‘Sanctuary’ court case shows need for rescue licensing

  • THE case of an equine “sanctuary” from which 137 horses were removed, many in poor condition, highlights the need for the licensing of such organisations.

    Sandra Jane Kaverneng-Stolp, known as Sandra Stolp, pleaded guilty to four offences under the Animal Welfare Act, relating to 22 horses, at Swansea Magistrates’ Court on 15 February. The 54-year-old, of Derwen Road, Pontardawe, Swansea, ran the Whispering Willows sanctuary.

    The 137 horses, found at three sites, were signed over to equine charities in November 2019, after a multi-agency operation involving the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, Redwings, the British Horse Society, the Horse Trust, Blue Cross, Bransby Horses, the Mare and Foal Sanctuary and the Donkey Sanctuary.

    Vets confirmed many of the horses were in poor condition; one estimated that some of them had been suffering for six months or more, and two had to be put down. The court heard Stolp was struggling financially to care for the more than 100 horses.

    She was banned from keeping all horses for 10 years and ordered to pay £1,000 in costs and a £90 victim surcharge. She must serve a 20-week curfew, during which she will wear a tag.

    H&H has reported on calls for sanctuaries to be licensed, and National Equine Welfare Council (NEWC) chairman Nic de Brauwere said the Whispering Willows case shows why this is “the next vital step” in protecting animal welfare.

    “Too many times, NEWC members have seen sanctuaries struggle and fail when, at best, they take on too many animals without the necessary care, knowledge, experience or finances, or, at worst, use it to unscrupulously ask for people’s money while allowing animals in their supposed care to needlessly suffer,” he said.

    “Just like on this occasion, it results in experienced charities having to join forces to provide emergency care and find new homes for the affected animals – putting additional pressure on their own resources.

    “We welcome this result and sentencing, which we hope will act as a warning, and encourage more people to think carefully about who they donate their money to.”

    Horse Trust head of field skills Carolyn Madgwick told H&H the trust supports the calls for licensing and regulation, as although many sanctuaries are set up with good intentions, founders often lack the necessary knowledge and skills.

    “All equine charities rely on donations from the public – we need to ensure rescues and sanctuaries are known to authorities and regularly inspected, to assure the public their donations are helping horses, and situations like the case of Whispering Willows do not happen again,” she said.

    World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers agreed that although “rescuers” may believe they are saving horses, if they cannot provide the right care, the animals are moving “out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    “As highlighted in our joint report Britain’s Horse Problem, we and other equine welfare organisations are pressing for all animal welfare establishments to be licensed and inspected,” he told H&H. This will not only help to protect the welfare of the animals but also reassure the public that the animals are being looked after to an acceptable standard.”

    Mare and Foal Sanctuary CEO Sarah Jane Williamson told H&H some smaller rescues do provide exemplary care, but licensing would ensure these standards were met across the board.

    “Licensing would also mean that the public could confidently give their support to deserving sanctuaries and rescue centres,” she said.

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