The Fighters

As my body slowly acclimatizes to the heat and sun of Egypt in the summer, I am coming to realize I may never acclimate to the state of the working animals or the treatment by some owners. In Luxor, the horses are used for pulling tourist carriages or a “Kalesh”, which means long hours pounding the pavement in the hot midday sun. Many of them have harness sores from ill fitting or dirty, sweaty tack and are quite lame. However, because the horses are used mainly for tourists, there has been some change in the way the horses are treated. The fact that customers are selecting the horses that are in better condition or the sounder animals seems to be a good way of encouraging the drivers to take better care of their horses, and slowly the owners are catching on. To encourage this, ACE distributes pamphlets at the local hotels, explaining to tourists how to look for a healthy horse to use. About 50% of the animals are still underweight, and about 30% are lame, but according to the manager of ACE who has been here 11 years, those numbers are down significantly. The donkeys, however, are a different story. Not used in the tourist trade, they are used solely as working animals, pulling carts filled with produce or garbage, plowing fields, or used as transport. We often drive by donkeys struggling to pull a load that we would consider too much for a pair of draft horses, or staggering under the weight of the two grown men who are riding them down the street. The donkeys that come into the clinic are often very skinny, with multiple sores over their body, and often open welts from the whips and sticks used to ‘encourage’ them. Many have fistulous withers from pulling loads without a proper harness, and because they are often tied in close quarters with many other donkeys and little food, have severely infected bites from other donkeys. It’s a frustrating process. Most of the ailments these animals suffer through are so easily prevented with a bit more foresight and management. But instead we do our best to treat what we are presented with, and encourage the owners to treat their animals better so they will work longer. Sometimes it’s a tough sell. Because of the state of most of the donkeys that come to the clinic, I often forget just how stubborn and strong they can be. There is a reason they are still used so much in this country, as they are one of the heartiest creatures I have ever come across. We had a well-fed jenny come in for hind end lameness, and one very bad attitude. To even examine the leg took some acrobatic leaps out of the line of fire from both her teeth and her feet on my behalf. We needed to nerve block her, which on a hind leg is risky at the best of times, but on this donkey was borderline masochistic. Of course, being the vet student and volunteer, I was the lucky one nominated by the Egyptian vets to proceed, all in the name of education of course. It was indeed an education in itself, although I managed to block the foot holding up the leg and not loosing a kneecap. She unfortunately didn’t block out to the foot and was now wiser to the fact that needles were going in her leg. For the abaxial block, one person was holding her head, one was on a twitch, one had her front leg up, and I inserted the needle from beside the opposite hind leg. Despite enough restraint to hold down an elephant, she still managed to almost rearrange my face with her hooves! Thankfully for my self preservation she blocked out to the abaxial and we proceeded with x-rays (well sedated!). Despite my near death experience, I could only look at her with the utmost appreciation and respect. To survive here you need ever bit of fight you can muster.

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