Covid-19’s impact expected to bite equine rescue groups harder in winter

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Winter is expected to be a tough time for animal rescue organisations, a survey has revealed.
Winter is expected to be a tough time for animal rescue organisations, a survey has revealed. © Basil Hayes/World Horse Welfare

A British survey has revealed the significant negative impact of Covid-19 on animal rescue organisations, and has highlighted the fact that the full effect of the pandemic will likely not be felt until winter.

The survey was run by National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) and The Association of Dogs and Cat Homes (ADCH). The equine part of the survey was sent out to 37 NEWC members, including World Horse Welfare, as well as an additional 126 other equine rescues (42% of which are multi-species organisations, taking other animals as well as equines). Of these, 74 responded, giving information on their operations, funding and sustainability.

Results of the survey have shown that the greatest impact is likely to be in winter, when numbers of welfare cases are expected to rise further when caring for equines becomes more resource-intensive, with increased costs.

Roly Owers, CEO of World Horse Welfare, said what had been experienced at the charity’s four Rescue and Rehoming Centres has been repeated across the other horse rescue organisations.

“Even with no visitors, diminished income and no rehoming we were still looking after over 350 animals on a daily basis. Thankfully, since rehoming began again we have rehomed record numbers, but we are expecting to see increasing numbers of welfare case admissions in the coming months,” Owers said.

A staff member at World Horse Welfare takes care to disinfect during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A staff member at World Horse Welfare takes care to disinfect during the Covid-19 pandemic. © Basil Hayes/World Horse Welfare

“There are around 850,000 equines in the UK and even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, at least 7000 of these were considered to be ‘at risk’ with regard to welfare. There are a number of drivers, including over-breeding across the sector and a lack of enforcement contributing to an equine crisis which has lasted almost 10 years and should now be recognised as a failure of the system.

“Covid-19 will likely exacerbate this, potentially placing additional pressure on an equine welfare sector that is already operating at capacity.”

More than 83% of rescues reported that restrictions have had a negative impact on fundraising, with more than half reporting a reduction in income of over 50%. Organisation size was no immunity to impact, with all groups from the RSPCA to the smallest rescue centres under intense pressure. More than four in five respondents had closed their premises to the public and all those with shops had closed them — a key source of income for many. More than 40% had furloughed some staff and although many equine rescue centres rely heavily on volunteers, more than 70% reported they had had to reduce or stop all volunteer help.

At the time of the survey two-thirds of centres had reduced or stopped rehoming their horses, ponies and donkeys, and although most have begun rehoming once more, almost all of the centres are already operating at, or above, full capacity. Despite this situation, 62% of equine rescues continued taking the most urgent welfare cases during lockdown.

The equine welfare sector continues to work collaboratively to ensure effective identification of concerns and practical solutions to the welfare challenges that have, and will, result from the Covid-19 pandemic. NEWC and World Horse Welfare have helped establish the Equine Emergency Rescue Fund with PetPlan Charitable Trust, which has given out its first grants to equine welfare organisations with further funding rounds planned.

NEWC and member organisations are also working with the UK Government and the Devolved Administrations to press home the gravity of the situation and ask for their support, including grants for rescue organisations and ensuring adequate funding is available to Local Authorities so they can support welfare organisations where needed.

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