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Charity / International charity based in London devoted to the welfare of working donkeys.

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      10.10.2012 13:10
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      A charity which really does as it promises and more

      It is about people too.

      There are a variety of reasons why I pick the half dozen charities I subscribe to each month. The Hospice cared for my late husband and the Air Ambulance was there when a friend had an accident on remote farmland to give just two examples. It works the other way as well and I cancelled a long standing direct debit when a charity sent me a huge envelope of magazines and raffle tickets and stuff which must have cost more than my donation. I replaced this with an organisation which had inspired me as I watched a tv documentary made as the program makers travelled with an amazing organisation which I had not heard of before.

      SPANA is the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad. The acronym is originally French, hence the apparent misnomer. The location shown was Morocco and followed the SPANA vets as they improved, and indeed saved, the once short and painful lives of the donkeys used for transport.

      Like many who feel a burning rage when faced with the mistreatment of helpless animals it is easy to condemn. This straight forward, as-it is, documentary also instilled compassion for the man toiling for no more than £3.50 a day with which to feed his family and who, without his donkey, cannot even manage that. It showed an understanding that the sores beneath the ill-fitting harness and the heavily overloaded cart pulled by a sick, lame and weary animal were not mindless or sadistic cruelty but a result of a man's own desperately hard life. As well, I realised that if the owner could not feed himself because his donkey was sick the animal would go hungry as well. There lies despair.

      When tourists returned from the Atlas Mountains and told a city clinic of their distress at the state of the animals used to carry them, SPANA travelled to the area and, after gaining the trust of the local people, now hold regular clinics there. I saw an open sore beneath a girth treated and then on their next visit the heart warming sight of the owner happily showing the soft new girth he had sewn for his donkey.

      Any viewer would have been moved when a tiny dying donkey was brought to the town clinic in a handcart and was put out of its misery by the vet. The man and his son not only felt grief for their animal, but were left destitute. The clinic, meanwhile, had rescued and made well a donkey they were keeping for re-homing. The little family was given the donkey, provided it was returned for inspection once a month and was looked after. This is what SPANA is about and had me wanting to contribute.

      SPANA was founded in 1923 by a mother and daughter, Kate and Nina Hosali whilst travelling through North Africa. Horrified by the condition of the pack animals in the market place she treated a donkey's sore, explaining that it was free. Soon she was surrounded by donkeys and their owners and the rest is history.

      Today tens of thousands of animals are treated free and cared for in clinics from Morocco to Ethiopia. Meanwhile the owners are taught how to care for their horses and donkeys giving both animal and owner hope of a better life. Often it is just a matter of replacing painful bits or fitting rubber pads on hoofs as well as treating injuries and illnesses.

      I would need thousands of words to tell you of the work done by this organisation, so will try to offer a flavour. There are 10 clinics in Morocco and the SPANA Morocco website has a 24 hour webcam for viewers to watch them in action. In Marrakech there is not only a free health service for the carriage horses which carry tourists around the city, but water troughs are now in place where before they went thirsty. More than this are the water troughs in the Sahara. Because there is virtually no water in the city of Nouakchott, 50,000 donkeys are used to cart water to homes around the city. For more than 12 hours in unimaginable heat these little creatures suffered intolerably. SPANA has placed water troughs around the city for the donkeys and more are planned. Such simplicity; yet life changing for the animals and eventually their owners.

      Significantly, SPANA now visits over a thousand schools each year and teach children the importance of animal welfare. Educational buses visit remote areas and children, often responsible for care of farm animals, are taught welfare and the importance of kindness to their charges. As a result attitudes are changing and in one region an adviser was told that injuries nowadays appear to be accidental rather than due to mistreatment.

      I have donated £10 per month for a few years now and SPANA is the only charity which has not asked for more money or sent me expensive brochures. At the beginning they asked if I wanted to be contacted and have kept their word when I replied that I didn't.

      The absorbing SPANA website, https://spana.org is well worth a visit and is a reminder that it is so easy for we animal lovers in our prosperous world to forget that it is all about people too.

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