As the world commemorates the centenary of WWI, Watani here honours some unsung war heroes: the warhorses. We commemorate the Englishwoman who cared for them and gave Egypt her first hospital for animals, The Brooke. This year, The Brooke marks 80 years in service of working animals in Egypt.
WWI was long over, but in 1930 the streets of Cairo still held one especially painful vestige of the war. It so moved one woman that she resolved to take action. What so horrified Dorothy Brooke when she arrived in Cairo with her major-general husband was to see broken down horses reduced to “scraps of skin and bone” labouring on the streets, and to learn that these “walking skeletons” were ex-cavalry horses of the British, Australian and American forces in Egypt during WWI. The horses had been shipped from Britain to serve in the war and, when the conflict ended in 1918, “were sold into a life of hard labour in Cairo”.
Appalled at the condition of the animals Mrs Brooke, herself a horse lover and an accomplished equestrian, promised she would do her best to save them from this life of hardship. She wrote a letter to the Morning Post, later the Daily Telegraph, appealing for funds to save the horses. Her letter was published on 16 April 1931 and drew a generous response from readers, who raised today’s equivalent of £20,000 “to help end the suffering of these once proud horses”.
Mrs Brooke set up a committee that bought 5,000 of the horses. Most were old, emaciated and in the final stages of collapse, and many were humanely and peacefully put down. She did not stop there, however. She saw that much needed to be done for the thousands of suffering equines in Cairo, and in 1934 she founded the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital to provide free veterinary care for the capital’s working horses, mules, and donkeys. The Brooke Hospital for Animals was born.
Last October the Brooke Hospital for Animals celebrated its 80th anniversary. The Brooke, as the UK-based organisation, is registered in Egypt as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to improving the lives of working equines.
The anniversary celebrations began with a tribute at the Cairo Commonwealth Cemetery, where in 1955 Dorothy Brooke was laid to rest at her husband’s side. The ceremony was attended by most of the hospitals’ doctors and staff members and by this Watani reporter, who added his own bouquet of flowers to those on the grave.
The guests met hospital staff from Cairo and Brooke branches nationwide, among whom were a number of retired members. Also present were Dorothy Brooke’s grandchildren Richard and Sarah Searight, who have campaigned tirelessly for the organisation, and members of the Board of Directors of the Brooke Hospital for Animals in Egypt: board chairman Sherif Foda and treasurer Muhammad Foda. Other board members include Yasmine Shaarawi, daughter of Princess Ferial and granddaughter of Egypt’s last reigning monarch King Farouq, and Brigadier Muhammad al-Hossiny.
Award for senior vet
The guests were then treated to a tour of the hospital guided by the former senior veterinarian Dr Salah Wahib, who in 2010 received an award for the most inspirational vet from Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The duchess, a staunch supporter of animal welfare, is president of The Brooke’s international organisation.
All animals brought to the hospital are treated free of charge in several adjacent buildings that provide the necessary areas for treatment, including a maternity unit. If the animal needs extensive treatment or special care it is admitted to the hospital where it stays for as long as the treatment requires. Medical care, food and boarding are all provided.
The care given to each animal differs according to its condition. If a horse is very weak it is placed in a special sandy area to ensure it is comfortable. If the horse has an injury or wound it is placed in an area where the wound can be disinfected with warm water. If it suffers from seizures that render it violent, the horse is placed in a separate ward. In every case the horse, mule or donkey receives full veterinary care and follow-up by the hospital’s trained staff. There is even a farrier and a dental unit where the teeth can be floated if needed.
Dr Wahib recounted some of the most amusing incidents of his thirty-odd years of service at the hospital. “I can’t forget when once, after a donkey was treated at Brooke Hospital and discharged, it came back to us on its own. After a while its owner came running up asking about his donkey. This proves the animal longed for the place where it received not only treatment but also care and kindness. I also remember that when we looked after the animals in the Zabbaleen (garbage collectors’) neighbourhood in Cairo, the young children who drove the donkey carts in the early hours of the morning often fell asleep while driving. And believe it or not, the donkeys knew their way around very well and always walked in the right direction until the young drivers woke up.”
Another incident he recalled was when a horse’s tongue was almost completely cut off by a sharp piece of glass in its feed. “Surgery was required to reattach the donkey’s tongue, but the owner insisted that surgery was useless and he preferred that we glue it back with adhesive material. A huge argument resulted between the owner and myself in an attempt to convince him that his idea was not doable. Finally, he was convinced and we performed the surgery.”
Prevention over cure
Dr Wahib’s advice to animal owners is that, first and foremost, prevention is better than cure. “The animals must be given the proper vaccines to immunise them against disease and medication to combat intestinal parasites,” he says. “An animal’s wounds should be adequately treated, especially those in the neck area and the saddle sores that result from the use of ill-fitting or old saddles. Of course, cart wheels must be regularly oiled to ease pulling. Horseshoes must be rigorously checked and cared for, because they protect the animal’s hooves just as shoes shield the feet of humans. The old saying ‘no hoof, no horse’ hints at the vital importance of horseshoes.”
The hospital made the first discoveries of equine influenza in Egypt after some racehorses were imported from abroad. “When I visited the royal mews in England,” Dr Wahib said, “I had the chance to examine a few cases of equine influenza. After my return to Cairo it was very easy for me to recognise it, especially since the symptoms are very similar to human flu: runny nose, cough and high fever leading to pneumonia and finally death.”
It is of the utmost importance that working animals have their four legs in perfect condition. X-Rays are very important for diagnosing broken or fractured bones in the animal’s ribcage, pelvis or limbs. It is not possible to place plates and screws to fix a horse’s bones because they cause health complications that lead to death, so an equine with a broken bone is usually euthanised. In such cases the hospital gives its owner a sum of money to help him buy another animal.
Today The Brooke has branches in several Egyptian towns, especially where working animals are needed to perform specific tasks. In Alexandria, for instance, working animals are used in the port to transport merchandise; in Luxor they are used to pull tourist carriages.
“In the 1980s we had an ambulance to move sick animals to hospital. But now we use modern equipped vehicles that allow our vets to go to the sick animal and treat it on site. We also talk to owners to raise their awareness of equine welfare practices. The mobile clinic teams include not only a vet but also a farrier and saddler,” Dr Wahib said.
Recruiting new staff is difficult since there is no vocational training for veterinary assistants in Egypt, so the charity hires graduates from secondary schools of agriculture.
“We must also remember that animals, too, have rights. Among the most basic is that animal owners should allocate at least 10 per cent of their daily income for their animals and buy balanced animal feed that includes beans, hay, clover and barley. People must not use violence with their animals and should never beat them. In addition, one must not burden the animals with too heavy loads because this would certainly cause lethal bone fractures,” Dr Wahib said.
The Suez intervention
The hospital is still operating at the same site on which it was built 80 years ago. The first board of directors consisted mainly of British nationals living in Egypt, so it was in an especially vulnerable position during and in the wake of the 1956 Suez War when Britain battled Egypt and many Britons had to leave the country. Nasser Hosny, the hospital’s General Manager, said The Brooke Hospital survived thanks to the wisdom of those in charge who decided to ‘Egyptianise’ the hospital’s organisation and appoint a new board consisting solely of Egyptians while nevertheless keeping the donations from the UK as a main source of funding. In 1981 the BBC aired a documentary about the hospital and donations skyrocketed. The hospital now operates in cooperation with several local research centres, schools of veterinary medicine, government institutions and NGOs. “The hospital staff must take credit for this success; their will and their belief in their mission makes all the difference,” he said.
With massive donations received every year, the British-based international charity has opened other hospitals in the four corners of the world. The working animals of Jordan, India, Pakistan, Guatemala, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nepal also enjoy the services provided by The Brooke. A new office in the Netherlands was established a few years ago and shares in sending donations to the hospitals around the world.
Dr Emad Naoum, Deputy to the general manager and head of the veterinary services and Mercy for Animals organisation, explained that the hospital’s main purpose was to alleviate the sufferings of the working animals, which represent the sole source of income for many underprivileged households. “If an animal is healthy, it can work more and generate better income for its owner,” he said. “This is why the hospital pays special attention to raising the awareness of animal owners.
“We also try to raise the awareness of the entire society towards compassion for animals. Our vets visit children in schools and talk to them. The Brooke cooperates with local NGOs nationwide to provide veterinary services for working animals.”
The Brooke is the largest institution for equines in Egypt, and the number of beneficiaries from its services from 1934 to 2013 throughout Egypt has reached 39 million.
A 2008 report issued by the General Authority for Veterinary Services says there are more than 1.2 million working equines in Egypt. Most of them work under very harsh conditions which threaten their health, in addition to lack of care and proper treatment. Most are used to pull carriages or carry heavy loads, from garbage collection to the brick kilns in Helwan. These animals often suffer from overburdening, beat, dehydration, exhaustion, stress, lameness and hoof problems as well as contagious diseases such as equine influenza and skin infections.
Recent estimates place the number of equines living in the areas covered by The Brooke’s veterinary services at about 227,000. These animals need not only veterinary treatment but also good nourishment and care, all services provided free of charge by Brooke staff.
This is the letter Dorothy Brooke sent to the Morning Post
“There have been several references lately in the columns of The Morning Post as to the possibility of raising a memorial to horses killed in the War. May I make a suggestion?
Out here, in Egypt, there are still many hundreds of old Army Horses sold of necessity at the cessation of the War. They are all over twenty years of age by now, and to say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times is to express it very mildly.
Those sold at the end of the war have sunk to a very low rate of value indeed: they are past ‘good work’ and the majority of them drag out wretched days of toil in the ownership of masters too poor to feed them – too inured to hardship themselves to appreciate, in the faintest degree, the sufferings of animals in their hands.
These old horses were, many of them, born and bred in the green fields of England – how many years since they have seen a field, heard a stream of water, or a kind word in English?
Many are blind – all are skeletons.
A fund is being raised to buy up these old horses. As most of them are the sole means of a precarious livelihood to their owners, adequate compensation must, of necessity, be given in each case. An animal out here, who would be considered far too old and decrepit to be worked in England, will have before him several years of ceaseless toil – and there are no Sundays or days of rest in this country. Many have been condemned and destroyed by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (not a branch of the RSPCA), but want of funds necessitates that all not totally unfit for work should be restored to their owners after treatment.
If those who truly love horses – who realise 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.”
Signed – Dorothy E. Brooke
3 December 2014