The owner of a pony left for months – and possibly years – without treatment for severe and excruciating laminitis has pleaded guilty after being criminally prosecuted by RSPCA South Australia under the state’s animal cruelty laws.
When RSPCA South Australia Inspector Cheryl attended the Kuitpo property in November 2016, she found 30-year-old Happy with hooves so grossly overgrown and inflamed that the pony could barely stand up.
“She was underweight and in severe pain,” Inspector Cheryl recalls. “She would have been living in absolute pain for months. I could see the pain on her face and she was just constantly shifting her weight, trying to alleviate some of the pressure on each of her hooves. That’s not a way to live.”
‘Unable to walk due to extreme pain in her feet’
Inspector Cheryl immediately seized Happy due to the severity of her condition, then called an expert veterinarian to the scene.
“Happy was unable to walk more than a few steps due to the extreme pain in her feet,” attending veterinarian Dr Tanya Dodi wrote in her expert witness report. “Happy had a low body condition score of 1/5, elevated heart rate (suspected due to pain) and … varying sized melanomas in the perineal region and along the rail dock.”
Sadly, Dr Dodi concluded that the damage to Happy’s feet from such long-term neglect was so advanced that she could not be saved. The vet had no choice but to euthanase Happy on humane grounds.
Says Inspector Cheryl: “It’s very sad because Happy was quite a friendly pony. If this had been treated and managed properly, Happy may have been able to be saved and we could have rehomed her.”
12-month good behaviour bond for Happy’s former owner
In Mount Barker Magistrates Court on May 3, 2018, Happy’s former owner Barbara Morphett pleaded guilty to failing to mitigate harm.
Says Inspector Cheryl: “Laminitis in ponies and horses is difficult to treat and does require management, but choosing to put your head in the sand is not OK. Happy’s owner had other horses, she was an educated horse owner, she knew what the pony needed. If finances were an issue, she could have contacted RSPCA, spoken to vets or called her neighbours or friends. But she chose to do nothing over a really long period of time.”
Morphett was ordered to pay $1249 in legal and veterinary costs, and received a 12-month good behaviour bond.
The magistrate decided not to record a conviction, but did ban Morphett indefinitely from owning more than 13 horses at any one time. Such a ban gives RSPCA South Australia inspectors the power to enter Morphett’s properly should a complaint against her be made.
The correct treatment for an equine with laminitis
Laminitis (also termed founder) is inflammation of the laminae of the foot – the soft tissue structures that attach the coffin or pedal bone of the foot to the hoof wall.
The inflammation and damage to the laminae causes extreme pain and leads to instability of the coffin bone in the hoof. In more severe cases it can lead to complete separation of and rotation of the pedal bone within the hoof wall.
If you suspect your equine has laminitis, seek veterinary attention immediately. The key to a successful outcome is early diagnosis and an aggressive approach to treatment, together with a good relationship between you, your vet and your farrier. You can see full details on laminitis symptoms, causes and management at RSPCA’s Knowledgebase.
“Sometimes the worst cruelty can be cases of chronic, long-term neglect,” Inspector Cheryl says. “The public might associate cruelty with a broken bone or beating a dog, but often the animals that suffer the most are those that are left untreated with debilitating conditions.”
RSPCA South Australia is the state’s only animal welfare charity empowered to prosecute animal cruelty under SA’s Animal Welfare Act. If you see animal cruelty or neglect, please immediately call our 24-hour hotline on 1300 4 777 22. Learn more here.