lawyers are at the bottom of this impasse.
The owners of land where fly-grazing occurs, as any law student could tell you, have a legal duty to compensate anyone who is damaged by anything escaping from his land – regardless of whether he actually owns the ‘something’ or not. It’s not the loss of his grass that he is concerned about, but his liability for whatever Dobbin might do next – hence he calls in the RSPCA to remove Dobbin pronto – as an apparently ‘abandoned horse’.
Joseph Jones of the Gypsy Council brought the issue down to ‘culture’ – ownership of horses is a status requirement; and also that it was a requirement incumbent on the gypsy population to prove that they were ‘travelling’ and therefore they needed to own a horse (120 horses in one case) to move their caravan. Nobody dared trample over cultural issues to ask how many gypsies actually lived in a horse drawn caravan these days.
The Dartmoor Hill Pony Association is now calling for people to eat ‘Shergar Berger’ again because – obtusely – having a lively trade for horse meat encourages those of a sensitive disposition to pay higher prices at auction for Dartmoor ponies which they then take home and care for ‘to prevent them being eaten’, and those high prices ensure that the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association breeders keep breeding Hill Ponies and ensure the survival of the breed.
You may need to read these paragraphs again to get your head round the logic embedded in there! Eat more horse meat? Everyone is agreed that the horses need to be slaughtered.