Friday, February 13, 2015

Poor auld dogs, poor auld horses! Here's a Sulky Road-Racing Ban manifesto for Monday!

If Four Seasons Promotions, trading as ACS (an animal carcass collection company) are deemed an inappropriate choice to manage the Carlow/Kilkenny Dog Shelter then the council should consider withdrawing the contract they already hold for the collection, impounding and disposal of horses.  To this end, please find to follow two alternative proposals that would deliver an animal welfare response to dealing with stray or abused horses at the same time as making a sulki road racing ban a reality welcomed by all communities, including the travellers.

Current horse contractors collect, hold and dispose of horses for €980 paid by the council.
Healing by Franc would collect, hold, recover condition of, microchip, passport, geld if necessary and break-in for €980
The local authority would make an income on the sale of the animals to home-checked new owners. This would range from €50 for a companion animal – a horse to keep another animal company but not itself sound enough to be ridden  - right through to €2,000 for a safe riding horse, with scope for further training.

The figure of €980 can be broken down and monitored with complete transparency.
€15 per hour driving
Diesel charged on the basis of €25 miles per gallon (Half the cost of diesel goes towards the use of the box)
€120 For vet             – microchip €75
                                  -     registry of passport €45
€600 Keep and training/care 

Arrangement with vet to take horses to the practice, so passporting and initial condition check would be done en route to foster home/pound.

99% of stray horses are travellers horses. The establishment of a ban on sulky racing, would make it possible to confiscate horses and allow their re-sale, rather than return to notified irresponsible owners or put down. This is the current practice. The collection service currently put down the horse, rather than impound them. The good sulky racing horses are kept and will only be returned for  €2,000. There is some evidence that some are sold on for research.

One success story;
A pony was surrendered. He was cared for and treated for his neglected condition and worked on head collar training. Week 3, he was gelded and given time to recover. Then trained to saddle, microchipped, passported and sold for €900 to a riding stables. He was suitable for lead rein classes to establish manners and routine. Then his potential was spotted by a young rider there and she bought him to bring him on for show jumping. He now has a forever home and is a top class pony.

One opposite outcome;
A mare found on a jelly bog tied to another horse, who was already dead. She had already grazed the circle she could reach to nothing and had succeeded only in dragging the other animal a metre or two. The farmer wanted them off his land and risking life and limb, she was led off and nursed back to health and again, trained and vetted and became a perfect riding horse. This was the moment, that the travellers came and stole her back.

This raises the main difficulty with offering a horse impounding service; security. Eventually the travellers will work out where their animals are being kept and come and recover them. Where dogs are often unwanted, horses are definitely wanted so there are risks of theft and also risks of false claims and calls and rehoming inappropriately. This would be addressed by having the communications network, including vetting those interested in rehoming, doing home checks and proof of residence checks, managed away from the pound. So this is one offer by the Healing by Franc team. To offer a complete service for the same price as the council is currently paying, taking care of all the legal, health, training and rehoming aspects. In addition there is the real chance of income for the local authority, where recovered animals would be sold and that the full price of the sale be returned to the council. This is a complete animal welfare service, equipped to do what needs to be done. If their injuries are too great,  this would be assessed at the outset by our system of each horse being brought to the vet before even being impounded. The service could all be done at the Urlingford Pound if that belongs to the council.

To stop sulky racing on the road, the council must provide a facility. Travellers have rights too and this is a central part of their culture. We are aware that Noel of the ISPCA had a vision for a state of the art horse shelter for Kilkenny but then there was the recession. The grander plan that we would like to propose, is not as expensive as that shelter because the security wouldn’t have to be so great. Furthermore, the travellers themselves would run it and pay for it themselves, under strict animal welfare supervision by us (or some other group, who were confident in working respectfully with this community and insisting on care standards and payment) The group has the relationship with local Travellers, through both adult education programmes and horse and pony training and sales.  We have it on good authority that if a track was provided, they would use it.

In America there is a great model we could use. It consists of a massive circular all-weather track and furthermore all the horses are stabled there. The travellers have plenty of money, some say more than most other people as they do not have bank accounts but are always accumulating wealth. They would pay for such a facility on a regular basis and payment could be scaled on the level of care they provide for their own horses, necessary microchipping and passports initially and then how much they intended to use the track, for training and race days.  This facility would not need to be close to town, there are plenty of out of the way land that might already belong to the council where such  a track could be provided. The sulky racing in England is also popular and we have been guided to connect with Peter Lee in North Wales as a link to the animal welfare and management guidelines that work best in designing the track and supervision of such facilities. If there was sufficient land and stables (and there is a team of micro-building experts who are working with us), most recovered horses could be brought and cared for there. If the culprits of the neglect did come forwards, they could be penalized/fined and educated on site. 

3rd story. Two children driving a sulky down the road hit the top of my colleagues car with a stick. She jumped out and shouted ‘Don’t you hit my car!” They proceeded to hit the pony really hard with the stick to make a get away. My colleague shouted again “And be nice to that pony!” They turned around and said “Yes of course we will” while dropping the stick and slowing right down. There is a lot of love for animals amongst people and even the travellers, its just embedded behaviors in a marginalized community that has not been worked with very often before. The problem is one of ignorance, attitude and habit. With a joint effort to provide travellers with their own track and care and education facility, for which they pay and keep up maintenance, there would be a change of culture. Being welfare-orientated, kind, punctual with payment and/or honest could be rewarded by reduced rates of livery, as could participation by old or young in classes on care, horse husbandry, breaking in (without the forcing of submission that is common in old techniques). The Healing by Franc team has all the necessary experience to enforce this new educational model while the diplomatic skills to involve the travelling community in the design and planning of the facility, so that all sides are invested in it.
The sulki racing track would be the first thing to offer with the incentive that the sulki road racing ban was coming in. Management of the urlingford pound, or another stable yard, could be made available to bring detained horses initially. However, the less high security, track facility with up to 100 stables would be self policing to a considerable extent, once it was built. All the horses would be there under supervision, with food, water, grazing and a safe ground surface for racing without young limb compaction, shin splints and staff always there to ensure that no race was too long and that animals are sound before and after. Effectively the council would be providing an innovative solution to educating travellers about basic care and responsible pet/sport horse/general pony ownership. This is long overdue. Secondly you would get the sulky racing off the roads – as the great Mayor Andrew Mcguinness himself said, it would be a first for Ireland. He is proposing, to the council, a ban on sulky road racing this coming Monday. Thirdly, you would stop the impossible level of security needed as travellers would pay and have access to the site. Going back to the story of the half starved mare attached to the dead mare in the field. If this horse was brought into such a facility, the owner would have to either own up and share the cost of recovery OR deny all knowledge and allow the staff to attend to her and sell her to a good home, to make back the cost of care and keep.

By way of clarification, many horse welfare groups do not believe in selling a horse or it being given a job, where it is rehomed. We believe that selling a good horse to a good owner, stops the further deflation of the horse market. This deflation is one of the main reasons there are so many unwanted horses at the moment. Also letting people really own a horse retains the idea of investment. This lack of investment in a loaned pony, for example, can lead to further neglect. The travellers have the money for hay, feed, water, training, competitions and grazing. What they do not yet have is a culture of animal care or a set-up to provide these basics. A horse/pony needs a job, whether it is as a companion pony or with greater plans in mind. These dreams of dressage or jumping or even sulki racing motivate children and adults to a higher level of care and interest in their horse or pony. The key is for the horse impounding contractors, wherever they are finally or even temporarily based, to cultivate this interest and relationship between horse and rider/yard management and liveries/local authority and facility to promote a common goal of safe roads, mutual respect and animal welfare.

If we do not provide a sulk racing track, it will be very difficult to police who is racing and who is training or just exercising and what to do with the culprits once caught. If the horse’s only option is being picked up by the ACS, their life has not been improved one iota. We are, right away, willing to discuss and facilitate a plan that will make the road racing ban a reality and put Kilkenny county on the map for the discerning spending of public money on Animal Welfare, respect for all communities and social conscience and care education rather than security and disposal. 

Don’t let the cost hold you back. There may be tracks around – like the Ambulance track that runs by Gowran race track or even the dog track in Kilkenny if it is big enough. The council may already own 20 acres of land somewhere or less or more, that would be perfect and it wouldn’t need to be right next to any village or cause any fear. The opportunity is to bring everyone and their ponies in, offer a great facility and teach them how to mind their own animals and pay for the privilege of it, like the rest of us do. This way, we address the problems head on, rather than waiting for the death of more horses, more accidents plus the exposure of more and more cruelty, collection and disposal, as a response. If you’d rather someone else ran this, that’s fine with us too. Our main aim as always is to think through as many sides of the issue as possible and offer a higher principle of operation. We are willing to help, care for, retrain, teach, deal with the community in question and deal with difficult care decisions, recovery of payments and people whenever needed.

All the very best with the proposal ban on Monday and most urgently making sure that Four Seasons Promotions, trading as ACS do not get the Carlow/Kilkenny Dog Shelter. Give it to ASH Animal Shelter. They are responsible, they have reached the key performance indicators time and time again. 20 years running a successful shelter, more than 250 dogs rehomed last year alone. 10,000 people willing to help, that has got to be a success. No more tendering and decisions being made behind closed doors, please sort this out Monday and get a definite agreement from the Council Executive. Lots of love and gratitude, Frances Micklem

Healing by Franc  

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