This month’s blog is written by Alex, one of our Veterinary Surgeons.
Most people don’t realise that the UK veterinary department has many interests and responsibilities to donkeys outside of those lovingly cared for in Devon. For example every year we visit the donkey assisted therapy centres around the country to liaise with the local vets who look after these donkeys, and do an annual inspection of the donkeys and tack.
The centre I visit is in Belfast – a beautiful, relatively new riding therapy centre which is twinned with the Romanian holding base. Together they have started implementing riding therapy for children near Cernovoda and Brasov. You may have read our Belfast riding instructor Gary’s article (see related link below) about his recent visit to Romania where he was sharing his expertise with his Romanian colleagues.
Shortly after Gary’s trip I was visiting Romania too – the veterinary department in the UK also liaises with our European holding bases, visiting them twice a year to check the donkeys and talk to all the local vets involved in the donkeys’ care. This was my first trip to Romania so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
In Romania we work in partnership with another charity called Save the Dogs and Other Animals. Street dogs have a hard life in Romania as many are abandoned and killed or maimed by traffic so by neutering, vaccinating and rehoming these dogs can get a better life.
The donkey population in Romania is estimated to be about 40,000 and most will be used for agriculture - pulling carts, ploughing, fetching and carrying. Times are changing now and donkeys are less valuable and therefore less valued than in the days before mechanisation which means that most get poor or non-existent medical care. While the holding base in Romania houses approximately 60 donkeys that have come to us through neglect or abandonment, the team also go out into the community to provide veterinary services for the donkeys within a 100km radius of Cernovoda in the west of the country.
Although my visit was short, my impression was that the donkeys in Romania were not greatly respected or cared for - most were hobbled or tethered by a thin cord around their neck and had received no hoof or dental care for up to a year. They were wary of humans, and showed signs of harness wounds. The vet responsible for outreach worked tirelessly to trim overgrown hooves, rasp teeth and treat any wounds, but it seemed that only the youngest children were interested in being involved and helping. The second photo shows you some youngsters fascinated by hoof trimming a young female donkey that was tethered with her foal beside a road in their village. The parents all wandered away uninterested and amused by our efforts.
Perhaps these children provide us with the best way forward - if we can show them that looking after their donkeys is of value, and that donkeys are still useful in their communities for work and for therapy, they will be able to take these positive messages to their parents and provide a next generation that actively cares about their animals.
Our donkey work in Europe is growing in breadth and need so keep your eye on our blog for further updates on how the veterinary department is involved.