Of Donkeys, Women and Children…

 [Today’s post is written in the spirit of Bloggers for a Cause – “Stop the Abuse” Day (September 27 2007).  From the information presented here, I hope that I can shed some light on an unrepresented population of critters that could greatly use your help].

A Possible, Real-Life Scenario 

It is a hot, sweltering day in Algeria.  A mother awakes in her empty dwelling to find her children meandering about; wide-eyed, with empty bellies.  A fly buzzes in her ear and she slaps at it weakly.  A donkey brays pathetically from a nearby corral.  She rises to her feet and notices that her belly feels heavier today.  A tiny kick felt from within her uterus reminds her that there will soon be another mouth to feed.  She looks down upon the dirt floor.  An empty dish.  A few grains of wheat.  Her stomach growls and she decides that it is time to make her way to the bustling market in search of a few staples for her meagre kitchen. 

Making her way outside, she harnesses the small donkey to the cart.  She is aware of the donkey’s thin condition and the sores on his back.  She cannot help but place that old, worn-out, un-padded harness rigging on his back, knowing that she will re-open those sores.  Those reddened, aching sores.  Another fly buzzes.  It lands on the donkey’s back.  The donkey grunts a small grunt as he is forced into position in front of the cart.  The children are loaded onto the cart and it squeaks as it makes its way along the lonely miles to the market place.  The stoic donkey is the fourth horsey soul to have trekked this path for the lady in the last twelve months.  He is just another replacement. 

The Issues

All around the world, many such donkeys and horses are placed into service for third world families.  Their welfare hinges on the delicate, and often turbulent balance, of environment, poverty, government and human rights.  Lack of education and veterinary care further complicate the matter.  These beasts of burden find themselves working tirelessly from a very young age.  A young donkey or horse will begin work as soon as they are large enough to pack and carry heavy objects or pull a loaded cart.  This places much stress on their developing bones and muscles.  Families struggle to afford enough food to feed themselves, so many of these animals experience chronic malnourishment and starvation.  In the event of injuries and accidents (and there are many due to weakness, improper care and abuse), trauma such as fractures, wounds and hoof injuries go un-cared for.  In the event that an owner can afford care, it is often difficult to make the long trek to a sanctuary or clinic for help.  As a result, these animals become “useless” to their owners and are often abandoned or killed at a young age.  If the family can afford it, the animals are often replaced with healthier ones, and the cycle continues.

The Organisations

The plight of the world’s population of working donkeys and horses is not un-noticed.  Various groups and organisations are working tirelessly to try to make the situation better for these creatures.  In this section, I will outline only a few of the groups that I am familiar with (there are many more good organisations, and they could all use our help in one way or another):

The Brooke – this UK organisation was founded by in 1934, by Ms. Dorothy Brooke, the wife of a British Army major general.  During one of her visits to Egypt, she was shocked to discover that many of the starving horses noted throughout her travels there were ex-British military horses.  Within three years, she had founded The Brooke organisation and she had begun the charity work that would benefit the welfare of hundreds of thousands of animals worldwide (the founding story of the group is fascinating).  The Brooke organisation is the leading equine and donkey welfare charity in the UK with clinics set up across nine countries in Central America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  The group provides the expertise of the Bristol University Veterinary School and offers free veterinary care to suffering donkeys and horses in these countries.  The group aims to treat up to 5 million suffering animals by the year 2016!

The Donkey Sanctuary – based in the UK, The Donkey Sanctuary has been helping donkeys for over 30 years.  This group has been a front-runner in the welfare management of donkeys in the UK and abroad.  They follow up on reported cases of neglect and cruelty in the UK and have set up a number of sanctuaries where veterinary and rehabilitative care is provided to these animals.  The Donkey Sanctuary has also established many sanctuaries abroad in some of the more critical areas including:  Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Mexico, and a new sanctuary in Spain.  Urgent (free) veterinary care is offered at these sanctuaries, in addition to providing educational advice and services to the families in these areas.  According to the group, over 300 000 treatments were provided to donkeys abroad in 2006 alone!  You can support the organisation in a variety of ways as outlined on their support page.

SPANA (The Society for Protection of Animals Abroad)– SPANA was established in 1923, and it remains one of the longest serving International animal welfare charities.  With mobile and stationary veterinary clinics in over 19 countries (Middle East and Africa), the group serves around 370 000 animals per year.  As with the other organisations, not only is this group concerned with providing short-term care to animals, they are also leaders in providing communities with much needed education.  They aim to educate owners and teach them how to recognise and treat various simple ailments, and they discourage primitive practices that are detrimental to health (such as red-hot irons to treat wounds).  They encourage the involvement and volunteerism of new graduate veterinarians, and have a wide range of options in which the general public can support their organisation through charity donations.  In fact, through the SPANA gifts link, you can help support a working animal by providing a gift of leg bandages, doughnuts (for preventing wounds) and even a set of comfortable harnesses for a donkey or horse in need!  This is truly a wonderful gift for the sake of giving (or a unique and thoughtful gift for that animal lover friend on your Holiday wish list).

The Bottom Line – “From the Horse’s Mouth”

As demonstrated by these organisations, the balance of animal and human welfare is an intricate one.  Although animal abuse occurs on many levels in various societies (including those of developed countries), the animal welfare concerns from abroad, most often represent some of the more extreme cases.  In these cases, the cyclic nature of animal abuse is inextricably linked to human populations that are suffering to etch out sustenance through subsistence living.  Poverty, as opposed to overt animal cruelty, becomes the progenitor for many of these issues.  The bonafide and worthwhile organisations mentioned in this post (and others) have pioneered their paths into this complex and sensitive cycle that involves factors including: government, climate, culture and unique societies (just to mention a few).  These groups are gaining reputation as they empathetically work to improve the lives of the animals and people in these situations and they greatly need our support.   

With this in mind, let us revisit the African mother in our initial scenario and emphasise the delicate balance of human and animal welfare.  Recalling that the scenario is fiction, it is, however, based on similar events and demonstrates the cyclic nature and multiplicity of connection.  Within six months, the mother gives birth to a baby girl.  Since the practice of genital mutilation is common in her village, the child was born with severe mental retardation (children passing through the birth canal are more likely to be distressed or starved of oxygen in the birthing process).  The little donkey that we met in the beginning was able to receive treatment for his back sores (and he was saved from a massive infection that may have ended his life) and his working life is at least ensured for a few more months (working life expectancy of an average donkey in this area is less than a few years…donkeys in developed countries can survive for up to 40 years…).  As a result of his renewed usefulness, the family is able to haul food and use the donkey for light tasks and agriculture.  The children are happier and a little more well-fed than previously.  The donkey organisation that made it’s way into the area also set up a therapeutic riding camp for children with mental disabilities.  The “therapists” in this camp are a contented, but motley crew of special donkeys and horses that were rehabilitated and saved from starvation and death.  The children smile and laugh as they connect with these gentle creatures.  The community feels a little more empowered.  There is hope.


“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

– Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Statesman and Philosopher


Thank you for taking the time to read my post (my contribution to “Stop the Abuse – Blogging for a Cause” – September 27, 2007.  Please consider these hard-working animals and deserving people/families when you consider your charity donations this year.  Any amount, no matter how large or small, can make a difference!

Namaste and much love to all of you,


6 responses to “Of Donkeys, Women and Children…

  1. Whoa! This was amazing, Muse! This is the first time I’ve ever read anything about the plights of donkeys and mules – it’s been in the blindspot of my awareness, somehow! Thank you for bringing the Light to these precious creatures – and may they receive more care and protection with your clarion call.

    Namaste, sweeting….

    Grace! Thanks Darling! This issue has been near and dear to my heart for years – I’m glad that I could call awareness to it – and I’m glad you stopped by and took the time to slog through the post. Actually though….you could also thank Ruby for this little burst of activism – she kicked my butt into high gear…(I actually whipped this off this morning…I have been so bloody busy lately…I have barely had any time to visit anybody…).

    Many hugs to you sweet Grace…xoxo

  2. That was certainly eye-opening for me as well. It’s wonderful to know there are organizations in the world that have taken up the task of making sure these very important animals are able to be kept healthy. As your vignette showed, improving the work animal’s health improves the community. Very well put together and imformative. Two thumbs up!

    Hi Doll! Thanks so much. I really find it fascinating just how interconnected “everything” is. All of the creatures on this planet deserve love and respect – human or animal…and I wanted this post to reflect that. Love you…xoxo

  3. Aw PM,

    I’ve been reading many posts about the forms of abuse today and I don’t think I can read anymore.

    I read your post and thank you for it. I want to say more but it’s been another day with only two hours sleep and I cannot look anymore through the tears.

    Thank you. I love you. I miss you.
    Not even peace today.

    Oh Ruby! You are such a kind, sensitive soul and I love you for that. You know, I wanted my post to sound optimistic too (like we could be sad…and empathise with the poor critters and the families…but that there are choices, decisions and ways of helping). Mind you, I completely understand where you were coming from when you wrote this post (reading a bunch of sad posts could weigh heavily on anyone’s heart and mind).

    And…Before I forget…I must thank you, Ruby, for spurring me to write this piece. You challenge me to be honest and humble. You challenge me to be a better human being – and I love you for this. Thank you…(and I miss you too).

    ps. I hope you’ve regained that Ruby-esque sense of peace again…xoxo

  4. Great post, PM. I’m amazed how many people, here in the UK, give up their time to care for all sorts of animals. Animal rescue centres exist everywhere, with even gardens turned into refuges.
    But there are still not enough.

    Thank you Anthony. I would have to say that your country-men and country-women are leaders in the arena of philanthropy…that’s certainly a given (at least, that is demonstrated with the few charities mentioned in my post). I would agree with you, that there should be more refuges and centres…in addition to a change in societal attitude that involves treating animals more as individuals, and less like material possessions…

  5. Upon re-reading this tonight I’m just astounded at hearing about this. I would never have thought about nor known about any such thing as this.

    I’ve heard of Heifer International Foundatiion and even been involved with them but this is something very different. How did you find out about this PM?

    I want to thank you for writing this and yes, for putting a positive slant at the end of it as well. There is hope for many abuse victims and I’m very well aware that it takes all of us to help in what ways we can. This writing about abuse has been an eye opener for me on some fronts – like this one – but others I know only too well.

    I’ve been involved with various organizations over the years now in an activist sort of position but now that I’m so sick it’s been hard for me to continue in the ways that I used to.

    I was looking at the doughnuts to help donkeys and thought – HUH? I did check out the sites you’ve listed here and am really wowed. At least there are ways that I can help still even though I can’t help how I used to.

    Thank you PM. I really do appreciate you writing about this.

    Much love and peace.

    ~ RS ~

  6. Lovely site! keep up the great work, regards bree 🙂

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