We've all seen the front page photos of a stick thin horse or donkey staggering under the burdens of an entire household fleeing the bombs and bullets in Afghanistan. Desperate Afghan people continue to flee into the Pakistani border regions. In the face of hostilities and concerns for their safety they have packed their meager belongings onto horses and donkeys and trekked up to 40 days through some of the world's worst terrain.
In many cases the fate of these refugees depends on the well-being of their animals. The Brooke Hospital for Animals, a British charity, is working around the clock in refugee camps in Peshawar and Quetta to help these beasts of burden recover from the terrible journeys they and their owners are making. Every animal that can be saved helps guarantee a future for its owner.
Dr. Bill Swann, Brooke's consultant veterinary surgeon, recently returned from the Pajaggi refugee area north of Peshawar, Pakistan. He met seven-year-old Fayim Kalim who travelled there with his family and tribal relatives from north of Kabul, a journey that took 14 days. "Fayim walked along with the rest of his family, bringing with him his baby donkey. It may be small now but before too long it may be his only means of transport and income," Swann explained. "In many cases, these animals represent the only remaining wealth of refugee families. The mountainous treks exact a terrible toll and the animals arrive in a dreadful state. Afghan refugees are arriving daily with their animals to seek help. Other refugees have told them about the mobile clinics offering free emergency treatment and extra food rations for their animals."
The animals arrive exhausted, malnourished and dehydrated. Many are practically skin and bone. Nearly all have large infected sores where the packs have rubbed away the skin and flesh. Many are lame. The mobile clinics have treated thousands of horses and donkeys - some 500 horses are currently at the equine trading camp called Pajaggi center with more arriving daily.
Brooke Hospital for Animals (BHA) has six mobile clinics and two field clinics in the Peshawar area. "The mobile clinics are swamped with work," explained Dr. Shahabat Khan. "Assured of free treatment and some rations, as the influx of refugees mounts, so too does the work for the Brooke. The clinic sometimes finds itself treating 120 horses and donkeys a day."
Because of the refugees in the area, BHA was already in full working mode before the events of September 11 in the U.S. Last winter BHA (Pakistan) diverted a mobile team from its normal route to Pajaggi, on the outskirts of Peshawar, well known to the refugees. The team consisted of a vet, two vet techs and a farrier, who were immediately inundated with requests for help. Within a few days they were seeing a wide range of serious conditions resulting from starvation and the long, arduous journey over the pass from Afghanistan. Malnutrition, lameness and severe saddle sores were the most common problems encountered. Nearly every horse had a raw, infected wound on its back where the pack, containing all the family's possessions, had rubbed the skin away. The blood parasite Trypanosomiasis affected many animals, which would have died without treatment from the BHA team.
The Brooke Hospital for Animals, founded in 1934, with headquarters in London provides free veterinary treatment for the working horses, donkeys and mules of poor people in Egypt, Jordan, India and Pakistan. Today Brooke Hospital has 15 veterinary centers; six in Egypt, five in Pakistan, one in Jordan and three in India. Many animals are situated too far from a Brooke clinic and often owners are unwilling to sacrifice the time to travel long distances with the resulting loss of income. Brooke has set up a network of mobile veterinary teams that visit the outlying areas regularly. Mobile vans carry a large water tank, essential veterinary supplies and an educational video about farriery or water to show to the waiting owners. Mobile clinics consist of a vet, two veterinary nurses, and a driver traveling in a van. This contains medical equipment and a canvas shelter that is erected to provide a shaded treatment area. These teams provide a regular, reliable service for villages with no other veterinary care.
A key part of this work is the education of owners and users in sound animal management. Few owners understand the basic concepts of animal husbandry and they are reluctant to abandon the ways of their fathers, no matter how ineffective or brutal. Understanding that children are the animal owners of the future, Brooke Hospital encourages regular visits from schools to its veterinary centers. In addition, humane harness and packsaddles are made available, along with education about hoof care.
By collaborating with the local people to help them improve their own husbandry skills and their animals' health through advice, support and education, Brooke aims to transform the working lives of their animals and the conditions in which they live. For more information on the work of the Brooke Hospital for Animals, visit their website at www.brooke-hospital.org.uk.