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Allegations of emaciated horse at Echuca saleyards

RSPCA Victoria is making inquiries after reports an allegedly emaciated horse was assessed as fit for sale at Echuca saleyards last month.

RENEE THOMPSON June 13, 2014 12:01pm

The horse photographed at Echuca saleyards on Friday, May 23.

The horse photographed at Echuca saleyards on Friday, May 23.
Horse at Echuca saleyards on Friday, May 23.

RSPCA Victoria is making inquiries after reports an allegedly emaciated horse was assessed as fit for sale at Echuca saleyards last month.

The report surrounds the sale of a chestnut mare in pen 92 at the saleyards on Friday, May 23.

A member of the public at the saleyards that day, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she took two photos of a ‘‘severely dehydrated and emaciated’’ mare on her phone and confronted the saleyards manager about the horse’s condition.

The woman said she was told the horse was fit for sale because it had ‘‘bright eyes’’.

She forwarded copies of the photos to Campaspe Shirewhich is responsible for running the saleyardsthe Department of Environment and Primary Industries, RSPCA Victoria and Animal Cruelty Hotline Australia (a division of Animal Liberation NSW).

She also emailed the Riverine Herald, explaining the mare should not have been accepted for sale.

‘‘This is a very clear breach of DEPI and Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals Act legislation,’’ she said.

‘‘No horse in such an emaciated and unhealthy state can be accepted as fit for sale, under those legislations.’’

ACHA’s Barrie Tapp, who was an RSPCA Victoria senior inspector of two decades, shared the woman’s concerns and also reported it to DEPI, on May 26.

He claimed the sale of the horse did not meet DEPI’s Code of Practice for the Welfare of Horses minimum standards which states a horse’s body condition scorea method of assessing a horse’s body weight health on a scale of zero to fivemust not be allowed to be less than two.

‘‘This mare had a body score rating, as per DEPI scoring chart, of zero to one, was emaciated with all ribs clearly visible, hip bones visible and according to a very experienced horse woman who attends these sales regularly, was severely dehydrated and in contravention of not only (the Cruelty to Animals Act) but any code of practice and, not to mention humane commonsense,’’ Mr Tapp said.

He said the complaint needed to be investigated as it appeared ‘‘management of these yards also needs to be accountable’’.

However, Campaspe Shire commercial operations manager Rohan Burgess said the horse was not emaciated and was assessed as being fit for sale because it was.

‘‘A very skinny horse was presented at the Livestock Exchange on Friday, May 23,’’ he said.

‘‘The horse was assessed by the saleyard’s superintendent and the horse responded well.

‘‘It was walking freely, (had) bright eyes, had muscle tone and met the requirements associated with being fit and able to be sold.

‘‘It was not emaciated.

‘‘Whilst visually a skinny horse is not nice to see, it was fit for sale and has actually gone to a better home.’’

The RSPCA Victoria Inspectorate is authorised to investigate and prosecute breaches of the Cruelty to Animals Act and investigates thousands of animal cruelty complaints each year.

Only a small number of those investigations lead to prosecution.

Inspectorate manager Allie Jalbert said she could not disclose details of complaints or investigations regarding Echuca saleyards for reasons of confidentiality and legal process.

However, she said RSPCA Victoria had been ‘‘working closely with Department of Environment and Primary Industries and Campaspe Shire over several months, on an inter-agency approach to improve welfare standards of horses presented for sale at the Echuca saleyards’’.

Ms Jalbert said the three organisations were planning to discuss protocols at the saleyards on a yet-to-be-determined date this month.

‘‘Protocols for dealing with horses unfit for sale, should they arrive at the saleyards, have been discussed and will be the focus of a meeting between the three organisations later this month to further improve horse welfare standards and response to non-compliance,’’ she said.

When the Riverine Herald asked DEPI about the May 23 report, a spokesperson confirmed RSPCA Victoria was looking into it.

The Riverine Herald also presented DEPI with one of the submitted photos of the horse and asked DEPI to assess the horse’s body condition score.

A spokeswoman said the assessment involved tactile and visual components.

‘‘It is not possible to conclude with confidence the condition score of a horse based on a single photo,’’ she said.

‘‘There are a range of other factors that are also important in assessing the suitability of a horse for sale including age, demeanour and mobility.’’

The spokesperson said the inter-agency approach would ensure the welfare of horses being sold at the saleyards.

‘‘DEPI’s role in relation to horses being sold at saleyards is to provide the legal framework that supports industry-managed arrangements and allows effective action when the welfare of animals is compromised.’’

Mr Tapp disagreed that the photo was not enough to make an accurate assessment.

‘‘I’ve taken hundreds of photographs to court with horses in like conditions to that shown in the photo and seen convictions come from it,’’ he said.

He said other factors, such as age or whether the horse had gone to a good home, had nothing to do with its body condition.

‘‘If it was 20 years old, it still shouldn’t have been in that condition,’’ he said.

‘‘That horse is emaciated, that’s all there is to it.’’

‘‘There is no grey area... It’s either starving or it’s diseased. It needs vet attention,’’ he said.

‘‘It should never have gone through (the saleyards).’’

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