Isn’t it interesting – different people’s responses to the same thing.  I took this photograph in Greece recently, and thought it was very sweet.  On showing it to a friend, she was horrified.

Donkey in Greece
Donkey in Greece

“How can you, of all people condone such blatant animal abuse?” she asked.

I asked her, what she was seeing.  A poor abused animal, tied in the sun, and made to work.  Its abuse, she repeated.  So, I looked at the photo again, remembering my thoughts when I had taken it in the first place. 

So, what was it that I saw?

I saw a donkey in very nice condition, not too overweight and at risk of developing laminitis, but nicely covered, with a good layer of fat on his rib cage.  A clean, well brushed coat that was free from any harness rubs or injury.  Well-trimmed, tidy hooves that weren’t cracked or chipped.  A harness that fitted well and was oiled and clean so as to avoid rubbing him.  An animal that was, yes, working for his living, but an animal that someone was taking care of, an animal that was well enough respected that he was clean, healthy, sound and well socialised.  An animal who was not rotting in a paddock somewhere, but who had a purpose and seemed happy enough with his lot.    What would I change?  Water would have been nice, but we have no way of knowing how long he was going to be standing there – he could have walked 10 minutes from his paddock to get there and be going again in 10 minutes time.  Shade?  Well, these donkeys living in Greece are used to extreme temperatures, and as this was early in the morning and quite cool, it was actually rather nice standing in the weak morning sun.  Space from the motor bikes?  Well, does he look worried?  Working animals, particularly pack animals, are generally trained to stand still in tight places while being loaded.  This little guy gave the impression of happily soaking up the sun’s rays, like a contented cat.

In developing, or poor countries, animals still have their place as beasts of burden.  What do they say, about most countries having their history on the back of a horse?  Are all of these animals abused?  Of course not.  Many, sadly, are.  But all?  No.  Are guide dogs, sheep dogs, police dogs abused?  How about riding school ponies or rats who hunt for land mines?  I always remember the story of a dog who was housed in a rescue centre in the UK.  He was un-adoptable – he kept going out on trial only to be returned – he destroyed furniture, jumped on the kids, was quite uncontrollable.  Eventually, the police adopted him, and he became one of their best drug sniffing dogs, over joyed at having a job to do.  He was just bored and frustrated when asked to sit at home all day.  Working animals don’t automatically bear the label of abused animals.  But equally, many animals who stand alone in a paddock, day after day, never brushed, never seeing a farrier or their owner are miserable, and yes, suffer from a different type of abuse. 

My answer, take each case as a separate case.  Use your eyes, use your common sense…  If the animal looks content and relaxed, chances are, he’s doing ok…   

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