You can’t put a price on compassion

WHEN my mother died in 2003, we took on one of her favourite charities, the Brooke Hospital, and continue the annual donations she had made. My mother actually didn’t like horses – in the Land Army in the Cotswolds during the war, she worked with cows and loved them (apart from Dexters and Jersey bulls, which, she said, were bad-tempered).

She supported the Brooke because she recognised the importance of its work, and she appreciated its understanding of the appalling poverty of the people whose livelihoods depend on the horses and donkeys whose welfare is the concern of the Brooke’s vets and volunteers.

It is important to remember the work of the Brooke while the centenary of the First World War is so prominent. When Dorothy Brooke, a British army officer’s wife, arrived in Egypt in 1930,she was horrified to see hundreds of emaciated horses being used as beasts of burden on the city streets – and she was appalled to learn that these walking skeletons were ex-warhorses of the British, Australian and American forces. All of them had seen service in the First World War. When the conflict ended in 1918, they were sold into a life of hard labour in Cairo.

Dorothy wrote a letter to the Morning Post – (later the Daily Telegraph) – and members of the public were so moved that they sent her the equivalent of £20,000 in today’s money to help end the suffering of these once proud horses.

Within three years, Dorothy Brooke had set up a committee and bought 5,000 ex-warhorses. Most were old and in the final stages of collapse, and had to be humanely put down. But, thanks to her compassion and tenacity, all of them ended their lives peacefully. In 1934, she founded the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo, with the promise of free veterinary care for all the city’s working horses and donkeys and the Brooke Hospital for Animals was born..

Now the Brooke works in many parts of the world and is committed to finding sustainable solutions to the problems of communities that depend on mules, donkeys and horses, but have no means of caring for their welfare. The charity not only supports the work of vets and animal health workers, it also trains farriers and encourages hoof care, and educates owners in basic animal health and welfare.

Another charity which works to provide care and good living conditions for animals – the big cats – is Four Paws, which runs a remarkable refuge in South Africa. Extreme poverty – combined with a lack of knowledge about wild animal welfare – has led to terrible suffering for countless wild animals in zoos and circuses, particularly in some of the former communist countries in Eastern Europe.

Lionsrock, near Bethlehem in the Free State, was created by the Austrian–based charity Four Paws, which works to reduce the suffering of wild animals in captivity – in zoos, circuses, for tourist photographs or other entertainments. The charity took over the property in 2006 and the first residents were the remaining big cats that had been bred there, to be shot by trophy hunters.

In 2007 the first group of nine lions arrived from Europe, from a bankrupt safari park in Austria. Over the years many lions have been rescued from desperate conditions in zoos in eastern Europe –  innocent victims of a changing financial and political situation, where former state funding vanished and animal keepers struggled even to feed them. The film you see when you arrive at the refuge shows these pathetic skeletal animals – most had never felt grass under their paws – arriving at Lionsrock, their reaction to their new surroundings, and the speed with which they adapt and develop into healthy, lively animals. The oldest and weakest – whose ability even to survive the long journey from Romania was in doubt – went on to become the poster boy for the refuge. You would need a heart of stone not to cry as you watch him emerge from his travelling cage and roar around the grassy enclosure.

Most recently, there was a report of more than 30 lions rescued from South American circuses that have been moved to the large Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa. The use of animals in circuses was banned in Peru in 2011 and Colombia in 2013. Their journey to their new life was arranged by the US-based Animal Defenders International (ADI). A spokesman for the group said that almost all the lions had teeth or claws removed. They would not survive in the wild. But at the 5,000 hectare (12,355 acres) reserve they will have drinking pools, platforms, toys and veterinary care.

It would be easy to ignore cruelty and neglect of animals at a time when the plight of so many human beings demands our attention, when the brutality of fanatics, terrorists and ruthless regimes threatens and destroys so many lives. But an ability to show humanity and empathy to the suffering of animals is as important as a desire to minimise and end the suffering of our fellow humans. It is the hallmark of a society that has higher ambitions than acquisition and domination.

Mahatma Gandhi expressed it eloquently: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

For more information about The Brooke and Four Paws, please visit: and

Fanny Charles