We love and care for our horses and are shocked and saddened when we hear of incidents in which horses have suffered. Animal cruelty is when abuse or neglect is happening at the hands of a human caretaker or others. A person commits an offense of cruelty to animals when their actions cause death, physical pain or horrible suffering to any animal. Such actions can be either deliberate abuse, the failure to take care of an animal due to a lack of knowledge or willful neglect, which means the intentional withholding of basic necessities like food and water that leads to the starvation or dehydration of an animal.
Unfortunately, incidents of cruelty may go unreported because of a lack of understanding of what constitutes animal cruelty, different interpretations of what is considered abuse or neglect and confusion about which agency should be notified when welfare abuses are witnessed. If we are the ones discovering or suspecting such situations, how can we be sure that avoidable suffering is occurring, and what should we do to stop it?
Intentional abuse is often easier to detect and can involve things such as untreated wounds or lameness, physical harm such as beating or kicking the animal or starvation. However, there can be grey areas. Is the wound untreated or just unbandaged, and how recent is the injury? Is the animal being “beaten” or given a whip strike for “disobedience?” Is the horse thin due to an illness that is being treated unbeknownst to us or is it being starved?
Neglect can be even more difficult to detect since the horse may be located out of sight in a stable or in a vast pasture, but also requires knowledge and experience to identify. It can include things such as lack of sanitation, lack of access to food and water, infestation with parasites, overgrown hooves, excessive confinement or being kept in unsafe conditions.
How Can You Help Horses in Trouble?
So, what steps can we take to determine whether a horse or herd is being mistreated if the evidence is unclear or could be interpreted in other ways? Education is key. Be familiar with the Equine Code of Practice and what correct care and handling entails. Then you will be better positioned to recognize ongoing problems and also have more credibility should the situation result in charges. Step one recommended by welfare agencies is to document the suspected problems. Is hay being delivered? How often? Are water troughs being filled? When (and sometimes how) are the stabled horses exercised? Is there a build up of manure? Is there shelter for outdoor horses? Is there a blacksmith or trimmer attending the farm and how often?
Step two is to contact your local or provincial hotlines and make a report. Law enforcement and animal control departments highly advise against citizens taking matters into their own hands. As much as it angers you to see an animal being abused or neglected, you could end up putting yourself in a dangerous situation when confronting an animal abuser or trespassing onto someone else’s property to rescue an animal.
Try to gather the following information before submitting a report of animal cruelty:
• A concise, written, factual statement of what you observed – giving dates and approximate times whenever possible.
• Photographs of the location, the animals in question and the surrounding area. Note: do not put yourself in danger! Do not enter another person’s property without permission and exercise great caution around unfamiliar animals that may be frightened or in pain.
• The names and contact information of other people who have firsthand information about the abusive situation.
It is possible to file an anonymous report, but please consider providing your information. The case is more likely to be pursued when there are credible witnesses willing to stand behind the report and, if necessary, testify in court.
Keep a record of exactly whom you contacted, the dates of the contacts, copies of any documents you provided to law enforcement or animal control and the content and outcome of your discussion. If you do not receive a response from the officer assigned to your case within a reasonable length of time, make a polite follow up call to inquire about the progress of the investigation. If you are unsure about a situation, reach out to other horse owners and compare your observations with what they consider normal. Contact an officer at your provincial welfare enforcement agency and ask if they would be concerned about a particular issue or situation. You can also call an equine vet about injuries or illness and what recovery might look like.
Canadian Equine Welfare Agencies
If you are certain you want to make a report, contact the applicable Canadian equine welfare agency:
Outside Calgary and Edmonton:
800-455-9003 – select option #1
Calgary Humane Society
Animal Care & Control Centre
SPCA Provincial Call Centre
Animal Care Line
Winnipeg Humane Society Animal Cruelty Line
Local RCMP/RNC detachment
Department of Natural Resources – Animal Care via Crime Stoppers
Provincial animal abuse hotline 833-9ANIMAL (926-4625)
Prince Edward Island
PEI Humane Society
902-892-1190, ext. 21, ask to speak to an Animal Protection Officer
firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line “ATTN Animal Protection Officer”
Ministère de l’Agriculture,
des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec
Government Agriculture Branch
Department of Environment
In an emergency or during hours in which an agency may be closed, call your local police department or RCMP.
What Does Equine Welfare Look Like?
The Five Freedoms is a core concept in animal welfare that originated in a UK government report in 1965, and was then refined by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. It states that an animal’s primary welfare needs can be met by safeguarding the following five freedoms:
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst by providing ready access to fresh water and a healthy diet to maintain full health and vigour.
2. Freedom from Discomfort by providing an appropriate environment, including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease by preventing illness/injury or rapidly diagnosing and treating such.
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
The Five Freedoms is a concept that is frequently referenced by animal welfare professionals around the world, especially in relation to farm animal care. Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council is the lead organization that develops Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals based on the Five Freedoms. These are nationally developed guidelines with information combined from scientific committees and relevant industry stakeholders. Equines are classified as livestock in Canadian legislation (e.g. the Health of Animals Act and the Animal Pedigree Act). The equine industry is very diverse, and the Code was written with consideration of the different management systems in use. The authors recognized that there is more than one way to provide good animal welfare for equines as long as the Five Freedoms are observed.
Those responsible for equines must consider the following factors:
• Feed and water to maintain health and vigour
• Freedom of movement and exercise for most normal behaviours
• The company of other equines
• Veterinary care, diagnosis and treatment, disease control and prevention
• Hoof care
• Emergency preparedness for fire, natural disaster and the disruption of feed supplies
• Humane end of life decisions
All herd sizes require adequate human resources to ensure observation, care and welfare of individual animals. According to the Code, restricted finances, ignorance or other limiting circumstances should not result in a delay in treatment or neglect of the animals. Inhumane practices can and should be reported. Visit nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/equine to see the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines.