At a community event in Kenya this week, I met Joseph, whose story highlighted how donkey and human welfare are very much linked when donkeys and people work together. Joseph is from a remote, rural area of Kenya where he struggled to make ends meet. He saved up as much as he could and moved to Nairobi five years ago where he used his savings to buy two 10-year-old donkeys from a friend. Without knowing much about the animals, he started a business transporting water by cart.
Almost immediately after buying his donkeys, he met the Donkey Sanctuary Kenya staff who were working with other donkey owners in the area. He told me how they helped him with farriery, behaviour training and treatments when his donkeys were sick. He was particularly grateful for what he’d learnt about how to harness his donkeys so that they weren’t developing wounds. Although not perfect, he now uses a breast collar wrapped in natural materials, a cart saddle, locally available padding and a head collar, which have made a huge difference. However, one terrible night a few months ago, one of his donkeys was stolen in the night and killed nearby for meat - Joseph was still very shaken when he was talking to me about it. This loss, as well as being clearly devastating for him, represented a huge financial hit too.
When I asked Joseph what difference the Donkey Sanctuary Kenya had made for him, his response was: ‘Now, my donkey is happy.’ After giving his donkey a loving scratch, he added: ‘My customers are happy too so there is more money for me; people dealing with me are proud of me and want to call me again.’ He told me that a happier donkey was easier to communicate with and works faster, meaning more trips and therefore more money for him.
I, too, was very proud of Joseph later the same day. Part of the event where I met him involved some awards which were given to the donkey owners in the area. He won first prize for having the donkey with the best body condition score, which is a good indicator of welfare. I couldn’t think of a better champion than someone who primarily wants his donkey to be happy and healthy and understands how that also means better business for him.