A joint operation between the RSPCA, The Donkey Sanctuary and Cumbria Constabulary has rescued seven donkeys suffering from lameness.

A man and woman from Cumbria pleaded guilty to animal welfare offences on Monday 11 January and are now disqualified from keeping equines.

The pair, who had previously failed to comply with advice from both the RSPCA and The Donkey Sanctuary pleaded guilty to animal welfare offences on the morning their trial was due to take place.

The RSPCA launched an investigation after we found that the basic welfare needs of the animals were not being met and that some of the donkeys needed urgent veterinary and farriery treatment.

Deputy Chief Inspector Carl Larsson said: “Donkeys with overgrown hooves were seen struggling to walk through the deep mud – they seemed uncomfortable as they moved. There was a lack of shelter, hard standing and anywhere clean and dry for the animals to rest. The sheds provided were too small and unsanitary - a dead rat was seen within the soiled straw at the back of one. Straw put down for the animals was sodden with faeces, urine and presumably rain water – they appeared not to have been mucked out in a long time. There was also a muck heap which had hay on the top that two horses and the donkeys were feeding from.

“A Shetland pony was found confined in a garden shed – he barely had room to turn around. It was difficult to watch as the poor animal reluctantly struggled to walk and appeared to be in pain with every step. An independent vet certified such was his suffering he sadly needed to be put to sleep immediately in his own interest.”

Three of our welfare advisers were present on the day of rescue, alongside Suzanne Green, a veterinary surgeon from Greenway Equine Veterinary Services and police officers from Cumbria Constabulary.

Dr Green examined the remaining animals and found that some of the donkeys had lice and were struggling to walk due to overgrown hooves. She decided police should take all of the equines into possession and take them to a place of safety.

The Cumbrian donkeys have since all improved considerably, but some of their journeys to full recovery will be long
Cumbrian rescue donkey with matted coat
Cumbrian donkey with overgrown hooves
The Cumbrian donkeys have all since improved considerably, but some of their journeys to full recovery will be long. (Credit: Hannah Bryer and RSCPA)

The donkeys were transported to a holding base that we fund, where they were given much-needed farrier, dental and veterinary care. Ownership of the donkeys will now be transferred to us.

They have since all improved considerably, but some of their journeys to full recovery will be long. Some will need life-long care due to the extent of their neglect, while others may be considered for our Rehoming Scheme in the future.

Following the sentencing hearing Hannah Bryer, Head of Welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “We know that taking care of donkeys is a hugely rewarding experience, and it really is a privilege to own such endearing animals, but it comes with great responsibility. Donkeys require caring and compassionate management to ensure they lead healthy and enriched lives. “Sadly situations like this are not uncommon. Lack of appropriate hoof care is still one of the most common welfare issues faced by donkeys in the UK today.

“Our welfare team works throughout Great Britain to offer advice and information about the easy steps that can be taken to avoid this type of suffering.”

Would you like to know more about the case?

Read the RSPCA and The Donkey Sanctuary's joint press release.