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Working like a horse

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Part of the family: a boy in Zimbabwe waits for his donkey to be treated © SPANA

Around a billion of the world’s poor rely on animals for subsistence, transport and to generate an income. But many cannot afford veterinary care. So, last year, the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) provided over 360,000 free veterinary treatments to horses, donkeys, mules, camels and other working animals.

‘As a vet, I’m trained to care for animals, but my personal motivation lies in the concept that helping animals helps people,’ says SPANA veterinary programme adviser Laura Higham. ‘A family in sub-Saharan Africa may rely on a horse or donkey to get their goods to market, and as a means of ploughing fields. I’m passionate about supporting this crucial relationship in places where veterinary assistance is non-existent.’

As well as treating animals, SPANA also trains vets, farriers and animal health workers. In Morocco, it works with local authorities to inspect horses used as taxis – a scheme that is now being piloted in Tunisia and Ethiopia.

Working animals can be a lifeline for local people, says Jane Harry, a vet who also works for the charity. She points out that of the 100 million working equids (horses, donkeys and mules) worldwide, 98 per cent will never see a vet.

While de-worming 750 equids in Morocco, she treated a donkey belonging to a small boy. ‘He was blind, and thanked us for helping to keep his donkey healthy,’ Harry recalls. ‘He said, “He is my eyes”.’

The health of working animals can mean life or death to local communities, believes SPANA CEO Jeremy Hulme. ‘A smallholding farmer in the Middle East said to me, “I have 10 children. If one of them is sick, it’s very sad and worrying. But I have only one cow, and if she is sick, it’s an absolute catastrophe.”’