Britain’s Animal Health Trust to close

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Renowned British dressage horse Valegro uses the Animal Health Trust's water treadmill. The AHT has worked with Hartpury University and Centaur Biomechanics to research the short and long-term effects of water treadmill use.
Renowned British dressage horse Valegro uses the Animal Health Trust’s water treadmill. © Hartpury University / AHT

Britain’s Animal Health Trust, a well-respected veterinary and scientific research charity, is to close.

The Suffolk-based charity’s board released a brief statement on Friday announcing the decision.

“It is with deep regret that today we have announced to our colleagues that the Animal Health Trust’s board of trustees have concluded that the trust needs to close and next week will formally begin the process to wind-up the AHT.

“The decision to cease operations has been reached after several months of trying to secure funding.

“Although substantial progress was made, the charity has been unable to secure the significant funds it needs to have a long-term viable future.”

The board said further announcements would be made in due course. “However, at this point, no further comment will be made.”

The trust, established by Dr Reginald Wooldridge in 1942, marked its 75th anniversary in 2017.

It has operated with a specialist team of vets, nurses, scientists and support staff, and offered veterinary services for sick and injured dogs, cats and horses.

The trust had signalled in March that it was facing imminent closure, with its only viable option being to revert to its core purpose of providing veterinary and scientific research. It cited financial constraints, with the Covid-19 outbreak also affecting its funding.

It set about exploring a major reorganisation, including starting a consultation process with a view to closing its two referral practices: small animals and equine.

Britain's Animal Health Trust has tested thousands of racehorses for equine flu.
In 2019, the Animal Health Trust tested thousands of racehorses for equine flu. © Animal Health Trust

A few days later, on March 24, the trust said it had been overwhelmed and moved by the many messages of support received, and offers of donations.

“At this point, we need considerable sums, and additional longer-term funding, if the charity is to continue.

“Many individuals have asked how or where to donate, but we feel it would be disingenuous if we took donations from you now and the funds raised are still insufficient to save the AHT, and it subsequently closes.

“In this scenario, it feels wrong to accept this funding as we would not be able to return it. We are currently exploring several other options.”

It asked its supporters to spread the word on the work carried out by the trust.

“If the Animal Health Trust closes, the world loses an irreplaceable and vital tool for keeping our animals healthy and protected.

“We genuinely thank you for your very generous offer of help, it really does keep us going knowing people out there are willing to offer help at this really difficult time.”

The loss of the charity will affect some important areas of research.

Dr Sue Dyson assesses a horse at an Animal Health Trust Clinic in 2017. © Animal Health Trust

Its disease surveillance work with horses around the world has been extensive. The charity says no-one else is doing this work, including global reporting through the International Collating Centre, reporting to, and for, the British agriculture agency Defra, and providing advice to the expert surveillance panel.

It has virus and bacteria isolates dating back 50 years, and holds DNA samples for every registered Thoroughbred in Britain.

It is also home to Britain’s largest canine genome bank, which holds the entire genomes of 89 dogs from 77 different breeds. This resource is important to dog health. Without it, the process to develop DNA tests to tackle cruel inherited diseases slows, causing a massive impact on the health of generations of dogs.

It has also done world-leading work in the use of HDR brachytherapy in horses, to treat sarcoids and other tumours around the eye.

It is also the only British charity with a dedicated research programme tackling cancer in dogs.

6 thoughts on “Britain’s Animal Health Trust to close

  • July 5, 2020 at 2:48 pm
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    As someone who counts himself fortunate to have been employed by the Animal Health Trust for 8 years (1969-1977 at the Equine Research Station, Newmarket) I read today’s news with deep sadness. Though gratitude alone is inadequate, may I – nevertheless – express my thanks for the opportunities this period provided.

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  • July 5, 2020 at 2:50 pm
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    This is appalling! The work that the Animal Health Trust does is much too important to be left to the vagaries of charity for support, and the chances of government help in this political climate are small to non-existent. What is being lost is literally irreplaceable, not just to Britain but to the world.

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  • July 6, 2020 at 2:55 pm
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    Very sad to hear of this. Surely someone with extraordinary income could rally to the cause. Maybe I’m naive, but I’ve always read how the royal family loves their equines. Could they offer some assistance.

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  • July 7, 2020 at 3:53 am
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    I am deeply saddened and shocked to hear this news. Three of my cats have been treated at the small animal unit and on each occassion I was very impressed by the deep knowledge of the vets. In each case the problem was identified quickly and treatment initiated. I agree, this facility is unique and irreplaceable.

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  • July 22, 2020 at 8:42 am
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    With all the billionaires in this world can’t believe that there aren’t at least a couple of them that could donate to keep doors open.
    Have to believe that some them (sheiks) or their families couldn’t support this with their pocket change.

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  • August 23, 2020 at 11:40 am
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    We are truly saddened by this shocking news.We knew they were having difficulties, but felt sure some of the wealthy equine owners and breeders would have come to their aid, especially as they have done and would continue to do so much for equine health. This is truly an enormous loss to the future of animal health

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