Horse sanctuary owner prosecuted after neglecting pony

Press Release – SPCA

Horse sanctuary owner prosecuted after neglecting a pony in her care


An Auckland woman has been sentenced after neglecting a pony in her care, causing the pony prolonged and unnecessary pain.

Debbie Barker pleaded guilty in the Waitakere District Court to one charge of ill-treatment of a pony in her care named Toppa, causing the pony unreasonable and unnecessary pain and distress. On Friday she was sentenced to three months’ community detention, 100 hours’ community work, disqualified from owning any animals for 6 years, ordered to pay reparations of $860.45 and $282 in solicitors costs.

SPCA has received multiple previous complaints regarding the condition of Horse Havan horses and paddocks, dating as far back as 2008.

This case began in October 2016, when SPCA Inspectors visited Horse Havan and observed Toppa the pony who had light body condition, had all four overgrown hooves, and was walking abnormally. They left a notice of entry requesting the defendant to urgently contact SPCA, and instructed that Toppa’s hooves needed urgent attention.

The defendant contacted the Inspectors and claimed a veterinarian and farrier had assessed Toppa, but the Inspectors later established that the vet was only asked to inspect Toppa’s eyes, and not her hooves. The defendant also told SPCA Inspectors that Toppa had her hooves treated two weeks ago and the hooves cycled between good and bad.

A week later, SPCA Inspectors again visited Toppa, who was now reluctant to move, and her hooves had not been treated as required or as claimed. The inspectors left another notice of entry requesting urgent contact. No contact was made and the inspectors returned and that day, brought an equine veterinarian to examine the pony.

The vet observed that Toppa was lame in both front feet, with severe laminitis, which can cause the animal intolerable suffering. The way Toppa’s feet were misshapen indicated she had been suffering for a considerable period of time. The vet also said that any lay person could and would see Toppa’s gait and appearance was abnormal. As the condition was so severe and was not able to be treated, on the vet’s recommendation, Toppa was humanely euthanised in order to end her suffering.

The defendant claimed that Toppa was on painkillers and had been seen by a vet many times in the time she had lived at Horse Havan, and that the condition was seasonal. However, the defendant could not outline when Toppa had last been seen by a vet and was not able to produce any records. Enquiries by inspectors did not uncover information to support her claims.

“Any organisation that purports to be a sanctuary, rescue operation, or animal shelter has a duty of care to the animals in their custody. Good intentions are not enough,” says Andrea Midgen, SPCA CEO.

“In this case, Toppa was left to suffer for a long time, her condition worsening while she was at Horse Havan. The fact that her condition would have been obvious to any lay person is particularly distressing, as her pain was ignored by those at Horse Havan who should have known better.”


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