Despite annual appeals to the public not to buy animals for Christmas, groups such as My Lovely Horse Rescue find they then bear the brunt when these “gifts” are no longer a novelty.
“We always get calls before and after Christmas, from people getting rid of dogs and even horses,” Martina Kenny said.
“We see an awful lot of calls coming in, from people about unwanted dogs as well as horses. They get in touch asking us to take the horse because it might have a back issue or a leg issue. They’ll say, ‘I don't want to have to put him down, he's only eight or nine, but he can’t really be ridden anymore and we can't afford him’.
“Some people just don't see them as a living thing and even if they do, they don’t see it as the commitment it is. A horse can live up to 40 years…that's a huge commitment but they’re not prepared for that."
Martina believes that since the pandemic the issue has become even more challenging.
“We’re finding that people bought animals during the lockdown because they thought it would be a good distraction and they didn’t have much else to do.
“They thought, ‘I’ll just put it in a field’. And now they're either going back to work or they've lost their jobs or they are downsizing and the first thing that has to go is the thing that costs them money which is the horse, or the thing that's getting older, which is the dog. It's so sad but honestly, that’s the way it is.”
However, Martina revealed that’s it’s not just at Christmas and into the New Year that they find themselves under pressure.
She had just posted a story about “another 7 souls saved from the pound” on Thursday, (December 23) relating to seven horses that had been taken off Dublin City Council’s hands.
“These innocent beauties all seized from approximately the same area!” she posted. “We’ve been told they wandered down from Dunsink and found going through bins for food.
“Thank you to Dublin City Council Animal Welfare Unit for getting them and making sure after their 5 days they could come to us.”
“I just had Dublin City Council onto me again, saying there are another 30 horses in the pound and would we be able to help them in the New Year,” Martina added, “we have to, because we can't say no. It's just horrible, it’s not the animal’s fault.”
Martina explained that Dublin City Council keep animals in the pound for five days and then after that if they're not claimed, “which usually they aren't,” they are destroyed.
“You can pick up a horse for as little as 50 euro or even free at this point and I'd say probably 95 per cent are never claimed,” she revealed.
“If they're on council land or dumped into a farmer’s field or a housing estate, they'll be seized because obviously it's illegal to keep a horse in these areas, and then they are sent to the pound for five days.
“But we are working with Dublin City Council and it's brilliant, it’s working well.”
However, the animals are sometimes in such poor condition that it takes a lot of work to get them back to health, Martina said.
“Some of them are really scared, they are really skinny and full of worms so we’ll put them on a worming and feeding programme and they'll get the best care that we can possibly give.”
In the meantime, the My Lovely Horse Rescue volunteers are preparing for another busy few winter months ahead.
“We’re based in Kildare and we mainly serve Dublin but most of the rest of the country seems to be calling us at this point," she added. "We have three centres including one in Cork and a pig rescue in Kildare.
“Here in Kildare, we almost always have more than 200 animals on the farm but overall, we have over 500 animals in our care, and we are finding it very challenging.
Because we’re the largest horse rescue in Ireland and the only pig rescue as far as I know, people just keep coming to us. We’re big on social media and they see that we care, each and every one of us.
“There are about 70 of us and we go above and beyond to help an animal. Last week we were out at 4am heading to the middle of the countryside to help a horse because that’s what we do."
She adds that the winter obviously poses particular challenges.
“Once the frost hits or the snow we have to go out and to do hay runs around the place because the animals can’t graze. And then we have to feed our own too. We go through about 45 round bales and then there are the vets bills too. It costs thousands every week and we rely on donations to cover that.
“We don't get very much from the government and it costs a lot of money to run this operation. So, we do rely on the public, without them I’m not sure what we would do.”