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September 1, 2011

Helping Hands for Haiti's Equines

Les Cayes clinic

Humane Society International

  • Treating a wound. Jean Claude Cesaire

  • A saddle pad. Jean Claude Cesaire

  • At the market. Jean Claude Cesaire

  • Thin and sore. Jean Claude Cesaire

by Chris Broughton-Bossong

HSI has been working side by side with groups like Best Friends Animal Society and Days End Farm Horse Rescue to help provide training opportunities for veterinarians in Haiti, offering field surgical castration clinics, disaster response planning workshops and equine and pack animal welfare clinics.

Our Haitian field team recently spent several days with members of the Days End Farm Horse Rescue emergency response team learning equine handling techniques and methods for reading equine body language. Days End also demonstrated ways to treat some of the common injuries seen on pack animals without needing to take the animals “out of commission,” as this is not an option for most owners, who rely on the daily use of their animals to carry their goods to market. This was good preparation for what came next: a multi-day equine welfare clinic held at several different outdoor markets along Haiti’s southern peninsula.

Hungry, thirsty, sore

Though the outdoor markets in Haiti are generally held on the same days at regular sites, the people who come to sell their goods travel far from their homes to visit several in a number of different locations. Both the owners and their animals work exhaustive hours in very harsh conditions in order to sell goods that range from produce to packaged goods and tools. Often, the roadsides and fields where the markets are held have been well trampled and have little to offer in the way of vegetation, grazing areas or access to drinking water. As a result, it is very common for our team to see underweight and dehydrated equines.

Support our efforts to help animals affected by disasters like the earthquake in Haiti

In addition to the generally compromised level of health that comes with poor nutrition, saddle sores are a side effect frequently seen in pack animals. As donkeys or horses begins to lose weight, their bodies move from metabolizing their available fat stores to using up muscle mass. This is most immediately apparent along the back. It is all too common to see very prominent spinal and pelvic bones protruding on these animals. Ideally, their backs should have enough muscle and fat to create a fairly flat surface from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. As their bones become more prominent and the skin more dehydrated and fragile, they are at greater risk of having their heavily-loaded saddles wear through their skin, leaving large, painfully infected wounds.

Training vets and educating caretakers

Our team worked closely with the local veterinarians to care for these animals and provide some training and education to the owners on steps they could take to provide a better quality of life for their equines. One challenge is the fact that even if a saddle sore is properly cleaned, it will quickly become aggravated when the saddle is placed back on the animal. For this reason, we hired a local seamstress to come to the clinics with us so that we could create custom cut-out areas in the saddle pads to allow the wounds to breathe and properly heal. This was the first opportunity that many of the owners we met had been given to provide their animals with veterinary care. It is generally not out of malice or apathy that the animals wind up in such unfortunate states of neglect, but due to a lack of knowledge or resources necessary for adequate care or treatments.

During each five- or six-hour day at the markets, our team was able to provide care to 40 to 50 donkeys, mules and horses. They treated wounds, adjusted saddle pads, distributed new pads to those without them, educated people about dietary considerations, and treated animals for skin and intestinal parasites. A key component of the guidance that the veterinarians and our field agents provide is explaining to people what level of care is required by the animals and then working with the owners to assess how they can meet those needs given the resources they have access to. To mandate a level of care that is beyond caretakers’ abilities only discourages them and diminishes our credibility with them.

It is our intention to work hand in hand with owners to provide them with what they need in the way of resources and knowledge to improve the care that their animals receive and after our recent clinic outside of the town of Les Cayes, we are feeling very optimistic that with continued support we can meet this goal. Support our disaster response work.

Chris Broughton-Bossong is Haiti Program Coordinator for HSI.

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