12 Nov 2022

Owner of horse euthanised with 'horrific' injuries angry at lack of action on fireworks

5:42 pm on 12 November 2022

By Sammy Carter

General fireworks visuals in Auckland

Sporadic fireworks cannot be planned for by animal owners. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The owner of a horse that had to be euthanised after suffering serious injuries while trying to escape backyard fireworks is angry there is nowhere to report the death.

Morrinsville local Deb Garner had been checking on her stud farm horses every hour on the night of Guy Fawkes until 11pm, but the backyard fireworks continued after that.

On Sunday morning, she arrived to find one of her mares, Doris, limping badly.

"She had obviously hit the fence with force and she'd degloved her whole leg.

"From her knee about half way down her shin to her hoof was just bone exposed, it was really horrific.

"I could see there were tendons severed and when the vet arrived I had to make a call for her quality of life that she had to be put to sleep."

Adding to her distress, she found there was nowhere to report the death, as there is no agency collecting data on animal deaths or injuries caused by fireworks.

"I'm stumped, I've tried the police department, I've tried the fire department, the regional councils - I can't find anywhere."

The SPCA said it would forward her report to "the right people".

"Well I don't want forwarding, I want to speak to them and there is no-one I can speak to."

She said the regional council told her someone would call her back, but no-one ever did, while the police told her there was no register, but wished her "good luck".

Garner said she was not angry about the short offical firework displays each year, as she plans for them with her "fireworks bag" with wire cutters and medicine, as well as giving her horses magnesium to calm them.

"What we can't manage are these really sporadic random fireworks that people let off.

"This debate has been going on for decades and there is still no public register for people to get on and say 'this is shit'."

Other animals on her stud farm were also harmed, including a foal that hit a fence and a horse that needed electrolytes after dripping with sweat from fear.

The mare that died also had an elderly paddock mate who was also put down as she would have found life hard without her.

"I know the debate - 'this is our tradition to have fireworks' - I call bullsh*t on that. It used to be our tradition to smack kids and not wear seat belts."

In Australia, fireworks displays had been replaced with laser shows, and there was no reason New Zealand could not do the same, she said.

Ban the Boom founder Alice Hayward, who campaigns for a ban on the public sale of fireworks, believes it is the only organisation collecting data on animal deaths and injuries caused by fireworks.

Collecting data was necessary as it helped those who had lost animals to fireworks to feel heard and seen, and provided evidence for a ban, she said.

However, she believed the SPCA would be best placed to collate official figures, as well as the Veterinary Association and Fire and Emergency, which receive reports each year.

Her own horse was put down in 2013 after he was spooked by fireworks and impaled himself on a fence.

Her petition the next year to ban public sales of fireworks was signed by 30,000 people - but nothing has changed.

"It's like we're all held hostage in a sense. There's no-one we can turn to, no-one at all."

The SPCA campaigns every year against fireworks, but lacked regulatory power, in her view.

"I do feel that as a welfare agency they should have some power to try and protect the welfare of our pets."

SPCA doctor Alison Vaughan said relying on voluntary reports of animal deaths or injuries to SPCA would be "likely to dramatically underestimate the true scale of the issue".

"Veterinary practices within New Zealand do not operate a centralised database for firework injuries."

However, if animals were deliberately harmed by fireworks, it should be reported to the SPCA so it could be investigated, she said.

"SPCA feels deeply for the animals and people harmed by fireworks and is committed to continue to advocate for an end to the private sale and use of fireworks at every opportunity, for as long as this practice continues."

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