'I've dealt with a foal thrown from a van and a sexually abused pony': Animal rescuer reveals

Kind-hearted Caitriona Lowry has told how she dealt with those horrific cases and many more since she set up Hilltop Sanctuary in Co Clare

Caitriona changed her whole life when she found a foal tied up at the side of a road

Alan Sherry

An animal rescuer has told how a foal was thrown out of a speeding van, a donkey had cigarettes put out in its nostrils and how a pony was sexually abused.

Kind-hearted Caitriona Lowry has told how she dealt with those horrific cases and many more since she set up Hilltop Sanctuary with Pat Tobin in Co Clare four years ago.

"Our sanctuary takes in the most abused, who are least likely to be rehomed," she told the Sunday World this week.

The sanctuary currently looks after more than 100 animals, some of whom have suffered serious neglect or abuse.

She said one a horse at her sanctuary was left with significant brain injuries as a result of being thrown out of a speeding van while still a foal two years ago.

The injures are so bad the horse regularly walks into things by accident and spends a lot of his time lying down.

Caitriona Lowry at the sanctuary

"Cillian is coming up on two. He was thrown out of a moving van on to a roundabout in Limerick city. He has an acquired brain injury. We have touch-and-go moments with him as a result.

"You have to keep going. Every time the phone rings there's another killing coming in. It's overwhelming, it really is."

As well as tragic cases like Cillian, there are rescues where the animal makes a full recovery.

Eli the donkey made headlines when he was rescued in 2020 after reports that he was being beaten by a gang of teens in Limerick.

"Eli, the poor donkey, was beat up by a gang of 20 youths," Catriona said. "He became quite famous. He was a donkey in inner city areas of Limerick and was moved around different parts of the city like a football."

She said locals in the area spotted a group of youths carrying out horrific abuse on Eli.

"He was burnt and beaten and they put cigarettes up his nostrils, burning him.

"In the end, a group of ladies saw what was going on and all texted each other. They went over and formed a circle around him until the guards could get there. They literally formed a circle around him to stop the lads subjecting him to any more beatings."

Eli at the sanctuary

The story of the incident was shared around the world and covered in publications including the Irish Post.

Gardai seized Eli with the help of animal rescuers and Catriona took him in at the Hillside Sanctuary.

She said he was trembling and really shutting down when he arrived, with his hooves and body in a terrible condition.

Despite the abuse he was subjected to, Catriona said he is currently thriving at the sanctuary.

"He's amazing now.

"It took trust, to deal with the wounds and treat them and the vet and all that. It does take time. You have to win back their trust.

"It doesn't always work. I have a pony who has to be sedated before anyone goes near him because he hasn't recovered from what happened to him.

"He was actually sexually abused.

"We have him four years now and he's still traumatised."

Cillian when he first arrived at the sanctuary

Catriona said the work can be upsetting but she feels if volunteers didn't look after animals many would be neglected.

"I set up the sanctuary four years ago because of a need for it. Where do you go with the animals?

"You email the department's dedicated welfare section, you ring the ISPCA and they won't come over county borders if you don't have an inspector in your county, so where do you go with these animals? There is nobody else to turn to.

"Twelve years ago, I had a very different life. I was driving a little convertible and didn't even have an animal."

She spotted a foal tied at the side of the road and made a report about it, thinking someone would come and take care of it.

"I reported her and reported her and no one came. I ended up going to the co-op store looking for hay."

She bought haylage and ended up feeding the foal herself.

"I climbed up this verge at the side of the road and fed her for a few months.

"Nobody came."

She was later called by the owners of the foal who told her she was no good to them any more and Caitriona took her on.

"She went on to win jumping competitions and everything. That was my first equine rescue."

She then started feeding hungry horses and eventually set up the sanctuary.

"I started to engage with owners and try to build a relationship to improve their horses' quality of lives.

"I'm not sure people realise that animal cruelty is not confined to any one specific group of people.

"Over the last 12 years, we have rescued animals from diverse people with diverse backgrounds. We have witnessed horrific cruelty caused by people held in high esteem in their communities and by people whose animals fund their lifestyles."

She said she dealt with thoroughbred horses with serious injures which end up in the hands of teens in housing estates.

Caitriona changed her whole life when she found a foal tied up at the side of a road

"How does a stallion with all the hallmarks of once being taken care of end up in the hands of teenagers with no facilities to care for the animal?

"Well, it goes something like this - the owner was told by a vet he could only be a companion horse after being injured.

"So instead of listening to the vet, he decided that he would make something from his loss and sold him into the city.

"This story is not a unique one and rescuers will tell you about finding thoroughbreds and show ponies tied in estates or dumped in forests."

Hilltop Sanctuary is not a registered charity at present and receives no Government funding so pay their own costs each year running to thousands in food, vet bills and other costs.

They have set up a GoFundMe page where they sell calendars featuring animals they have rescued, including Eli, to help support the sanctuary.

They were also overjoyed recently when Sean Murray Car Sales based in Co Clare recently donated a Ford S Max to the sanctuary.

Updates on the work of the sanctuary can be found on Twitter @catlowry54

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