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Brothers starved horses to the point of death

Media release

16 July 2014

Brothers starved horses to the point of death

Two brothers starved and neglected a herd of horses in Canterbury to the point where six of them had to be destroyed to end their suffering.

Douglas John Williamson and his brother John Blackwood Williamson were convicted today in the Christchurch District Court on charges of wilfully ill treating six horses, ill treating another horse, and failing to ensure for the physical health and behavioural needs of five horses.

Both brothers were sentenced to 16 months imprisonment, disqualified from owning animals for five years, and ordered to pay reparations of $7000.

On 29 March 2010 a team of five SPCA Inspectors, an SPCA Auckland horse welfare representative, and a veterinarian went to the Defendants’ Halswell property on the outskirts of Christchurch.

They found 22 horses, of which 10 had body condition scores of 0 out of 5 (1 being poor, 5 being very fat), seven scored 1 to 2 out of 5, and the remaining five were in good condition with scores of 2 to 3 out of 5.

A black/brown stallion called ‘Danny B’ was discovered confined in a small, dark stable approximately 3m wide and 5m long. The stable had one door and no ventilation, and contained very little water and no feed.

Danny B was emaciated, with a body condition score of 0 out of 5. He was found standing in a stall full of urine and faeces where he ‘weaved’ almost constantly, a stereotypical behaviour often associated with the stress of long-term confinement. All his limbs were swollen and there was skin scalding on the heel bulbs of his hind limbs and patchy hair loss over his body.

A bay standard bred colt ‘PM1’, was down and unable to stand despite repeated attempts. He was in emaciated body condition, scoring 0 out of 5. Despite being two and a half years old, he was the approximate size a small yearling. The most common reason for failing to achieve average growth is inadequate nutrition. Because of his seriously poor condition, he was immediately euthanised to end his suffering.

The remaining 21 horses were removed from the property, however, five of the horses with body condition scores of 0 out of 5 were subsequently euthanised to relieve their suffering.

Despite the poor condition of the remaining 16 horses it was expected that with adequate nutrition and health care they were likely to make a full recovery. They were all drenched and put on a feeding plan.

A further 12 horses originally from the Halswell property were subsequently seized from a property in Kirwee, 37km west of Christchurch. All were in poor condition and the pasture was of very poor quality.

Blood and faecal testing of Danny B revealed no parasites and no evidence of chronic disease, meaning the only cause of his poor body condition was inadequate nutrition. Post mortem examination and faecal testing of four horses revealed such serious parasitic worm burdens that their abdominal wall were too damaged to allow adequate absorption of nutrition.

The veterinarian concluded that the poor body condition of the herd of horses was most likely due to parasitic infestation, exacerbated by an inadequate food supply in some cases.

“This is one of the worst cases of chronic neglect we have witnessed and we are pleased with the sentences handed down by the Court today,” says Ric Odom, CEO of the Royal New Zealand SPCA.

“Despite numerous complaints dating back to 2008, site visits from SPCA Inspectors and veterinarians, and the issuing of multiple compliance notices, the Defendants in this case have consistently failed to provide adequate care for their horses.”


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