Thursday, October 1, 2009

4 October, 2009: Celebrating our Animal Heroes (Yes, there are horses AND hounds!!)

(Bellini's St. Francis in Ecstasy @ The Frick Collection in NYC. One of my favorite works housed there!)

When you wake up in the morning you never know where the inspiration to write will come from--at least I don't. There are usually a few things rumbling around in my cluttered brain, but some I have to think through more, and others it may not be the right time for. So happily this morning Horse & Hound delivered me a nice little package of inspiration all wrapped up and practically tied with a bow!

The weekend of October 3rd and 4th is the date that many churches across the country celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi by having a blessing of the animals. It's always wonderful to see the usual array of adorable cats and dogs supplemented by the occasional iguana, llama, pony or gerbil. (I always wonder how the day manages to come off without some little animal being eaten, bit, or otherwise compromised...)

So back to that H&H of their tweets this morning (they are found at horseandhound on twitter ) was about World Animal Day--a nice, ecumenical version of St. Francis Day--and how The Brooke was asking people to especially remember the working horses and war horses this coming weekend.

I was completely ignorant of the good work being done by The Brooke until a couple of years ago and this tidbit was a timely reminder of their mission to bring needed aid to horses, mules, and donkeys who are working in very poor and unsafe conditions all over the world. They send mobile vet teams to check in on and treat donkeys and horses in the poorest parts of the world where the animal and their owner are often completely dependent on one another for eeking out even a meager living. Additionally, they provide free treatment to animals and train animal owners, local healers, farriers, saddlers, feed sellers, harness and cart makers.

The Brooke's history is fascinating and they are celebrating their 75th Anniversary this year. Here is a brief history of the organization from their website (

"From humble beginnings as a hospital for warhorses in a dusty Cairo street founded in 1934, the Brooke has become the UK’s leading equine welfare charity for working equines in the world's poorest communities. 
The 700,000 horses, donkeys and mules the Brooke now reaches each year are a living testament to the dedication of our founder, Mrs Dorothy Brooke.

The wife of a British army major general, Dorothy Brooke was appalled to learn that these walking skeletons were ex-war horses of the British, Australian and American forces. All of them had seen service in the First World War and when the conflict ended in 1918, they were abandoned and sold into a life of hard labour in Cairo. Poorly cared for, they were old and many were in terrible pain. 

The final paragraph of her letter is very poignant to any animal or horse lover:"If those who truly love horses – who realize what it can mean to be very old, very hungry and thirsty, and very tired, in a country where hard, ceaseless work has to be done in great heat – will send contributions to help in giving a merciful end to our poor old war heroes, we shall be extremely grateful; and we venture to think that, in many ways, this may be as fitting (though unspectacular) part of a War Memorial as any other that could be devised."

Read the full-text of Dorothy Brooke's original appeal letter from 1931 HERE.

The public were so moved they sent her the equivalent today of £20,000 to help end the suffering of these once proud horses. Within three years, Dorothy had set up a committee and bought 5,000 of these ex-war horses. Most were old and in the final stages of collapse, and had to be humanely put down. But, thanks to her compassion and tenacity, all of them ended their lives peacefully.

Dorothy knew that her work could not end there, thousands of horses, donkeys and mules toiled and suffered in Cairo. In 1934, Dorothy Brooke founded the ‘Old War Horse Memorial Hospital’ in Cairo, with the promise of free veterinary care for all the city’s working horses and donkeys…the Brooke was born.

From such simple beginnings, the Brooke has grown into the international equine lifesaver it is today. We now work in ten countries across the world - Egypt, India, Pakistan, Jordan, Israel (Palestinian villages in Israel and the West Bank), Afghanistan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Nepal."

They'll be posting many photos from this anniversary weekend on the website, it looks like, so I hope you'll check in and see the work being done. They've got an American Friends of The Brooke group, as well, which I'm going to investigate. There's an interactive map as well, where you can leave your personal tribute to these hard working horse heroes.

It's easy to overlook the heroic contributions of our fearless equine and canine friends these days. There are seemingly endless disasters and human tragedies, and in so many of them, animals come to our rescue. Who can forget the incredible service rendered by rescue and sniffer dogs as they worked ceaselessly with their handlers trying to find survivors after the September 11th attacks in NYC and Washington, DC; or the dogs who worked with volunteers after Hurricane Katrina.

And while horses are used much less in wartime situations than in previous eras in Western countries, that is not usually the case in the less developed world. Horses, donkeys, and mules are all used as pack animals as well as means of conveyance for soldiers, not unlike the ways in which the animals were employed here in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Think building the Erie and other canals, the barge mules and horses.) No less important and equally as hard working are the special mounted EquusSearch teams who go out in groups looking for evidence, and missing or abducted people. Texas EquusSearch is one of these groups that we hear about on the news when a search is launched for missing persons.

Let's remember all our furry, feathered, and piscine friends this weekend. Maybe give them an extra treat or two, take them to a blessing of the animals if there's one nearby or just give them a little more love in celebration and thanks for all the humor, joy, and goodwill they bring to our lives.

For further info on any of these organizations:
Texas EquusSearch Mounted Search and Recovery
American Friends of the Brooke

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