Being a trustee of The Donkey Sanctuary involves visiting a variety of locations, always with a view to looking at how the money donated by our supporters contributes toward our vision of a world where donkeys and mules live free from suffering and their contribution to humanity is fully valued.
In Ethiopia, we have had a relationship with the School of Veterinary Medicine in Debre Zeit, some 45km south of Addis Ababa, since 1986. As a result of this valuable relationship we have a free clinic for the local community, who bring their donkeys for treatment, as well as a harness development team on site. We also have room for some inpatients - poorly donkeys who need rest and treatment.
We saw donkeys being treated for a variety of conditions, from hoof problems, parasite infections to what seems to be an increasing problem of donkeys having eaten plastic, rope and other indigestible materials which leads to the inevitable problems of impacted intestines and colic - very serious for donkeys.
Dozens of donkeys were treated by the vet students and the Donkey Sanctuary's animal healthcare professionals and sent on their way. The incidence of wounds due to badly fitting harnesses has thankfully come down from well over half of all donkeys treated to less than 10%, which can be attributed to the excellent work of the harness makers and the community education programme.
Later in the day we visited one of our model community learning projects in Hiddy, a village 12 bone-shaking kilometres from Debre Zeit. Our model is to run school and community education, veterinary clinics and harness development. We reach around 2,700 in the local community and helped encourage the development of local by-laws to improve the status of donkey welfare. We were welcomed by community elders who thanked us for the work of the Donkey Sanctuary, and the donkeys we saw were some of the healthiest I have seen in Ethiopia.
A complete contrast was the visit to Merkato grain market at the edge of Addis Ababa, said to be the largest market in Africa and visited by up to 4,000 donkeys per day. We have had an operation in Merkato since 1995, and a clinic which opened in 2008. It is a noisy, chaotic and difficult environment for donkeys and humans alike; a hectic mass of people with groups of donkeys seeking quiet spots wherever possible, but without a blade of grass in sight. The donkeys carry grain sacks to and from the market, often very overloaded for their small size.
The clinic staff led by Donkey Sanctuary Ethiopia (DSE) staff member Chala, treat many donkeys, and again the pattern emerges of harness sores being reduced as a proportion of the treatments, but plenty of hoof issues - often due to abscesses caused by nails and other wounds - injuries due to beatings, car accidents and the inevitable results of eating plastic and ropes.
We walked through the market and DSE staff intervened when we found a donkey hobbled so tightly that the hobbles cut through the skin. We spoke to the owner who agreed to bring the donkey to our clinic the following day for treatment. This is difficult work, dealing with sometimes aggressive and difficult owners in a harsh environment with patience and calmness.
Unsung work, but where we can clearly see the positive impact of our work making a difference on a daily basis in the most trying circumstances.
It was a relief for me to leave, but day in and day out our clinic continues to administer to the most marginalised of donkeys in the most marginalised communities.
Trustee of The Donkey Sanctuary