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One of the Good Ones

In Ethiopia, the AAEL Makes a Long Lasting Difference

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 22, 2000.

If you get tired of charities that seem to be nothing more than a tax free orgy of parties and travel with 5% of the donations actually going to the cause, and a mere vehicle for heroic celebrities to pose with furrowed brow sincerity, visit Ethiopia with the Animal Assistance and Education League. I want to tell you about this little known organization. It's local, founded by two Californians turned Coloradoans who are known to me, and in fact, I do a few, small, pro-bono tasks for them. Please don't hold that against them. It does amazing work, and unlike many better known and better funded entities, it may leave a far bigger mark.

Their goals are limited. They want to improve the quality of animal care where that is needed most. So what they do is to build an appreciation for animals that exhausted, terrified, and understandably ignorant people may not have because the goals of their culture have become so short term: live till tomorrow. As a result of this nod to reality, the AAEL has become an instant if modest success.

What they did was start, with full local cooperation, a veterinary clinic in Ethiopia, home to a periodic vicious and pointless war with a former province, land mines, a grueling climate, and lots and lots of desperately poor people and their animals. The AAEL vectored in on the horses owned by poor villagers. These animals were used as beasts of burden and to pull plows and carts. Same as the world over for a gazillion years.

The interruptions of wars and political instability dropped animal husbandry knowledge down the memory hole. It is very easy to blame the people, but that would be neither fair nor true. They simply had no access to the information; once informed, they reacted instantly and in the best way. This was due in no small part to the AAEL not doing certain things: they did not castigate the people for being cruel, stupid, unworthy. They were not playing the role of heroic white saviors. They simply applied a reality-based maxim. If your tools work easily and for a long time, your life is easier, better, and less stressful.

Some examples. Some horrible examples. Somewhere along the line, villagers in this country noted that their horses often did not drink water when they were excessively hot and sweaty and working. They apparently took this to mean the horses were not, somehow, thirsty at the moment. Of course, the symptoms of massive dehydration sometimes demand the body cool down before water is palatable or the horses were too disoriented to recognize what was offered. When the benefits of regular water breaks and rest were demonstrated, the villagers cheerfully acknowledged the betterment.

Tack for the horses were often composed of the cheapest and most common material available. This proved to be abandoned automobile tires, which last forever, are very strong, and can relatively easily be cut into the desired shapes and stitched together with whatever rope was available. You can imagine the ripped skin, lesions, and horrors that such equipment inflicted on the horses, shortening their lives and usability, providing a nursery for every pregnant fly in the nation. So, got the picture? Overworked, under-watered horses covered with fly eggs and fresh blood from rubbing against Goodyear steel belted radials which breath so easily against the skin. All working in 90 degree heat and above.

It gets worse. When the flies lay their eggs in the lids of the horses eyes, you will be shocked to know that infection occurs, and the eyes go white and blind with moon eye or get so infected that, to save the horse, the eye itself is removed. Without anesthesia. Of course, most medical procedures on people are probably effected under similar conditions.

To a nation of dog, cat, and horse lovers, this seems hell incarnate. It is hard to read this stuff without getting viscerally angry, and I have never seen anything like it myself. Now imagine sitting down with the folks who torture their animals like this, especially a guy you just saw remove an eye, and explain to them, in neither threatening nor condemning terms, that what happened was simply not best for his bottom line, and that beneficial alternatives existed. Of course, it is the AAEL which often provides the veterinary medicines and brings in vets, sometimes an alien concept in a nation with far too few doctors, to inform and assist, so it is not as if the villagers had alternatives to willingly ignore.

You will be happy to know that an African veterinarian from Cornell has been providing and instructing the villagers in the use of an eye ointment that reduces infection and sometimes eliminates it. Plus the horses get some beneficial attention having their eyes gently rubbed and soothed. This approach has generated much enthusiasm within the area, because the improvements to their stock and lives has been almost immediate. Several other clinics are planned. Very modest. Very result oriented. Very, very good. Go to their website at www.aael.org and see. This is DC, see you next week.