11 Aug 2022

Emaciated horse was ‘skin and bones’ in stable in Thurles

Neglect: Holycross horse owner found guilty of neglecting foal’s health and welfare in College Green

Emaciated horse was ‘skin and bones’ in stable in Thurles

A Holycross man was found guilty of neglecting a horse to such an extent that it was described as “skin and bones,” at Thurles district court.

Patrick Donoghue, of 23 Abbot Court, Holycross, was charged with neglecting the health and welfare of a horse, at 1 College Green, Thurles, on March 16, 2018.

Nicky Veasy, of Thurles animal welfare group, Mo Chara, told Judge Elizabeth MacGrath that she received a call from Cllr Jim Ryan in relation to a horse dying in a field near the Mill Road, Thurles, adjacent to the Glebe estate, on March 15, 2018.

Ms Veasy said she observed a number of people at the site where a foal had become trapped at an embankment after it went to drink at a water source. The foal belonged to Patrick Donoghue.

The embankment was muddy and conditions were rainy and misty, said Ms Veasy. A number of males, including Mr Donoghue, arrived to drag the foal up on to stable land. It took three attempts to get the foal to stand, said Ms Veasy. “It was very muddy. I did not see any obvious injuries on the foal.”

Mr Donoghue put a blanket on the foal and took it away to a stable belonging to Tommy Donoghue, Mr Donoghue’s brother. “He walked it away and I walked another way,” said Ms Veasy, who has been involved in Mo Chara since its inception in 2011.

Garda Mark Cullinane said he had reason to attend 1 College Green, Thurles, on March 16, 2018. He went to a stable in the back garden. Two horses were in the stable, a foal and its mother.

The mother was standing up, while the foal was “resting on its side.” It was alive but there was little movement. The stable smelled of horse faeces, there was no water, and the ground was wet and dirty.

Garda Cullinane contacted a local veterinary surgeon, Emma Dunne, suspecting an event regarding animal health and welfare. “The horse did not seem to be in good shape,” said garda Cullinane.

Garda Sarah Fitzgerald said the horse “clearly looked in distress. It looked like it could not move.” When the vet arrived, she took a cover off the horse. “It looked to me like it was starving,” said garda Fitzgerald. “I thought I could see ribs coming through. The vet put the horse to sleep.”

“The minute I saw the horse I was concerned about the horse. It did not look lean. There’s a difference between a lean horse and one that’s skin and bones,” said garda Fitzgerald.

Veterinary surgeon Emma Dunne was working with Spa View Veterinary Clinic in Thurles when she was called to the scene.

Ms Dunne said the foal was unable to get up. The mother horse was “very very nervous.” The foal made an attempt to rise but was unable to. It was showing signs of “extreme discomfort”.

There was no water, it was “extremely dirty” and conditions were “not acceptable for an animal to be kept in,” said Ms Dunne. “There was not enough food for both to be fed on.”

The foal was grinding its teeth, “a sign of extreme pain.”

Ms Dunne said she could not find the reason for why the foal could not stand. There were no fractures. The foal was “extremely thin, its ribs were easily felt.”

The animal was suffering. “I made the decision to put the animal to sleep by lethal injection,” said Ms Dunne.


Ms Dunne said that on a scale of 1 to 5 used to describe a horse’s condition, where 5 is morbidly obese, the foal was at 1. A normal body score is 3. An “extremely traumatic event,” or a lack of energy reserves, could all have played a part. “It did not happen in one week,” said Ms Dunne. “It would take weeks”, or the animal did not have good reserves to start with.

Solicitor JJ Fitzgerald put it to Ms Dunne that the cause of the animal’s distress may have been exhaustion caused by the previous day’s events. Mr Fitzgerald suggested that the horse could have been nursed back to health.

Ms Dunne said that horses will normally run away if they feel threatened, but the foal “could not do that”. Even if she had known of the previous day, she still would have had to put the animal to sleep. “If the horse was extremely valuable would you still have put it down,” asked Mr Fitzgerald. “In my veterinary opinion, it was the kinder option to put the animal to sleep.

“Its welfare was extremely compromised and that’s why any vet would put the animal to sleep.

“Just because it was not going to die immediately, it does not mean the animal was not suffering,” responded Ms Dunne.

Patrick Donoghue told the court that a stable floor “will get dirty.”

There were infra-red lamps to keep the animals warm, he said. The blanket on the foal cost about €200. Mr Donoghue said he didn’t agree with the foal being put down.

He had never had animal welfare issues in the past despite having horses for 35 years. “It had plenty of life in itself,” said Mr Donoghue.

“Horses will stiffen up if they are left in the same position. Their muscles get tired.”

Mr Donoghue said he had received a letter from the ISPCA to say his animals were “grand.” There was running water and a trough available to them on the land, maintained Mr Donoghue.

Insp White put it to Mr Donoghue that he had contacted the ISPCA “after learning you were being prosecuted.”

“While the animal did experience a traumatic event, this does not account for the condition the animal was found in,” said Insp White. “It was emaciated. The vet felt it had to be immediately put down.”

Mr Donoghue said: “I am entitled to my opinion as well. That foal was not neglected.”

In her conclusion, Judge MacGrath said she had to consider if Mr Donoghue was “reckless” in his actions.

Due to the weather conditions at the time, it would have been “prudent” for any horse owner to anticipate that the embankment was a risk to the foal.

The vet “has no axe to grind” and it was her expert opinion that the foal had not been looked after “for some time.”

After the trauma of the embankment, a horse owner should have gone back and checked on the horse, which Mr Donoghue did not do until 12pm the next day.

“He is the owner of that animal and has to take responsibility in that regard,” said Judge MacGrath.

The horse had been impacted by the day before but had also not been “properly nourished before that.” Judge MacGrath found Mr Donoghue guilty of the charge. Mr Donoghue has 51 previous convictions, but none for animal neglect.

Judge MacGrath said she was considering disqualifying Mr Donoghue from owning horses, and adjourned the matter until February 2, to allow gardaí to investigate the ownership of horses in “that field” and to determine the veterinary costs.

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