A 75-year-old farmer who pleaded guilty to ten counts of animal cruelty has been sentenced to two and a half years behind bars at Kilkenny Circuit Court.
Simon O’Dwyer senior, Garrue, Knockmoylan, Kilkenny admitted the offences which took place at his farm on March 27, 2018.
Detective Garda Antoinette Foley gave evidence that in February 2018 members of the Waterford SPCA were made aware of a complaint at the residence of Simon O’Dwyer senior. Barbara Bent, a member of the Waterford SPCA told a veterinary officer that there was a case of animal cruelty at the defendant’s home.
On March 6, 2018 a veterinary inspector attended and was made aware that Simon O’Dwyer senior was left in charge of a large amount of animals following the incarceration of Simon O’Dwyer jnr. The veterinary inspector and Ms Bent attended the farm on March 15 and an inspection took place.
A further inspection took place on March 21 and also on March 27 and April 3. The animals were photographed, scanned and their microchips were checked by Ms Bent and the information was provided to gardaí. A further visit took place on April 9, 2018 and Ms Bent was present.
Det Gda Foley gave evidence that the counts before the court related to ten specific horses and that these horses were in poor condition with a lack of water and food and the stables had not been cleaned out. Several of the horses were very thin and one of the animals was put down because of the condition of his hooves. One of the horses, a three-year-old chestnut gelding was found in ‘an emaciated condition’.
Det Gda Foley said that on March 15, 2018 she had attended with a veterinary inspector from the Department of Agriculture and found the horses to be in ‘difficult conditions’.
“The stables were not mucked out and feed was not available,” she said.
A notice was served on Simon O’Dwyer senior on April 5, 2018. The court also heard that the Waterford SPCA provided hay to the defendant.
On April 3, 2018 Mr Louis Reardan, a veterinary inspector with the Department of Agriculture attended and formed the view that the horses were in poor body condition, some were emaciated and there was a lack of food and fresh water. The water was reliant on barrels that had to be manually filled.
The stable were extremely dirty and were filled with faeces and had not been cleaned for some time. Pallets were used in some cases instead of gates, some of the palettes had been eaten away and there were also issues with the hooves of some horses. The defendant agreed that the conditions were not satisfactory and said that he would attempt to improve the situation.
On April 4, 2018 gardaí re-inspected the premises along with department officials and noted that there was still insufficient feed. Simon O'Dwyer snr said that he had hoped that 35 bales of hay would have been delivered but they had not and the palettes had not been removed. The water supply issue was not resolved and the stables had not been cleaned. The court heard that because of the continued failure the horses had to be removed.
Eight horses were taken from Simon O’Dwyer snr and put down as the Department vet felt that he had no choice and two horses were rehomed with the SPCA.
Simon O’Dwyer snr was arrested on December 12, 2018. He stated that he was not in a position to look after the horses himself and said that his son had been remanded in custody at the time and that he had been left to take care of the animals.
The court heard that the defendant has 25 previous convictions including four previous convictions for allowing a carcase to remain unburied, seven previous convictions for animal cruelty, a conviction for assault causing harm and criminal damage as well as under The Road Traffic Act.
Defence barrister, David Bulbulia said that his client wished to apologise to the gardaí, the veterinary inspectors and staff and the Waterford SPCA. Mr Bulbulia said that his client had co-operated with the investigation and that no attempt was made to impede the seizure of the horses.
“On March 15, 2018 there were 41 horses in the yard and there were bitterly cold conditions. We had just experienced the Beast from the East and there was very heavy snowfall,” Mr Bulbulia told the court
On March 15 one horse was taken away and by the following day five fillies had left the yard. The defendant said that they had been sold to someone in Northern Ireland. A further six horses were removed by Ms Bent of the Waterford SPCA.
A Department of Agriculture official removed two other fillies from the stables and advised the defendant to reduce his numbers further. By March 21, 2018 the total number of horses had been reduced from 41 to 27.
On March 27, 2018 a further inspection took place and it was noted that the animals had water and some hay as the defendant was expecting a visit from officials and Ms Bent.
On April 9, 2018 the defendant asked Ms Bent to rehome a one-eyed pony,
“I am told this morning that the pony is alive and is doing very well,” Mr Bulbulia said.
On April 11, 2018 the remaining 26 horses were all taken from the yard. No persons disrupted the Department staff during the removal of the animals and no garda involvement was required. Mr Bulbulia said that the defendant agreed that the welfare of the horses was not satisfactory, The court heard that the defendant had been advised to reduce the numbers and help was provided through the Waterford SPCA.
Mr Bulbulia also referred to a statement by Garda Linda Ryan which was contained in the book of evidence and stated that she had ‘observed that Simon O’Dwyer was a man in his 70’s who clearly was not able to provide for these animals’.
Mr Bulbulia said that his client is now 75 years of age and has ‘pronounced health difficulties’. He said that at the time of the offences the Beast from the East had caused ‘an impact in fodder and feed prices’ and that the defendant’s son was in custody at the time of the inspections.
“He received a 12-month sentence on February 27, 2018 for theft. He asked the district court to defer the sentence so that he could get his and his father’s affairs in order before he commenced his sentence. He went into custody the week after. Up until then the only people on the farm was the father and son. No horses went back onto the farm until Simon O’Dwyer Jnr came out of prison.”
The court also heard that the defendant had entered a guilty plea in relation to the matters in February 2021 and had consented to a lifetime ban on owning equines on that date.
Sergeant John Shortall gave evidence that in February 2018 a complaint was made to the Waterford SPCA and that on March 6 an inspection took place. The sergeant outlined that during the inspection he observed ‘an accumulation of faeces had taken place over many months or even years’, measuring around 18 inches of manure.
“During the Beast from the East farmers did experience difficulties but food was available,” he said adding that approximately €2,000 worth of feed was supplied to the defendant.
Mr Bulbulia told the court that this was ‘not a case of deliberate cruelty but rather one of neglect’ and that it was ‘something of a perfect storm’ regarding the circumstances at the time.
“His son on whom he relied had taken off to prison, he had got a stay but unfortunately there was not enough time. He was then in his early 70’s and relied completely on the son in relation to the horses. There were 41 horses in the yard and it was in the immediate aftermath of the Beast from the East,” he said adding that the impact for farmers was ‘hugely significant’.
“There was a national fodder crisis and the price of hay and bedding had rocketed.”
Mr Bulbulia also stressed that his client suffers from serious health difficulties and a medical report was handed into the court.
“His ability to do manual work was seriously impaired and he would have required assistance to do manual tasks,” he said.
“It wasn’t out of badness, it was out of a physical incapacity that he wasn’t able to provide care.
“He lives in rural poverty and has the support of his son,” said and asked the court to give his client the chance ‘to finish his life outside of prison’’.
“This perfect storm meant that caring for his horses was an impossibility,” he said.
Judge Cormac Quinn said that an aggravating factor in the case was the number of horses and the level and scale of cruelty as well as his previous convictions. The judge imposed a two and a half year prison sentence and recommended that the defendant be medically assessed in prison.
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