El Refugio del Burrito has welcomed the sentencing of four men who abused two mules during El Rocio, the largest pilgrimage in the Western world.
The owner of the animals, the intermediary and the two men who rented the mules were sentenced to six months in prison, a two -year ban on owning and trading animals and the payment of veterinary and upkeep costs at the Huelva Criminal Court on the last 17th of February for animal abuse.
The court was told that events in the case dated back to May 2016. At that time, two of those accused contacted an intermediary to rent a cart and a mule during the El Rocio Pilgrimage from May 14th to 16th for 500 Euros.
The court heard that the owner of the mule, knew the animal, named Maria Antonieta, already had large open wounds due to friction from harnesses on several parts of her body (shoulders, chest, elbows, and nose area) and joint inflammation caused by a previous rental.
The mule had not been allowed to rest or been provided with vet care.
Despite this, the owner delivered her to the intermediary so that he could rent her again. The renters noted that the mule was not fit to work, protested, and demanded that the intermediary exchange her for another animal.
The intermediary asked the owner of the animal to give him a second mule, Eufrasia, to substitute the first.
The owner again provided an elderly mule in visibly poor condition. She had painful, infected wounds in the nose area (see image) caused by excessive and poor use of the nose band, abrasions on the shoulders, burns and edema in the chest area due to continuous use of harnesses as a result of a previous rental, without time for resting or veterinary care provided.
The intermediary, who also knew the poor condition of this second mule, rented her to the defendants.
They use the carriage and mule for the entire night in order to move around the town of El Rocío. The carriage was also loaded with sound equipment, which they used in their performances in the town’s various homes.
On the morning of May 14, the renters advised that this second mule also had lesions. Therefore, they again demanded that the intermediary exchange the mule. The intermediary refused to exchange her or to provide veterinary care.
The defendants, however, continued using the mule Eufrasia nonstop and did not give her the veterinary care she needed to treat her wounds. They continued using the carriage and mule for the next three days. This caused an aggravation of the lesions and unjustified additional suffering.
On the morning of May 16, the carriage with the mule was intercepted by the Civil Guard after a call from a citizen who alerted them to the mule's condition.
The mule Eufrasia was in very poor condition at that point. She was dehydrated and had infected, painful wounds due to a lack of care. The wounds had developed at different times on the nose area, shoulders, and chest. Her nose bone was even deformed caused by the continuous rubbing of the harness used to drive the carriage.
These lesions required treatment with analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and local and systemic antibiotics. The mule wasn’t in condition to do any type of activity.
The mules Eufrasia and María Antonieta were immediately seized and given to the Asociación El Refugio del Burrito for veterinary treatment, care, and rehabilitation.
Today, three years later, they are still recovering from their physical and psychological wounds in the largest equine sanctuary.
“This sentence is important for many reasons, especially because it also condemns the renters and the intermediaries, not just the owner. Congratulations to all, it was worth the effort,” said Lorena Lozano, the lawyer representing the El Refugio del Burrito association, which acted as a private prosecutor in this case, said: “This sentence is important for many reasons, especially because it also condemns the renters and the intermediaries, not just the owner. Congratulations to all, it was worth the effort."
“Both have gained weight and have recovered from their wounds. María Antonieta likes to come up to people and be cuddled, but Eufrasia is having a hard time regaining trust, and it’s no wonder given what this animal must have suffered through,” says their caregiver Fátima, who has been dedicated to the recovery of both over the last three years. In these videos, you can see the recovery of Eufrasia and Maria Antonieta.”
Rosa Chaparro, spokesperson for El Refugio, said: “We’re extremely pleased with this groundbreaking sentence and we hope it helps to raise awareness that the responsibility for the well-being of rented animals lies with everyone, from the person who rents the animal to the owner as well as the intermediaries."
"We also hope it motivates the competent authorities to put measures into place to regulate the illegal rental that occurs in many romerias in Spain and endangers animal well-being, allowing elderly animals that are not suitable for work and without any type of control, as occurred in this case, to be rented without rest by inexperience people until they collapse.”
The NGO, which has been collaborating with the Almonte Town Hall for more than six years with an animal well-being team and a hospital during the romeria of El Rocío, assures that this is not an isolated case. The majority of animals they have to attend to are rental animals.
Many of these animals are elderly and are in terrible physical condition. They are rented illegally, sometimes even to minors, and mistreated by those who rent them due to a lack of knowledge, responsibility, or simply empathy. In 2019, their veterinary team treated approximately 150 animals in situ and the authorities had to confiscate 9 of them given that their health was critical.
We can only continue to rescue and care for donkeys with your help, so please continue to support the work of El Refugio del Burrito, as together, we can make a big difference.