Dublin city council captures loose horses and transfers them to the pound in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny

THE round-up of stray horses has set Dublin City Council back more than €1.3m over the past five years – with most coming from Smithfield fair.

Figures reveal that in 2008 alone, more than €350,000 was spent on capturing loose horses and transporting them to the council's pound in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny.

The figure is a 25% increase on 2007 when more than €280,000 was spent. Taxpayers' money covered the cost of the council's pound service while the Department of Agriculture picked up the bill for most call-outs.

The council seizes horses and ponies that are left in dangerous and unsuitable grounds. It often takes between two and five people to capture one horse.

According to Orla Aungier of the Dublin Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), 95% of the horses seized around the city are bought at Smithfield.

"It's a shame and a complete drain on resources to have to pick up the pieces from the fair," she said.

"I would imagine that the council's figure is quite conservative and it would be much higher once all costs are considered. You need to add to that the man-hours taken to seize the horse and the cost of getting a contractor and transporting the animal to Urlingford.

"I think the average council spend on seizing a horse is €1,500."

Once a horse is seized, owners have to travel to Urlingford to retrieve their animals from the pound.

They also have to pay a fine in the region of €1,200 and fees for the days that the animal is kept in the council's care.

However, the majority of owners simply abandon the horses in favour of the cheaper option of buying a new animal at the monthly horse fair, Orla Aungier explained.

The DSPCA is called in to deal with all cruelty cases and with animals that are found to be sick or injured. "We take a huge hit on trying to capture stray horses. It costs us about €1,000 to take in a horse," Aungier said. The last two months have seen a huge increase in the number of horses taken in by the DSPCA.

Since the start of 2009, more than 30 cruelty cases have been dealt with – a number which has already exceeded the average annual figure.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for DCC said their annual cost figures vary, depending on the number of horses seized and the price of the contract for horse seizure, veterinary expenses and boarding for the animals.