06/06/2013 12:33 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

Helping Working Animals

Ninety years ago, Kate Hosail and her daughter, Nina, decided to escape the harsh English winter and traveled to North Africa. While they were captivated by the people and the landscape, they were disturbed by how poorly working animals were being treated there. These horses, donkeys, and mules were suffering because their owners didn't know how to care for them. Yet these animals were a vital part of the local economy and their loss would have a profound impact on those who relied on them to transport food, water and goods to market.

Recognizing that something needed to be done, these Englishwomen formed SPANA with the goal of helping working animals around the world.

Today SPANA operates in 15 countries providing much needed veterinary care, but equally important, it educates animal owners, children and teachers on how to care for these animals so they can continue to perform their vital tasks.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, there are at least 100 million working donkeys, horses and mules worldwide. The total number of working animals, including camels, oxen and other species, is believed to be much higher still. Even today, countless communities depend on horses, mules, donkeys, camels and oxen to take the place of trucks, tractors and taxis.

Good veterinary care is also vital for these animals. SPANA has provided treatment for hundreds of working animals. In recent years, SPANA has focused on building effective veterinary infrastructures in developing countries to improve clinical skills and increasing the availability of veterinary and animal health workers.

Typically, in a country like Zimbabwe, the economic situation is rapidly deteriorating and poverty-stricken, rural communities have become reliant on donkeys for trade and transport. The average yearly income in Zimbabwe is only $424 while the average life expectancy is 52.7 years. The political situation is also volatile.

SPANA Zimbabwe delivers care for working animals through its mobile veterinary clinic. This mobile clinic will cover 11,000 miles each year. Common problems that veterinarians see include harness wounds and eye problems. Ticks are also a major problem because they often carry a parasitic disease, which can go on to cause high fever, loss of appetite, dehydration and lethargy in donkeys. Efforts are now underway to train local veterinary extension assistants who can provide basic equine care.

The yearly budget for effort in Zimbabwe is around $90,000, representing a highly efficient uses of funds. Eighty percent of all money raised from donations goes directly to helping working animals.

To learn more about how SPANA changes the lives of people and animals on five continents, visit For a small contribution, one can support the purchase of antibiotics, eye medications and vaccines. To have a major impact, one can underwrite the yearly salary of a vet in Zimbabwe for $30,000.

I have supported SPANA for years because it makes a genuine difference in the lives of countless animals and the people in developing nations that depend on them.