Sheep flock in the shadow of the Comeragh Mountains. Waterford SPCA’s Pat Edwards said that sheep are among the animals which suffer most during prolonged spells of cold weather.       | Photo: Noel Browne

Sheep flock in the shadow of the Comeragh Mountains. Waterford SPCA’s Pat Edwards said that sheep are among the animals which suffer most during prolonged spells of cold weather. | Photo: Noel Browne

The prolonged spell of cold weather has led to great suffering for many animals, both wild and domestic, according to the Waterford Branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (WSPCA).
Speaking to The Munster Express, WSPCA Welfare Officer Patricia Edwards said that birds, desperate for water and food, had been faring particularly badly.
“I have never seen so many dead birds as what I’ve seen these past couple of weeks,” she said.
“Water is what they need most – without it, they dehydrate and can’t fly, so I would appeal to people across the city and county to leave out water and food for birds, because they are really depending on us humans for help right now.”
Horses, particularly those abandoned on high ground, have found it next to impossible to graze in recent weeks.
“In the case of abandoned race horses, which are, let’s face it, domesticated and used to being fed a particular type of food, they haven’t really got a chance in this sort of weather,” Ms Edwards continued.
“I’ve got a lot of calls about horses leading into Christmas, the New Year period and right through to this week.
“But given that a lot of higher ground throughout Waterford has been completely out of bounds since Christmas, it’s difficult to get a full picture regarding just how many horses, be they alive or otherwise, that we’ll eventually be dealing with.”
In terms of farm animals, Patricia Edwards sympathised with farmers struggling to source water for their livestock.
“Frozen water has been a massive, massive problem in farmyards, especially for farmers in the worst affected areas who’ve had trouble sourcing water from elsewhere,” she said on Monday.
“And despite the thaw that started yesterday (Tuesday), sourcing fresh water will remain a short-term problem for those in the more isolated parts of Waterford.”
Prices ranging between €30 and €40 per round bail of hay have also served as a disincentive for many cattle owners struggling to maintain them while hoping to get their animals to slaughter, Patricia Edwards intimated.
“It’s a very difficult time at the moment across so many sectors, but, as I mentioned to you before Christmas, not being able to get animals to slaughter houses isn’t exclusively a problem for those with horses; it applies equally for some owning cattle.”
Sheep, despite their insulating coat of wool, do not fare well in extremely cold conditions, Ms Edwards added.
“I’ve got a lot of calls over the past week about sheep and where they’ve been seen on high ground, but there’s not been much that anyone could have done for them, I’m afraid.
“They’re probably the weakest of all the animals when it comes to this sort of weather. If they get stuck in a bramble, they’ll stay in it; most of them won’t put up much of a fight to free themselves from it.
“And should you see a sheep turned upside down, then it’s dead, there’s no hope for it at all. Farmers have had such a difficult job when it comes to tracing animals out on the land during the cold spell and I’ve got nothing but sympathy for them.”
Patricia, who is based in Waterford city two days a week, has five pages of calls to respond to such has been the deluge of concern that has come her way from the public regarding animal cruelty.
“A lot of the calls aren’t actually justified, but it’s still good that so many people are actually taking the time to call if they believe they see an animal in trouble.
“For example, a cow that’s knee-deep in mud, 99 times out of a hundred, isn’t actually in trouble. Some of us have this idealised image that cattle should only be out in rolling, dry, green fields, but most of those animals, as long as they’re being fed and watered, are actually fine.
“And I can tell you, in some instances, those out in the mud are a darn sight better off than some that have been brought indoors.”
Thankfully, many dogs have been re-housed across the city and county in recent months, with assistance from British officials helping to keep the number of destroyed dogs at a minimum.
Patricia is bracing herself for a very busy 2010, as our latest chat so clearly illustrated.
“Well, I’ve also got to track down a puck goat that’s been spotted wandering around the Airport Roundabout in the past week; quite what we’ll do with him when he’s picked up is going to be a brain-teaser.
“On top of that, I’ve got to deal with three wild dogs, one of whom has just had a litter of pups and I’ve got a 17-hand horse that isn’t being fed to deal with; I can’t imagine a queue forming to take such a big horse off my hands. But that’s the nature of the job so it’s best just to get on with it.”
And get on with it Patricia shall.